Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sandfly Bay

I had quite an adventure today! Several days ago, some friends and I met another Otago student at lunch named Inky - he was born in America but has been living in New Zealand for several years and is incredibly knowledgeable about many of the country's sites and trails. He offered to take us to Sandfly Bay, and we gladly accepted. The bay is about 30 minutes from campus in Dunedin, and there are some spectacular views that continued to stun me even after spending hours at the beach today.

This first photo is the view just from the car park for the site; we hadn't even begun "tramping" (hiking) yet!

We started by tramping around the cliffs surrounding the bay, which were full of grazing sheep. There were two lookout points called "The Chasm" and "Lovers' Leap," both of which gave beautiful views of the ocean. At The Chasm, we climbed down to a little rock ledge with straight drops down on two sides and a wide open view of the ocean. It was hard to get a picture of the experience, but the surroundings from that view point literally took my breath away. The water was so blue, and I loved watching the waves crash against the cliff faces 60 feet below.

the lookout point at The Chasm (we climbed down to those rocks below it)
rock wall by Lovers' Leap where people often rock climb
The trail then led to the dunes, which are huge and begin fairly far from the ocean. The dunes were created by the volcano in Dunedin (now extinct), and there are many bright blue volcanic rocks on the beach.

the dunes
blue volcanic rock
There is a trail through the dunes down to Sandfly Bay, but Inky doesn't like trails, so he led on a "bushwhacking" expedition. We literally pushed and climbed our way through the New Zealand bush. It was quite an adventure. We crawled under low trees, slid down steep hills, got covered in mud, and all had mild brushes with some stinging nettle plants. We eventually ended up climbing over the incredibly dense tree branches - we were 6 feet above the ground in some places! It was quite exhausting, but it brought us to the top of a large dune sloping down to the bay for several hundred feet. We all ran down the dune - it was such a freeing experience. Most of us fell once or twice (I may have face-planted into the sand at one point), but it was incredible to run over the fresh sand untouched by other trampers.

this is what the bush looks like - we climbed through, under, and on top of it!
 We got down to the bay in the early afternoon, which is apparently when sea lions like to come ashore and nap in the sand. At one point there were six or seven of them lying on the beach, and we got within several feet of them before they roared at us! It was amazing to be that close to such a large animal in the wild! They would occasionally waddle around and then flop back onto the sand - I think they were very tired!

a group of 4 sea lions, the closest only about 8 feet away from me!
Our group then headed up to the "viewing hide" in one of the dunes. The bay is home to a colony of penguins, which come ashore in the late afternoon after fishing in the sea all day. They are extremely scared of people, though, so the hide in the dune allows you to look out the windows of a cabin so the penguins cannot see you. Unfortunately, we were a bit too early to see the penguins, but we still took advantage of the cabin and had a delicious lunch of PB&J, chips, cheese and crackers, fruit and wine. While we were eating, a beautiful rainbow formed over the ocean - it was such a perfect moment we all thought it must be a joke!

the rainbow had all seven colors visible!
We went back down to the beach and walked around a bit, and then headed back to the car park. The trail back was incredibly difficult - it was several kilometers of a steep, uphill, sandy mountain! This portion of the tramp was punishing; we all collapsed in the sand for about 5 minutes once we made it to the top!

I could not have asked for a better first tramp in New Zealand. I saw spectacular landscapes, laid down at the edge of a cliff over the ocean, went bushwhacking, forged my own path, sprinted down sand dunes, and met some sea lions! This has inspired me to go on more trips in the upcoming weeks, and I'll be sure to tell you all about them!

Sandfly Bay
the dunes in front of the bay

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