Victory Beach, Otago Peninsula

Not only is this the longest beach on the Otago Peninsula, it is also one of the best. At 3.5km, it offers the chance for a great afternoon ramble, a picnic, and even the opportunity to climb The Great (little) Pyramid.

Around 30 minutes drive from the Dunedin City Centre, Victory Beach is situated on the Pacific Ocean coast of the Peninsula. If you’ve read any of my blog posts before you will probably know that I write about the Otago Peninsula quite a lot. But it is for a good reason, and it never fails to leave me astonished. While on our journey to Victory Beach we were amazed to find that we had risen to the heavens. We were above the clouds and soaring like birds. I expected to see Mount Olympus or Zeus fly by me. It was incredible, and a great way to start the trip. The pictures below don’t entirely do the scene justice, but you will get the idea.

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Victory Beach was named after SS Victory, a sunken ship that was meant to set sail from Port Chalmers to Melbourne on 3 July 1861. This was due to the major incompetence and intoxication of Chief Mate George Hand. In the seven minutes that he was given full charge of the ship he had managed to run the ship aground. The cargo and passengers were forced to be taken off the ship, and there the ship lies to this day. In low tide you are meant to be able to see the flywheel, but we were not so fortunate. But you can see it in the above photo I have found.

While the history behind the beach was reason enough for me to want to visit, there are plenty of other reasons why this place is popular. The natural forming pyramids just outside of the beach make for fantastic views of the area. As you walk through the Okia reserve coming up to the beach you will come across two large pyramids. These are geometric basalt volcanic columns, and are quite spectacular. While you can climb both we decided to tackle the smaller one on this occasion. This is known to the locals as The Little Pyramid. Reaching the top will only take you five minutes and it lets you see a magnificent view of the peninsula region. I really cannot stress enough how beautiful it is. Before I moved to Dunedin I didn’t even know it was here, and it is now my favourite part of New Zealand. As you walk closer to the beach over the sand dunes, you will be able to see the back of the pyramids, and get a glimpse into how they were formed. I’m not much a geology enthusiast myself, but it seems pretty cool.

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From the car park, to the pyramids, and finally passed the sand dunes is Victory Beach. It is a very open and wide beach, and although we had arrived on a beautiful and warm Sunday lunch time, there were hardly any other people. This seems very typical of New Zealand beaches, and as a British person I just cannot understand it. If that beach was in England it would be full to bursting. It could have been half as hot and there would have been multitudes of people. Not that I’m complaining at all though, it is far better this way. The beach is a private paradise, with the dunes to the back, ocean to the front, and cliffs to the side. It offers a great chance to have a picnic, walk, or even a spot of rounders.

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On a final note I think it is important to say that this was my first beach experience in New Zealand where it was hot enough to take my shoes and socks off, and have a little paddle in the ocean. It’s been a while since my skin has felt the warm embrace of the summer sun. I had come from England from the winter, straight into the New Zealand winter. For any Game of Thrones fans out there I somewhat look like a White Walker at present. The point of this is that I have been to many beaches since I have been here, and they have all been highly enjoyable even in the winter cold. I cannot wait to revisit all of the beaches I have been to again in the upcoming summer. I consider myself a pretty lucky person to get the chance to visit these places, and if you ever come to this part of the world, you should definitely check out the Otago Peninsula. Rain or shine. Summer of winter.

 

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Milford Sound

For my first real holiday since moving here for work, we went to Milford Sound. Now, when I think of New Zealand and what it has to offer this is what springs to mind. All the research you can do on the country beforehand seems to point to Milford Sound, and there is a very obvious reason why. It is phenomenal.

Piopiotahi, as it is known in the Maori tongue, was first discovered by Europeans in 1812, with Captain John Grono. He originally named the paradise Milford Haven after his home in Wales. It was then changed to Milford Sound later by Captain John Lort Stokes. Interestingly, Milford Sound is not a Sound at all. Technically it is a deep water inlet between steep sided, high mountains, which would make the place a fiord. It is about 13km in length and is one of the most, if not the most, popular tourist attraction in New Zealand.

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Due to its fame and popularity, I think there is quite a bit of pressure to explain the majesty and the beauty of the place to a high standard. Moreover, for anyone that has looked into New Zealand at all, they would have already read a fair amount about it. What I will pick out of the trip is how it differed for me, and hopefully you will be able to read some rather cool stuff. The three main ways it did this were through rainfall, waterfalls and wildlife.However, I will start by giving my best attempt at a description of Milford Sound to you. Can you remember in Jurassic Park when Hammond (Richard Attenborough) first shows them the  park and the iconic theme music sets in? First setting out on the boat and turning the corner to the witness the mountains, the mirrored lake, the waterfalls, and everything else, is close to that. It is just incredible. I think in a rather cheating way it is beyond description. But I think Rudyard Kipling had it best when he described it as the eighth wonder of the world. That is certainly apt.

One of the main ways it could have been different from what you have read before is that it did not rain. This is nearly unheard of, especially when considering we had holidayed in the middle of winter. The fiord normally experiences 180+ days of rain per year. With an average rainfall of around 150inches per year. We enjoyed a glorious day of clear(ish) skies, albeit a tad cold and windy.

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It had obviously rained very recently when we had arrived as the waterfalls were in full force. They really add to the allurement of the fiord. How the waterfalls may read different to what you have heard before was a personal event that transpired. When the waterfalls were especially big and easy to get to, the captain would often sail right up to them in order for us to get great pictures. There was one that I saw that I was very eager to get close to. The problem was that I didn’t have a rain coat. All we had were these incredibly cheap ponchos. As we glided ever closer to the waterfall I violently struggled to get this poncho on. All the while trying to have my phone out ready to take this picture I dearly desired. The ponchos we bought were so cheap they ripped as soon as I put them over my head. Poncho, after poncho, after poncho I threw on. Until it was too late. The fall came and quickly consumed me. Luckily I had enough ponchos for the whole boatload and more, so you’ll be thankful to hear I didn’t get too wet. I later found that the captain of the ship was in hysterics at my ordeal and I do not blame him.

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The final way my experience may have differed was the wildlife. Although known for its animals we were incredibly lucky with what we found, and I believe I will struggle to see anything quite so amazing ever again. What we saw was a dolphin. And I know what you’re thinking, ‘everyone has seen dolphins before, why is that so cool?’ But this was no ordinary dolphin. Just as we set off on our return journey the captain alerted that a dolphin was at the hull. I was so excited. We all rushed over to the front of the boat and saw this friendly dolphin effortlessly glided along with us. It bobbed and it weaved and it played. I really was awe struck. It was an animal of pure muscle. Perfectly content with its lot in life, and perfectly happy to play with us. The dolphin stayed with us for at least 20 minutes, and it made the whole trip for me. I remember I used to hear people say, ‘Dolphins are my favourite animal’ And I just didn’t get it. ‘What is so special about them?’ I thought. Well now I know, and I’m pretty sure they are now my favourite animal too.

If you put it all together, the mountains, the waterfalls, the clear lake, the wildlife, it really looks as if it should be the location of a kingdom in a fantasy novel. You would expect to see water elves, nymphs, fairies or mermaids if you came here. I implore you to visit Milford Sound. There is an enchantment on this place, and I guarantee you will walk away with a spell on you.

Allan’s Beach, Otago Peninsula

Another of the Otago Peninsula’s gems is Allan’s Beach. As one of the four beaches that runs along the Pacific Coast of the Peninsula, it is must for anyone in the area. The other beaches include: Boulder Beach and Victory Beach (which I have yet to visit), and Sandfly Bay. We found that Allan’s Beach had a lot to offer, and was bountiful in scenery, rocks to climb, and even the night’s dinner!

Despite some arduous research, I was unable to identify why the beach is possessively “Allan’s.” If anyone knows why it is called this I would very much appreciate it if you could send a message my way. In typical Kiwi fashion I do reckon that it is as simple as a man named Allan used to walk along the beach. One of the best I’ve heard was for Wingatui. According to a local, the village is called such because an English settler was out hunting and he shot a Tui (a New Zealand bird) in the wing. Hence, Wingatui.

From Dunedin centre, Allan’s Beach is across the Otago Peninsula, and a short distance from the town of Portobello. If you travel this way I would advise to do one route there, and a different one back. You cannot experience the magnificence of the Otago Peninsula without driving along the harbour, and then along the hillside. Both offer spectacular views. The picture below is taken from the hillside.

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Once you arrive at the car park it is a short walk over a hill to the beach. We have now been to Allan’s Beach twice, and both times it gave us a completely different experience. This can be put as simply as whether you go left or right from the entrance to the beach. We will start by going right. Walking this way you will see some of the magnificent cliffs that make up the Otago Peninsula. I found the one on Allan’s Beach particularly interesting as it looked to me like a giant lizard. Maybe you can get the idea from the picture below. Following the beach along you will come to a stream that feeds into the ocean, and behind that you can see more of the Peninsula’s great hills. However, our second trip to Allan’s Beach was by far the more enjoyable. And thus we turn left.

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Following the beach to the left you will come across excellent rocks to climb. If you are into that kind of thing, these are the best I have seen on a beach. There are plenty to conquer and plenty of footholes.

The rocks are pretty good, but the best thing about this beach was the mussels. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Big. Small. All there waiting to be taken. It was an excellent surprise as we had been to this beach before and not had the time to explore it to the left. What fools we were! Luckily, my girlfriend’s mother had brought a large, clear, plastic sandwich bag with her (the magic of mum’s eh?) and so we got plucking. After about 15 minutes we had gathered around 40 large mussels, and now had food for dinner that night. They were delicious, and we will certainly be travelling back there to snap up another free meal.

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This beach was a terrific experience all in all. We enjoyed ourselves the first time, and when we came back for more we were far from disappointed. And to think this beach is supposed to be known as a Sealion and Penguin hot-spot. If we’d have seen some I think we’d have moved there by now.

Scenery: 3/5

(I’ve had to make a new category) Did it offer free food? Yes.

Overall: 5/5

Pineapple Track, Dunedin

Yesterday we decided to walk the Pineapple trail to Flagstaff Summit. This was a beautiful trek which consisted of a big up, a big down, and a whole lotta’ bush. We picked this trail mainly due to its name, but also because we were in need of an uplift by the spectacular Dunedin skyline.

The trail leads up about 660 meters to Flagstaff summit, where the track got its name. In the 1920s a local grocer had acted as a guide and had given out tinned pineapple as refreshment at the top. Flagstaff, along with Mount Cargill, makes up the majority of the Dunedin city Skyline, and offers a perfect view of the city.

As we set off up the trail, we were quickly engrossed by the native bush. We soon felt like Cook himself as we traversed through and searched on like a couple of keen explorers. My girlfriend had noted that it reminded her of the film Fern Gully. As someone who has not seen this, maybe someone who has seen it can confirm from the picture below. However, it looks like I will probably be watching it against my will soon anyway.

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After about 40 minutes of trekking you will reach the end of the bush, and come out into the openness of the Flagstaff hillside. As you gradually climb to the summit the view of the city will become more and more amazing. We noticed that when the sunlight touched the houses they all seemed to turn white and combine together to make Dunedin look like one giant stone. You can maybe get the idea from the pictures we had taken.

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The further you go up you will notice the odd large stone which can offer even better views of the city. However, to reach these you will need to stray from the path and walk through the knee-high (for me)/ waist high (for my girlfriend) bush. While wholly worth it at the start, we may have got slightly lost on the way back, and we may have joined the path from a completely different point. The problem with this was that the same woman passed us three times. It was like de-javu. I wasn’t sure whether we’d gone the wrong way, she’d just decided to turn around and we’d coincidentally ran into her a few times, or she was a bush witch. Personally, the latter explanation makes the most sense. If anyone else sees a lady with rad sunglasses and a pale blue T-shirt multiple times, you’ve probably just ran into the bush witch.

The top of the summit is by far the best part of the trail. The views there are tremendous. I have never been at a point where you can see such a contrast of environment all at once. At one side you have the city and the harbour, then you have Mount Cargill and the native bush, and behind those you have some snow-topped mountains. Most of all, though, there are these incredible green hills that look very much like the Shire. As a LOTR fan this was a nice bonus. But it didn’t just remind me of the Shire, it reminded me of home. Of Yorkshire. I’ve heard a lot of people describe New Zealand as Yorkshire on steroids, but it was not until that moment that I really believed it. The rolling green hills are strikingly similar here, if not simply on a much more grand scale.

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The steep decline down the track was probably harder on my legs than the way up, but it was all well worth it.Furthermore, we found running through the bush, both up and down, to be extremely enjoyable, and we have already noted our desire to go back for a jog there.

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For anyone that enjoys a good hike, an exploration, and incredible views to top it off, I would advise to walk this trail.With a distance time of around 2 and a half hours, it would make for a great morning or afternoon adventure, and you may even encounter the fabled bush witch.

Scenery: 5/5

Walking Difficulty: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

 

 

 

 

Sandfly Bay, Otago Peninsula

Another beach review coming at you here. This one was a particular favourite of me and the girlfriend, and we’ve been here twice (so far). Sandfly Bay offers everything you could possibly want in a beach: views, excitement, dunes, wildlife, and, if you’re into it, a pretty difficult walk back to your car.

Around 15km outside of Dunedin, up the glorious Otago Peninsula, you will find Sandfly Bay. Now, don’t let the name alarm you. The bay is not known for the irritating sandfly, that causes such distress in the summer months for Kiwi’s, it is actually called such because of the way the sand moves among the dunes. The sand does indeed dance majestically among the desert slopes, and I can confirm it is a must see.

Walking to the beach is pretty steep, but once you get onto the sand further down this becomes very fun. The more agile among you will have a great laugh skidding down here. The last time we came we brought my girlfriends parents, though, and it was more difficult than amusing for them. (I won’t mention the way back up just yet, we were very nearly in trouble though). On your way down there is a lookout where you get an excellent lookout of the bay, and a chance for a great picture.

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Once you get to the beach it is likely you will then come across a multitude, and I do mean multitude, of Sea Lions. The first time we came to this beach we could not believe it. They were HUGE. All along the bay. Coming in. Coming out. Sleeping. Playing. There were more the first time we came but still plenty to observe the second time. I really would advise to go no closer than 20 meters when they are awake, as they are territorial, and a healthy dose of respect seems to go a long way with them.

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The Sea Lions make for an exhilarating experience, but the rest of the beach would still be worth the trip without them. The soft sand and picturesque views make for a great picnic spot, and a few beers to drink in the specialness of the place. The beach is fairly long, but the addition of the dunes along the back of the beach make it a full afternoon trip. We have yet to fully explore the dunes, as we had a rather terrifying experience where a sleeping Sea Lion that was hidden away jumped out at us as we approached. However, if you are cautious as you walk there will be no issues. The real gem of this beach would be the huge dune you can see to your left from the lookout mentioned earlier. There you could do some sand surfing. We haven’t had the foresight to bring a sledge or ski’s yet, but I would advise this is a must and something that you would not be able to do anywhere else in the area. Furthermore, at the end of the beach there is meant to be an underground lookout bunker to view the wildlife. However, we have not seen this either of the times we visited the bay. If anyone spots it, give me a message!

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As mentioned earlier, the only bad note I can leave for the bay is the walk back to the car. A case of what steeply comes down, must come up. It would be fair to say the girlfriend’s parents were slightly annoyed by the effort needed to get up the sandy hill, but we all made it up fine in the end (I think). The first time we came my friend decided to run up it, and being the foolish boy I am I decided to join him… for about 20 seconds. Never again.

All in all I must say that this beach is a fantastic chance to experience New Zealand. You will struggle to find a beach that has both excellent dunes and so many Sea Lions. It really brings you face to face with nature, and it is exhilarating (if not a bit terrifying).

Scenery: 3/5

Walking Difficulty: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

 

 

 

 

 

Tunnel Beach, Dunedin

Situated just south of St Claire, Dunedin, this beach is a must for anyone in the area. Tucked neatly away among the cliffs, it offers a picturesque, secret paradise, unlike any New Zealand beach I’ve seen before.

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The beach secured notability in the 1870s after John Cargill, a local politician, had a tunnel commissioned under the cliffs in order for his family to have access to the secluded beach. A trail track was opened on the site in 1983, and has since become a popular destination among locals and tourists.

The trail down to the cliffs from the car park offers some spectacular sea views as seen in the image below. The underfoot conditions could be better on this route, as it was found to be fairly slippy. Once you have reached the cliffs there are some benches for a spot of lunch or some comfortable viewing, and from there you can either go left to the beach through the tunnel, or climb to the cliff edge further right.

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We chose the tunnel route, and descended into the neatly chiselled cavern. As we came through the end threshold, we surprisingly encountered a small(ish) sea lion.  Both of us were perplexed at how, and why, the little rascal chose this spot, as it would have had to climb some uncomfortable boulders, but we left the lion of the sea to it, and searched on.

Turning right, you are then brought face to face with the open ocean and the stunning beach. It’s main features include mossy boulders, smoothed rocks, waterfalls and mussels. If you are a handy climber, or just a child at heart like myself, this beach is ripe with rocks to ascend, which give much better picture opportunities. A word of caution, though, as they are slippery. Following the beach to the right will bring you to another waterfall, depending on the amount of rain that has fallen. Going to the left you will see a small underpass which you can crawl through, and brings you to a large open cave. You can also access this by following the beach round, alas, we did not know this, and got some rather muddy knees.

Going back to the cliffs you will come across some awe inspiring views of the sea, and of the beach you had just been exploring. Ascending the cliff can be dangerous, as we both simultaneously slipped on the clay-like mud. It seemed very slapstick and certainly gave the locals a hearty laugh at my girlfriends muddy bum. The only blip on wonderful experience would be the steep incline for the walk back up to the car. However, for anyone that walks frequently it would offer no issues.

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Out of all the Dunedin beaches I have explored so far, this has certainly been my favourite, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Just be careful not to slip off and become seal fodder.

Scenery: 4/5

Walking Conditions: 2/5

Walking Difficulty: 3/5

Finding Difficulty: 1/5

Overall Rating: 4/5