So, we're on the trail: the Otago Central Rail Trail. 
Five years ago the old iron rails and the old wooden sleepers were removed – and the 100-years-old Central Otago railway was turned into a new rail trail.
Today's stage from Clyde was 44 km and took us through very beautiful landscapes ...
... with the odd farms and stocks here and there ...
... but mostly just scorched and semi-arid areas; even the ubiquitous thistles dry out.
Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris).
At a few places plants were still flowering and some birdlife was present.
Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus).
Manuherikia River.
Along the Manuherikia River we pit stopped at Chatto Creek tavern, said g'day to Honkey the donkey ...
... and enjoyed a light lunch, including a freshly made "donkey doo".
This photo is for Frank D. – We got away unseen!
After that it was all "downhill".
We arrived in the village of Omakau and our accommodation "Tiger Hill Lodge" where we were expected.
On our way around the Omakau neighbourhood we passed the Daniel O'Connell suspension bridge over the Manuherikia River.
. . .
Cloud cover allowing, I will try to take a few evening/night/stars photos later on, as the lodge is suitably located for that. – We'll see.


Royal wildlife

Taiaroa Head, the promontory of Otago Peninsula, some 35 km east of Dunedin, was our destination yesterday for a long-needed wildlife outing. 
Taiaroa Head is right next to the very narrow and much trafficked sailing route between Dunedin harbour and the Pacific Ocean.
Regardless, all sides of Taiaroa Head are very busy with seabirds. The building on the very top is the Albatross Centre.
Blue Penguin / BP (Eudyptula minor). This species is the smallest of all penguins. Adults are about 33 cm in standing height and about 1 kg 'heavy'.
First, we used about an hour cruising around the Head to encounter the odd sea- or airborne wildlife.
New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri).
The two colour morphs of Otago Shag (Leucocarbo chalconotus).
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus).
. . . and then! The first albatross flying in from the ocean and just at water level.
Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi).
Indeed a magnificent bird with its standing height of 115 cm, a weight of 6-8 kg and a wingspan of 300 cm.

Just next to the lighthouse some Royals are nesting. We will return to them.
An adult male of New Zealand Sea Lion (Phocarctos hookeri) was the last and the heaviest wildlife item on the cruise agenda.
We then proceeded to the Royal Albatross Centre on top of Taiaroa Head to learn more about the royal birds and see some up close. In order not to disturb the royalties we observed from inside a "blind" with one-way windows, so we could see the birds but not vice versa.
A royal couple (female and male look alike). The sitting bird is warming a 4-week-old "albatrosling".
You can just make up the beak of the chick aft of the parent.
The Royal Albatross is a great bird, – in all aspects.
We were very fortunate to see these birds both flying and at their nesting site.
We remained at Taiaroa Head for we had yet another activity before we could call it a day.
After sunset we (together with 88 other folks) walked downhill to the beach and the purpose-built viewing platform. Everybody waited for some little Blue Penguins (BP) to return ashore from a hard working day at sea.
The first raft of penguins appeared shortly after, got out of the water and became a waddle of penguins. Both people and penguins stared at each other. As it was a dark evening some lights were left on the platform (apparently not disturbing the BPs). Still, it was an ISO-challenge to take respectable photos. I got some at 12.800 that are OK, but not great.
The BPs kept the waddle close as they ventured up onto the beach heading for their nesting burrows.
Once amongst the rocks the individuals scuttled towards their front door in the upland grassy part where their partner loudly welcomed them.
. . .
We were back in Dunedin shortly before midnight but still got an early start this Tuesday morning because we had a bus to catch.
Downtown in bonnie Clyde. Our accommodation is Dunstan House, the building with the red roof.
By noon we found ourselves in the village of Clyde in central Otago, the driest, sunniest, warmest and coldest region of the South Island.
We are staying in the historic gold-rush hotel Dunstan House where once the cancan girls swung their hindquarters and the gold-diggers spent their hard-earned money.
We have got our bikes, were briefed about the route, the dos and don'ts, have tested the equipment and are now ready to hit the bike trail tomorrow morning after a breakie.
Ten days on the roads of Otago should bring us lots of unforgettable experiences.


Back in Dunedin

Yesterday (which happened to be a Sunday) we strolled around in Christchurch, grabbed a flight to "Edinburgh of the South" and arrived in Dunedin at dinner time.
Since 2014 Dunedin has been a designated literature city.
Dunedin is also known for its many murals that brighten up dull walls.
"Age Concern Otago" promotes wellbeing, rights, respect and dignity for older people. – We fully support that.
Today is Monday and our the main activity will be an 8-hour wildlife tour on and around Otago Peninsula. We will be back in our Dunedin hotel only in late evening, so do not expect any blog entry before Tuesday evening. By that time we will have transferred by bus from Dunedin to the village of Clyde in central Otago.


Castle Hill

When we woke up in Gollum's cave, the sky was low and the forest misty.
We breakfasted (and I made a big mistake by getting a curry-chicken pie) ...
... and visited the local artist who exhibited quite a few paintings with "vikings".
"Vikings travelling" by John Burns.
When asked whether he had Viking ancestors, he said "No" and added "Vikings are just pre-humans to me". – Well, I thought, my Nordic roots are pre-human then.
We eventually waved goodbye to the queer kitsch in the lodge and stopped at Arthur's Pass for elevenses.
While we waited for our coffees to-go, the usual Kea was on duty outside trying not to miss any opportunity to pilfer shiny or rubbery items from café quests.
Our coffees and muffins were enjoyed a few kms farther along with this magnificent view of the Waimakariri river valley.
After one more hour on the road we reached Kura Tawhiti or Castle Hill, so named because of the imposing array of limestone boulders in the area reminiscent of an old, run-down stone castle. 
These grand limestone rock battlements are rich in Maori history. 
The ancient rocks of this karst landscape are smooth, sculpted, spectacular, and irresistibly photogenic. Somehow they have a "smølfy" touch to them.
A very heartfelt and warm "thank you" to Richard for taking us (once again) to wonderful places in his great homeland. We shall never forget our experiences together.
. . .
We are now in downtown Christchurch. Tomorrow, we will be exploring the town a bit and then fly to Dunedin to get ready for a fortnight in Otago.
Stay tuned !