Full Circle at Okia

Five months I’d been out of New Zealand. I’d walked in the millennium-old footsteps of pilgrims, I’d watched the sunset from a Roman ruin, I’d frolicked in the Alps, and I’d even watched the solstice sun set over Stonehenge.

But in spite of all these wonders I felt an increasing sense of longing. I missed the wilderness, the grandeur of home. I missed my weekly adventure with Dad, I missed my cats and the rest of my family. I needed to go home.

Which is how I found myself celebrating New Year 2017 on board a plane headed for Auckland. Once the dust had settled it was time to get back out into more familiar surrounds. The most obvious place to head was the Otago Peninsula, site of almost twenty previous adventures. Perhaps by coincidence, Dad took me out to Okia Flat, which was the subject of my very first ever post on this site.

That post now reads to me like a bad homework assignment, but it was the start of a wonderful thing! We visited Okia several times in those heady days of 2015. Now, after sixteen months of Kiwi Adventures, including a five month interlude in Europe, I’m back exactly where I started.

2015-10-12 14.01.55

At first it seemed as if we’d have to cancel our adventure, as the rain was pouring when we awoke and it seemed the day would be typical of this disappointing Dunedin summer I’d landed in. But soon the sky cleared, becoming a brilliant blue, and our adventure was back on!

Now for the first time in five months I was travelling along Portobllo Rd with the glorious sunshine sparkling on the blue water. Many of my old friends lay along the way – here’s Pudding Island, Quarantine Island, and Harbour Cone! Across the water there’s Mount Cargill standing proud against the sky.

As we crossed the ridge over to Papanui Inlet I leaned forward eagerly as we approached the bird corner, but I was too late in the year to see any baby ducks. The only birds currently hanging around were a couple of herons.

We parked once again by the DOC sign indicating the entrance to the marsh, and I jumped out of the car anticipating the warm sun on my skin. I’d only got a dozen steps into the raging wind before I changed my mind and went back to grab my hoody from the car. Slightly better protected, I caught back up with Dad and we resumed our walk.

Papanui Inlet panorama
Papanui Inlet panorama – click to enlarge!

We headed around the edge of the tidal inlet and drew alongside Mt Charles, which I look at as “the one that got away” as I wasn’t able to climb it before I left Dunedin to go on my epic overseas adventure. I bet the view from up there – the highest point on the peninsula – would be epic.

Mt Charles across the inlet
Mt Charles across the inlet

We hopped over the familiar stile and headed through the grassland towards Victory beach, the golden grass-heads rippling wildly in the strong wind. It seemed like at least one large macrocarpa tree had been carved up since we’d last been here, reduced to small chunks of wood.

Through the grass
Through the grass

We jumped back down onto the beach as we reached the inner side of the sandbar which divides Papanui Inlet from Victory Beach, and Dad quickly pulled me back from the sea lion which I’d unknowingly almost jumped directly on top of.

Sea lion at Papanui Inlet
Terribly sorry, sir or madam!

Luckily it was too busy sunbathing to worry about us once we’d resumed a respectful distance. I’d been looking forward to meeting Dale, the fur seal who’d taken up residence in the Andersons Bay Inlet and picked up the habit of sleeping on the road. To hear of his death just as I arrived back home was heartbreaking.

I’d even been planning to make a joke about “Dunedin, where the biggest issue we face is a rogue sea lion” after months of rubbing shoulders with people up in arms about Brexit and migrants and violent crime, but now that just seems crass.

As we approached the tip of the sandbar we discovered where all the birds were hiding – in the lee of a little sandy hummock out of the wind! There were seagulls, oystercatchers and pied stilts, although most of them took off before I got near.

Birds at Papanui Inlet
Terribly sorry, sirs and madams!

“Might be out of the wind on the other side.” Dad said, so I quickly made my way around the point, only to be completely sandblasted by the wind howling over the sandbar. Half-blinded, I stumbled ahead, toward the site of the Victory shipwreck. Sadly it was not visible today as the pounding waves entirely obscured it.

Finally we managed to get behind the shelter of the high dunes and out of the wind. We did have to edge carefully past another couple of huge sea lions as we made our way along the pale sand toward the cliff that marked the end of the beach, with the great bulk of Quion Cliff looming beyond.

Sea lions on Victory Beach
Please excuse us (sirs or madams)

We continued along the dune until we finally found the little cut that leads up and over on to the swampy expanse of Okia Flat. In 1929 “J.V.B.” of the Otago Daily Times described this as “a dreary place, one of the most forlorn anywhere near Dunedin” and recommended a visit not just to experience the primeval extremes of nature, but also to witness the “strange freak” of volcanic action.

I’ve mostly been here on bright sunny days, so that description rather surprised me, but then again I could imagine that in stormy weather it might be entirely accurate! I also have the advantage of a clearly marked dry path through the swamp – something J.V.B. lacked.

As we made our way down the wide path over several small hillocks, The Pyramids, strange freaks that they are, came into view.

The Pyramids
The Pyramids

I’ve intrepidly (and, I now regret to think, perhaps culturally insensitively) explored the secret cave hidden in the little pyramid, in which several Maori relics were found along with some human remains.

We passed through the bracken and toitoi around the base of the little pyramid. Feeling a little weary from my long walk, I declined to attempt to climb either pyramid, although Dad boasted that he’d summitted the big one not long ago. Seems I have some catching up to do.

Over the stile we began the long straight stretch toward the Dick Rd car park. I’d missed the lambs this year but did spot a decent gaggle of paradise ducks. Near the car park there is a mysterious lone fireplace whose origin I have thus far failed to discover. This town holds more mysteries for me yet.

McCartney Hill under the scudding clouds
McCartney Hill under the scudding clouds

Then it was the last stretch down the road back to the car, admiring the emerald sheep-spotted hills of the peninsula. To my left I spotted my first pukeko since arriving home. Moorhens just aren’t the same!

Approaching the car, we were blasted once again by the unforgiving wind. We struggled through to the safety of our vehicle and finally gained its shelter. Then it was back the way we had come, stopping only for our customary Peanut Slab in Portobello. This had been a fine homecoming adventure, and I look forward to seeing what amazing places this new year takes me, both familiar and new!

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