What to Do in Dunedin – Part 2

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As my regular readers know, my boyfriend and I recently spent ten days in Dunedin. It’s a brilliant place, but due to my boyfriend’s mountain of coursework we didn’t get to explore quite as much of it as we would have wanted. We did manage to get a few days of exploring in, however, due to the fact that we were able to borrow his brother’s car. I do suggest hiring a vehicle to explore the outskirts of Dunedin, either an NZ car hire or NZ campervan hire, as buses out of the city are not very frequent.

I have to tell you about the day we drove out to Lake Waihola.

The weather was quite cold and windy, but wonderfully sunny. We had to pick my boyfriend’s brother up from Dunedin International Airport (I know, International – I was surprised at that too) in the afternoon, so we decided in the morning to check out Lake Waihola, which is just a bit further on from the airport, in Dunedin’s backwaters. It sounded nice, I mean, it was a lake. We thought we’d take a picnic.

Thing is, we didn’t have a water bottle, so my boyfriend – ever the inventive type – washed out a milk bottle and filled that with water. (In New Zealand, milk bottles aren’t glass, they’re plastic with handles.) Also, we didn’t really have anything picnic-y in the fridge. We had a bag of peanuts, but it was the sort of bag that tends to split when you open it and we didn’t have any other containers… so my boyfriend put them in a cooking pot.

Thus we set out for Lake Waihola. We drove past the airport and into an increasingly swampish landscape. There are two lakes around there, Lake Waihola and Lake Waipori, and an area called the Sinclair Wetlands, which is a haven for birdwatchers. We also saw a sign that said ‘Waipori Falls’ and thought, “Ooh, waterfalls. We’ll have to stop there on the way back.”

When we arrived, we discovered that Waihola was a small town – well a village, really – with a holiday park by the lakeside. As for lake itself…

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It was normal. Disappointingly normal. I mean it was still pretty, but not for the South Island. In the South Island, you come to expect every natural feature to be awe-inspiringly beautiful. Lake Waihola just wasn’t.

Ah well. It was nice enough in its own way. It had a playground and a slide in the water – obviously a place locals came with their kids in the summer. We saw a pair of teenage girls walking along the lake front (wearing short shorts, so clearly local, as in accustomed to the cold) and eating ice-creams. So, naturally, we wanted ice-creams too. In pursuit of that goal, we headed to the lake front dairy.

(In New Zealand, a dairy is not just a farm with cows, it’s a corner shop or convenience store. I once told some friends back in England that I was popping to the dairy to get some milk and they thought if New Zealanders needed milk, they simply walked down the road and milked a cow.)

We walked into the dairy. Now, heaps of places that do ice-cream in New Zealand will offer you a choice of a normal cone or a more expensive waffle cone – it’s not uncommon. My boyfriend casually asked the lady behind the counter if she had any waffle cones and the look she gave him…

She paused, her face frozen in a sneer of surprise and disgust, and then said in a voice heavy with disdain, “You’re in New Zealand.”

I almost laughed, but I was too shocked. I wasn’t at all miffed that there weren’t any waffle cones. I wanted to say, “No, we’re in Waihola,” and ask if she’d ever left it, but refrained. My boyfriend was quite put out at being treated like a rich, ignorant tourist asking for caviar. He’s from Auckland. Now, people from the rest of New Zealand often regard Aucklanders as snobs, calling them Jafas (JAFA = Just Another F**king Aucklander), but, as my boyfriend emphatically pointed out as we left the dairy, he’s a West Aucklander, which is a whole world of difference.

If you’ve ever seen the hit Kiwi show Outrageous Fortune, they’re Westies. Or the fantastically funny New Zealand film Savage Honeymoon. They’re basically all pot-smoking, ex-hippy alcoholics with a penchant for goods that have fallen off the back of a truck. Come harvest time, police helicopters scour the West looking for patches of weed. But the best folks you could ever hope to party with.

When we’d finished our ice-creams, my boyfriend proceeded to drink his water out of his old milk bottle and he felt much better for it.

There wasn’t much else to do at Lake Waihola, so we got back in the car and headed back towards the airport, turning off down the road that pointed to Waipori Falls. The thing is we never found Waipori Falls.

We were on the right road – we were sure of it – an unsealed road that snaked up into the hills, through the bush and along the side of the Waipori River. A road that got more windy, more narrow and more on the edge of a cliff. We drove and we drove and we drove. Through a tunnel of trees that dappled the road with sunlight. Nothing. We drove. A huge silo. A hazard sign. We joked that we were entering a super villain’s secret lair. We drove some more. Still no sign of any waterfalls.

More sinister-looking buildings. We’d been driving along this narrow, windy, unsealed road at the top of a cliff for over half an hour now. Where were these bloody waterfalls?

We soon realised that we had to abandon our quest, or we’d leave a certain someone waiting angrily at the airport, so we turned around (with difficultly) and headed back. At least we’d come across one or two scenic lookouts over the river. We resolved to solve the mystery of Waipori Falls later with the aid of Google Maps.

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Upon doing so, we were forced to discard our theory that a super villain was hiding in the hills beyond Dunedin. The sinister structures had in fact been, as our more sensible selves had suspected, a hydro power station. And Waipori Falls was not a secluded collection of waterfalls, it was a village: a village that, according to a 2012 Otago Daily Times article, has “no letterboxes, no shops, no service station and no street names” and consists of “33 houses nestled on hillsides.

“While there are one or two clusters of dwellings, most of the homes are situated far from their neighbours, separated by bush and a tangle of twisting roads. It was established by the Waipori Falls Company in 1902 to house workers building the company’s hydro electric generation scheme on the Waipori River, although most of the homes date from much more recent decades.”  You can read the whole article here – go on, it’s interesting.

The bush around the village is a popular spot for pig hunting. You can also fish, kayak, watch birds, tramp and go mountain biking.

There is a waterfall at Waipori Falls, but it’s called Crystal Waterfall. The photos of it are very pretty. I wish we’d actually gotten to see it.

But then we might have been kidnapped and skinned by a reclusive serial killer.

Next week: our day on the Otago Peninsula, featuring a couple of funny stories and an abundance of gorgeous views.

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What to Do in Dunedin – Part 1

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Memorial for the Otago soldiers who died in the Boer War

Dunedin is a cool little city, a web of old buildings embraced by rolling, emerald hills with a view over the spectacular Otago Harbour. My boyfriend and I just spent ten days there, and even though we didn’t have much money to spare we had an absolutely brilliant time.

We stayed with my boyfriend’s brother, so our accommodation was free, and we were allowed the use of his van, which saved us the cost of hiring a car. If you ever find yourself in Dunedin, though, I really do recommend hiring a car, as the best experience we had was the day we took a relaxed drive around the Otago Peninsula, going at our own pace, discovering breathtaking views and interesting nooks and crannies.

We flew directly to Dunedin from Auckland Airport, and as we were coming in to land I marvelled at how green the landscape below was – green with patches of wonderfully bright yellow. I later asked what these striking yellow bushes were – gorse – and was told that people were trying to get rid of them. Dunedin was settled in the nineteenth century by Scots, and they brought the gorse with them to use as hedges, but it spread like the triffids. I hope it doesn’t get eradicated. It’s part of what makes the landscape around Dunedin so different from Auckland.

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This photograph fails to capture just how strikingly yellow the gorse is.

So anyway the plane came in to land on a runway that was surrounded by cows and we were picked up by my boyfriend’s brother, excited and eager to show us what life in Dunedin is all about: drinking.

Dunedin is a city populated by students. It’s apparently “dead” during the summer holidays, but during the semester time it hums with live music and a party atmosphere. Now my boyfriend and I aren’t the sort to get drunk and party, (in fact on our only Saturday night in Dunedin we stayed in and did work,) but I can state confidently that the pub scene in Dunedin is heaps better than in Auckland. The alcohol is cheaper, the bars have more character, the people are more interesting and friendly and the music is better. Also, you don’t see so many young girls dressed like sluts, but that’s due to it being way colder in Dunedin. What you do get is more hipsters.

One pub I have to mention is Queens. It’s a cosy place with hardly any tables, but lots of old couches and pouffes, an antique lift that serves as a sound and lighting booth, a complimentary platter of chips and lollies (translation: crisps and sweets) and a small stage in a corner. It plays host to a variety of talented musicians, some that are so talented I won’t be surprised if they end up famous – Dunedin’s one of those proving grounds for up-and-coming performers. It was at this bar that I met a young woman with blonde dreadlocks and a nose ring who told me that you shouldn’t shower because the fluoride the government put in the water kills off the brain cells that allow you to dream. Gotta love Dunedin.

So when you’re in Dunedin, get yourself down to the city centre one evening and browse the bars.

The Octagon

The Octagon

At the very centre of the city is the Octagon, sort of like a town square except it’s an octagon and it has a road going through it. It’s got nice buildings around it and feels quite British.

Like any town hall in Britain

Like any town hall in Britain

In fact, the whole city feels quite British. I suppose that’s due to it being settled by Scots. There are heaps of old, stone churches, which is unusual for New Zealand and made me feel like I was home in England.

The First Church of Dunedin

The First Church of Dunedin

The shopping in Dunedin is great. There’s pretty much one road of shops that stretches off from the Octagon and I groaned at the fact I didn’t have any money to spend. Happily, Dunedin has lots (and I mean lots) of second-hand shops – clothes, antiques, books – and I managed to make a few purchases I didn’t have to feel guilty about.

There’s lots of things to do in the city centre besides drinking and shopping. You could gawk at the old railway station and catch the sightseeing train that goes through Taieri Gorge, take a tour of the Speight’s Brewery or the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, (which has a giant chocolate waterfall and smells heavenly,) or if, like us, you don’t have money, you could visit the botanic garden or drive up and down Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world.

If you don't want to pay to go on a rollercoaster...

If you don’t want to pay to go on a rollercoaster…

(Good for me, I’d already been on the train and round the chocolate factory anyway, as my family visited Dunedin on our South Island campervan hire tour when I was a kid, back when I had Mummy and Daddy to pay for everything. Those were the days.)

Ah.

I’ve just realised that this article is already over eight hundred words long and there’s still so much more to say, so I think I’ll wrap it up with a ‘to be continued…’

Join me next week for a drive into the rural backwaters of Dunedin, in which we discover an evil overlord’s secret lair and a xenophobic ice cream lady. And possibly the beauty of the Otago Peninsula, if I don’t run out of words again.

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Market Reserve

What to Do in Dunedin – Part 2

Covering Gandalf and Bear Grylls in Cheese

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Hello, everyone – I’m in Dunedin at the moment!

The last time I was here was nearly ten years ago when I was a kid, and we only stayed for a day or two before continuing on to the next stop in our New Zealand campervan rental, so it’s like I’m visiting it for the first time now and it’s awesome.

Awesome – there’s a well-used kiwi word that’s rubbed off on me. At least I’m not saying things like “sweet as”. I mean sweet as what, for goodness’ sake?

Anyway, I’m not going to write a comprehensive ‘what to do in Dunedin’ article until after I get back to Auckland. What I’m going to talk about this week is the Air New Zealand safety video. (My boyfriend and I didn’t end up hiring a campervan in Auckland and driving down like we wanted, as we were constrained by both time and money. Ah well. Flying to Dunedin was pleasant enough and took little over an hour and a half.)

I’m probably a tad late on the bandwagon talking about the Air New Zealand safety videos. They’ve been up on YouTube for eons. The most famous one was the one they made to promote the first Hobbit film: An Unexpected Briefing. You should have a watch if you haven’t seen it.

Yes, it’s incredibly cheesy. But that’s part of its charm. And, let’s face it, who would bother to watch the safety video all that carefully anymore if there wasn’t some novelty to it? I think it’s genius.

The success of the Hobbit safety video led to them using the same ‘cover popular figures with cheese’ principle for their next video, the one that my boyfriend and I got: The Bear Essentials of Safety with none other than Bear Grylls. Again, watch it.

It’s not as good as the Lord of the Rings one. Bear Grylls seems a bit too attached to that massive fish he’s using to represent hand luggage.

There have been other safety videos including Fit to Fly with Richard Simmons (!) and one featuring the All Blacks. Because this is New Zealand. Everything has to feature the All Blacks.

I can imagine if you were a frequent flyer with Air New Zealand, these videos would become incredibly annoying, but for the rest of us they’re a definite breath of fresh air.

Air New Zealand is one of the best airlines in the world and they have a pretty good sense of humour. They’ll be my first choice whenever I need to fly again, (which might be next year – an OE* in Europe!)

*Overseas Experience, a New Zealand term for an extended overseas working holiday, usually taken soon after uni graduation. Yes, New Zealand is amazing and I want to have a family here and grow old, but for young people who’ve been trapped here since childhood, it’s so very small and isolated, and most people my age have a manic desire to GTFO. If I – when I do go, I know I’ll be back.

Land of the Ice Dragons

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I was sorting through some old files on my computer the other day when I came across a poem I wrote when I was thirteen. Reading it for the first time in years, I was overcome by a surprisingly visceral memory: I wrote the poem after visiting the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers with my family while we were on a campervan tour of the South Island and, setting aside the cringeworthiness of the words, they capture the experience of walking down a valley towards the foot of a glacier fairly well… the cold, refreshing wind coming off the ice like it’s the glacier’s breath… The photographs do not do it justice, so here is the poem, for which I apologise in advance… it’s called Disturbing a Dragon

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Jagged crown of gleaming white

Cold heart of blue

Retreating slowly, night by night

’Cross the mountains through

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I approach the icy fortress

Asleep for a thousand years

The great dragon, the mountain’s mistress

Suddenly she rears

 

Ghostly breath so deathly cold

(Bare arms in the chill)

An ice-formed dragon in the valley old

The sun hides behind the hill

 

I see the ice queen study me

Crystal eyes a-glare

Cathedral wings, she hauls them free

Slicing fangs a-flare

 

My frosted hand grips my sword

I raise my shield in fear

The time comes, the dragon roars

And then she sheds a tear

 

The tear drips down her shining snout

And crashes to the dirt

Something stirs in me, I shout

“Great dragon, are you hurt?”

 

“Why seek you to destroy me?

There really is no need

The warming world does that, you see

Watch how I recede

 

“It does not matter what you wield

I’ll soon meet my end

Put down your sword, put down your shield

Stop playing pretend”

 

The dragon lowers her melting wings

Lamenting her defeat

A piece of ice falls as she sings

Rolling to my feet

 

I pick it up, the chunk of ice

A silver witch’s orb

153 Abigail with icecroppedBut now my jacket does entice

I feel the cold absorb

 

One last look at the glacier

Before my mum says “Come

Put that down, it’s freezing here”

My hands are going numb

 

Visiting the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers was one of the highlights of that South Island campervan holiday. I would recommend it to anyone travelling around New Zealand. There’s a variety of guided tours that take you onto and around both glaciers, with activities including ice climbing and helicopter rides, but these are quite expensive. Happily, you can walk up to both glaciers by yourself on easygoing tracks for free – just make sure you don’t cross the safety barriers!

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