What to Do in Dunedin – Part 2

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

Beached As, Bro

Nearly three-quarters of New Zealanders live within five kilometres of a beach.

And they’re pretty gorgeous beaches. Even the average ones are far more picturesque than the likes of Skegness and Cleethorpes, which were my nearest beaches growing up in Britain – and they were each a long train ride away, as opposed to at the bottom of the road.

In fact, looking back, both Skegness and Cleethorpes are extremely depressing in comparison to what I have now. I remember weary stretches of grey punctuated by flaking piers and consolatory donkey rides.

You don’t seem to get donkey rides at New Zealand beaches, or those creaky, old-fashioned fairgrounds. What you do get is nature at its most glorious; views that outshine even the dramatic shores of Cornwall and Wales.

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A view from a friend’s beach house in the Coromandel

Still, New Zealand beaches aren’t what I thought they’d be when I was first told we were moving here. The ten-year-old me thought they’d be all sparkling, white sands, crystal-blue waters, and coconut palms providing shade and convenient snacks. Imagine my amazement, therefore, when we arrived in Waiuku and my dad drove us the ten minutes (the closest beach was ten minutes’ walk) to Kariotahi: rugged cliffs, wild waves and black sand.

Seriously – BLACK sand.

It’s volcanic, also called ironsand, and is mined on the West Coast of New Zealand to make steel, yet it’s the softest thing I’ve ever felt. When my tender, British feet stepped onto it for the first time, I actually gasped. I felt like I was walking on velvet – and silky, high-quality velvet at that.

There are only two problems with black sand: it gets way hotter than normal sand and can burn your feet, and it’s very difficult to rid yourself of. But totally worth it!

The black sand beach at my boyfriend's parents' house

The black sand beach at my boyfriend’s parents’ house

Two of the first things my parents bought me upon arriving in New Zealand were a wetsuit and a bodyboard. Bodyboarding – or “Boogieboarding” – is basically surfing for wusses. I loved riding the waves at Kariotahi, but it sometimes got too dangerous and we had to stop. Lots of New Zealand beaches, including Kariotahi, have Surf Life Saving Clubs operating at them. They put a pair of flags out to mark where it’s safe to surf, and watch for people in trouble. I’ve never had to be saved, but I have experienced being dragged a scarily large distance by a rip and battling to get back between the flags.

West Coast beaches may be more dangerous to surf at, but the soft sand means you don’t scrape your knees when you get beached!

A black sand beach next to my boyfriend's parents' house

The next beach over from the one above

It’s impossible to holiday in New Zealand without hitting a beach. Most of them have places to camp nearby, and many of these have barbecue facilities. A barbecue on the beach is a very New Zealand thing to do – it’s sometimes said that’s what the Kiwi Christmas dinner is – but the most traditional beach food is, as it is in Britain, fish and chips. Or “fush and chups” in the New Zealand accent.

And ice-cream, of course.

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Beaches aren’t a special treat in New Zealand, they are a fact of life, and, as such, are often taken for granted. As a teenager, I was guilty of grumpily refusing to go to the beach – I would never have turned down an opportunity to go to the beach in England! Then again I was a little kid in England. Still, I recently told myself off for taking the Mount Maunganui beach (where I lived with my parents before moving away for university) for granted – a quick reminisce of Skeggy got me appreciating where I was once more.

Mount Maunganui is the perfect beach for sunbathing on. You can also surf, swim, fish, kayak, jet ski, paraglide, climb the Mount, cruise the harbour… But I’ll write a proper article about it another time. It’s very different from the beach at, say, White Island…

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You probably wouldn’t want to sunbath on that.

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There is, however, a volcanic beach where it’s absolute bliss to sunbath. At Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, you can actually dig your own spa pool! You see, hot springs filter up through the sand, so at low tide it’s really warm. I must confess that I haven’t actually been there, but I’d love to go. Maybe next time we hire a campervan, we can stay a night around there. Hope so. It’s supposed to be one of the best beaches in the world.

No surprise it’s in New Zealand.

Smells Like Breakfast: Rotorua

Rotorua is one of the most exciting tourist destinations in New Zealand despite the fact that it smells like rotten eggs! This is because Rotorua is a city bubbling with geothermal activity: hot pools, mud pools and geysers release hydrogen sulphide into the air, which is responsible for the sometimes pungent aroma. Far from being a repellent, the smell adds to the Sulphur City’s charm. It is a constant reminder that you are in another world, one very different, at least, from this pom’s home town in the North of England. Besides, I never thought the smell was that bad – eggs, yes, but not necessarily rotten eggs. In any case, whenever I’m in Rotorua, I always start craving a hearty cooked breakfast.

???????????????????????????????To get to Rotorua, you could catch a domestic flight from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown, or book a coach, but the best way is to drive yourself, as you don’t have the cost or hassle of flying, it doesn’t take as long as in a coach, and you can pull over and get out whenever you see an interesting attraction on the way. You can hire cars cheaply in New Zealand, or, even better, you can hire a campervan. This gives tourists a great amount of freedom, as your accommodation is already taken care of. Even though we’ve lived in New Zealand for eleven years, my family feels no need to travel overseas to take a holiday – we just hire a campervan and go. I don’t know why we don’t just buy a campervan.

???????????????????????????????There are heaps of holiday parks in New Zealand, where you can park your campervan for the night and take advantage of the facilities, and Rotorua is no exception. They’ll all have fliers in their receptions advertising Rotorua’s top visitor attractions, but – take it from me – the best places you can go in Rotorua are FREE.

KUIRAU PARK

My family takes a walk through Kuirau Park every single time we go to Rotorua. It’s free to enter, and contains wonderful examples of exactly what you come to Rotorua to see. The park is an uneven patchwork of steaming, yellow rocks, native scrub, boiling pools, geysers and wonderfully smelly mud pools. These are my favourite: imagine blowing bubbles in a massive glass of molten chocolate, each bubble swelling and then bursting with a tremendously satisfying, gloopy pop. New vents open up in the park all the time, so there is a slight risk of having your skirt unexpectedly blown up in full Marilyn Monroe-style, although, if a new vent were to open up beneath your feet, this would probably be the least of your worries. There are barriers separating visitors from the dangerous patches of the park, but these don’t seem to mean much to small children and idiots, so, if there is a small child or idiot in your party, it is important not to let them out of your sight.

ROTORUA MUSEUM / GOVERNMENT GARDENS

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One of my favourite buildings in the world is the one that houses the Rotorua Museum. It’s essentially Tudor in style, with magnificent windows and a warm, terracotta roof, topped with a spire of the sort I always seem to associate with Venice. Walking up to it, you’d almost think you were in Victorian England; the paths are lined with old-fashioned lampposts, traditional-looking flowerbeds and perfectly manicured bowling greens, but the towering presence of palm trees reminds you that this definitely isn’t England, rather one of “the colonies”. On a sunny day, I feel completely at peace there.

The building used to be a Bath House, which I find both romantic and creepy: romantic for the image of Edwardian elite taking to the geothermal spring waters; creepy for the image of mental patients being held down in pools and subjected to electroshock therapy. The museum, while not free, is well worth a visit. The Tarawera exhibition in particular is a must-see, as it brings to life the most disastrous volcanic eruption in New Zealand’s recorded history. If you don’t want to pay to get into the museum, however, it’s still worth a visit to the area it’s in, and not just to gaze upon the building.  The museum is situated in the historic Government Gardens, which are free to enter and very nice to walk through, with an array of beautiful flowers and geothermal features. It’s another thing my family always does in Rotorua. We like doing free things – we’re Northerners.

LAKE ROTORUA

Here’s another thing you can do for free in Rotorua: take a walk around Lake Rotorua. The water at the edge of the lake is a strange colour – a sort of creamy turquoise – from the sulphur. Steam rises from it in places and, as you walk, you will stumble across miniature hot pools, like this one.

I stepped over this little thing!

I stepped over this little thing!

Plant life at the rim is stunted and burned from the acid, but there are lots of seagulls around and, on the cooler parts of the lake, swans drift serenely along. If you look out across the lake, you’ll see an island in the middle, which, aside from being as beautiful as a painting, is the setting of a really sweet Maori love story.

On the shores of Lake Rotorua

On the shores of Lake Rotorua

Essentially, there once was a fair maiden called Hinemoa, who lived on the shores of Lake Rotorua. She was in love with a guy who lived on the island, but her father didn’t want them to marry, so he made it impossible for her to access a canoe. But Hinemoa was clever. She made herself a raft out of sea turtles or something and reached the island, falling into her lover’s arms. I’ve never been to the island, but there are guided tours and such there.

THE LUGE

Okay, so I may have lied a little. My favourite place in Rotorua isn’t free. I’m not sure how expensive it was the last time I went, but I know that my tight, Northern parents weren’t too happy about it. At the time I didn’t care – it was FUN.

The Luge is operated by Skyline. There’s one in Queenstown as well, but Rotorua was the first. To me, a luge looks like a giant jandal. (Note for Brits: New Zealanders call flip-flops jandals, which may sound silly, but Australians call them thongs, so there you go!) This giant jandal is basically a cross between a go-kart and a toboggan, and with it you can go hooning down the side of Mt Ngongotaha, winding through a picturesque forest and taking the corners as fast as you dare. Don’t worry, there’s a “scenic” track for wusses, and there’s plenty else to do at the top of the mountain, which is reached by a pleasant gondola ride. Apparently, there’s been even more added since I was last there, including a winery tasting place and a 4D motion theatre. But the Luge – oh my gosh!

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There are, of course, countless other tourist attractions in Rotorua, but I think as long as you see at least a few geysers, hot pools and mud pools, you won’t go away disappointed.

As for those readers who have already been to Rotorua, if you know of any great places to go there that I’ve missed, (especially free ones,) please say so in the comments section.