Monday, June 12, 2017

Road Trip to Dunedin

With almost 3 weeks till opening day at Treble Cone I've a little time on my hands. So rather than spend my time just hanging around Wanaka I decided to go on a tiki tour to Dunedin.

I had planned to visit the Catlins as well, but with so much to see around Dunedin, and the need to be back in Wanaka on Monday to open a new bank account ( I know, a bloody interview FFS!) I decided to explore this southern city and surrounds over 4 days.

I drove down via the Maniototo. I've driven this way before when travelling up from Oamaru last year, but this time I took a slightly different route and then headed south through Middlemarch and Hyde to arrive in Dunedin Wednesday afternoon. Lots of narrow windy roads and thousands of sheep! As I descended from the hills above the city I was mesmerised by how picturesque a city Dunedin is. Sorry I haven't a photo to share, I was driving at the time!

Let me introduce my new steed. I bought this sporty version of a Toyota Corolla from a Taswegian friend a couple of months ago, sight unseen. It might seem a little incautious, but I trusted Emma, and I've met and taken her mother skiing. I knew I wouldn't be buying a lemon, and so far, he's been fine, though I'll probably need new brake pads before the season is out. So many hills!! But he needs a name.....

So, back to Dunedin. Little sister to Christchurch and very much a university town, it has a great vibe. There's a mixture of old stone buildings and utilitarian 50s and 60s eyesores, and a spanking new sports stadium that is just plain ugly. But then rugby isn't meant to be pretty is it? It's more the layout of the city that makes its architecture interesting rather than the buildings themselves. There's the central Octagon with municipal buildings radiating out from it, and some seriously funky laneways. The steep streets and dark alleyways remind me of Edinburgh, which isn't surprising given the strong Scottish link this end of Ao Tea Roa.

And then there's the street art. Hidden down alleys, or spread across huge walls in parking lots, some overlooking major intersections, they are a real delight and worth spending an hour or so wandering around finding them. Photos speak better than words...

A visit to Dunedin isn't complete without visiting a few icons. Number one would have to be the Dunedin Railway Station. Unfortunately the rail line to Christchurch no longer runs a passenger service, although there is a thriving tourist train to Oamaru and Taieri Gorge, both trips I'd love to take one day. The Station itself is quite an architectural statement itself, complete with stained glass windows and tiling.

Next door to the Station is the Otago Settlers Museum, well worth a visit as it chronicles local history from Maori times through British settlement from whalers to farmers and gold miners, through to today. It has one of the best collections of 20th Century gadgets I've seen in a museum for a while. And I was particularly taken with the list of possessions each emigre had to bring with him or her when taking 3 months to sail out to New Zealand from the old country. I've been known to bring half that for a 3 month trip myself!

Leaving the Settlers Museum you turn the corner and there is the Dunedin Chinese Garden. This is  the result of a close collaboration with the city of Shanghai, where the garden was designed and constructed before being shipped and reassembled in Dunedin. It is an authentic Scholar's Garden, similar to those I visited in Suzhou many years ago, though with a little more variety and colour in the plantings. Even in early winter it is spectacular, and for a garden addict like me it's a must see.

Getting out of the city to explore the Otago Peninsula was high on my to do list. The drive out hugs the western coastline and is not only extremely scenic, it is narrow, windy and beggars belief that someone could negotiate it at the legal 70km/hr speed limit. I stuck to a much more comfortable 50. Plus I'm looking after those brake pads....

I wanted to combine a bit of rigorous exercise with some sightseeing and a little wildlife encounter, so decided to tackle some walks from Sandymount, approximately half way along the peninsula on the eastern side. This required driving on some dirt roads up and down hills and valleys to a glorious parking spot overlooking Hoopers Inlet and Allans Beach. It's hard to go anywhere in NZ without encountering drop dead gorgeous scenery.

From the carpark the muddy track entered a stand of macrocarpa (big ugly pine trees), past a shed, and then onto open land above cliffs. Green grass dotted with the ubiquitous NZ fluffy sheep.

There was a detour to The Chasm. I wasn't daring enough to lean right out over the railing to see the very bottom of the huge split in the cliff face, but apparently there is water at the bottom. Next along the track was Lovers Leap, another geological formation in the cliffs below. This one looked inviting but there was no obvious track down to it, so the only choice was to continue following the peg line along the cliff top to where it joined the path back to the summit of Sandymount and the carpark.

But that wasn't strenuous enough a walk, so I continued straight ahead for the path down to Sandfly Beach. And the operative word here is down. A sandhill. A very big steep sandhill. Of course it was a breeze, but I knew the return trip wouldn't be quite so easy.

Down on the beach were a number of Hookers Sea lions sun bathing. Mostly they just ignored me and I kept my distance whilst walking the length of the beach and back. I was blessed with glorious warm sunny weather, with only a slight icy breeze.

And then I tackled the sand dune. I'm not sure how high it was but I'd hazard it was at least a 200m climb up damp sand. Without a heavy backpack it was actually quite easy. After tackling the dunes of the south coast of WA this dune might have been steep but it was a whole lot easier than dry slippery sand. Plus it was only one dune, not multiple ones...or I'm a lot fitter than I thought I was.

Another day and another outing, this time north of Dunedin to Aramoana, along yet another windy road hugging the coastline. Out at the end of the road it was blowing a veritable gale, but rugged up in my jacket and beanie it was a very enjoyable stroll up an empty beach under huge cliffs. Really, do yourself a favour and come visit NZ, it is beyond beautiful.

Well that's it. After 3 days and 4 nights I drove back to Wanaka to sort out a bank account and maybe find a job. A big shout out to Sue and Graham for letting me stay at their Dunedin house whilst they were away on the Gold Coast. I reckon they deserve a little treat from me when they get to Wanaka for the ski season. It's certainly cold enough to crack out the sticky date pudding.....

It would be nice if it started snowing though....