Thursday, November 04, 2010

Our arrival on the South Island - Dunedin

After a quick stop to drop off our bikes (Thanks Marcello and Cyclezone) we headed to Rotorua Airport. Getting through the airport was a breeze, especially since nobody checks ID’s and there was absolutely no security screening. The ride was a bit noisy since we were sitting right next to the propeller (yes I said propeller), but the service was excellent and the flight attendants were wonderful.

We arrived in Dunedin with a wet Scotland-like welcome. Our new rental car was a manual transmission. As if driving on the other side of the road was not bad enough, now I have to SHIFT with my left hand?

We drove straight to our new couch surfing hosts home, right downtown. Matt and Tash were great hosts, and made us feel welcome right away.

Sightseeing in Dunedin really started with the Botanic Gardens.

Although it was too early in the season to enjoy the flowers in full bloom (like their sprawling rose garden) we had a lovely time wandering the many garden paths.

One of these paths took us uphill to the aviary. Examples of many native birds entertained us with their colorful plumage and many different calls. One of the cockatoos was said to have a good English vocabulary, but he must not have liked my funny accent, as I could not get him to utter a word.

A tourist “must do” in Dunedin is visit Baldwin Street the steepest street in the world. Why anyone would ever build a street this steep is beyond me, and why anyone would ever LIVE on it, boggles the mind.

A walk up it took us nearly 12 minutes, and winners of the annual foot race up finish in two. Turns out Dunedin has quite a few steep streets, but Baldwin St tops them all.

Another day was spent on the Otago Peninsula.

A steep, twisty, uphill drive took us to the Larnach Castle. While small compared to the giants of Europe, the castle is still quite impressive. Built from 1873 to 1887, it was a huge project and cost the equivalent of millions in todays money. The ceiling in one room alone took 3 craftsmen 6yrs to complete.

The castle is being restored after being abandoned and falling to ruins. The family who owns it is finding and buying back as many of the unique custom built pieces of furniture as they can find, to return them to their original and rightful place in the castle. Almost as impressive as the castle itself is the gardens that surround it. The amount of work that goes into the renovations and maintenance of this place is staggering.

After the castle, a short drive brought us to Sandfly Beach (there are not actually any Sandflies there thank goodness). A walk down to the beach eventually led us to a viewing blind. We climbed over a wall to give space to the dozing Sea Lion blocking our path to the Hide, and sat down to wait for the very rare Yellow Eyed Penguin.

We ended up with quite a bit of company; human company that is, but the penguins were proving to be quite elusive. After several hours of waiting we had not seen even one.

Finally a lone penguin emerged from the ocean, and the whole blind of people spent 45 minutes watching this one penguin climb up the huge hill to his little cave somewhere way up top. After waiting so long, it was a bit of a let-down, but we saw a probably soon to be extinct animal in the wild.

We did see a few more come in. And one walked up the beach right in front of us as we were walking back to the car. I was so fixated on the little guy I totally did not see the large sea lion laying right in my path, if Stephanie had not said something I would have stepped on him like the log I thought him to be. That would be a wildlife encounter of the wrong kind.

Thanks to a tip from our hosts, Steph and I headed down to the Dunedin Saturday market, located right next to the Dunedin Railway Station (the most photographed bluilding in the country), where we rubbed shoulders with the locals and got some great cheese and coffee.

Dunedin is really a wonderful city. Settled by Scots looking for religious freedoms, the city is like a distant European cousin. Old historic buildings live side by side with Dunedin’s new economy. The locals have a different accent from northern NZ, with rolling R’s and phrases like “wee bit of ’”, “just a wee little one” thrown in now and then.

On our final night our Couch Surfing hosts took us to the nearby beach, and treated us to dinner at their favorite Japanese place (!) Have I mentioned lately how much we just love couch surfing and the opportunity to meet so many great people?!

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