Checking out South Island's largest city
09.11.2009 - 10.11.2009 59 °F
The trip from Christchurch to Dunedin is only supposed to take around four and a half hours. But, the GPS can’t calculate stops to see the beauty of South Island. So four and a half is more like six and a half. I have a feeling that drive times may be very elongated in New Zealand. Just North of Dunedin is a good place to stop to see a natural wonder that’s a little different. The first thing you notice as you exit the car this day is the wind; it is blowing quite hard and bending the tall grass near the beach entrance to a 90 degree angle. Walking across a sand dune the tips of the same grass is sharp enough to cut and it does as it scratches at my bare ankles. The objects of this side trip are spherical boulders found along the shore known as the Moeraki Boulders.
What is supposed to be a short 10 minute walk is made difficult by the biting wind, but I am entertained with the thin layer of sand that is hovering over the beach shifting left and right like ghosts moving with a purpose eerily enough towards the spheres. They are almost completely rounded and look as if they are left over from some ancient game of bowling by the gods of old. They are thought to have been lime that formed on the sea bed about 60 million years ago.
We arrived in Dunedin in the early evening and sought out a place to eat dinner. It was Monday night and I felt rather out of step with the town as the first place we’d selected to dine from our (so far) trusty guidebook was closed for the evening. But it was our fault for not noticing the breakfast and lunch only codes on the entry. However, the next two restaurants were not just closed, they were shuttered, businesses that didn’t make it in this economy. I’m sure it was worse for the owners than for me, but I did feel like I was having the run of bad luck at the moment. On our way to the third restaurant, Jeannine spotted a little place called The Palms with people inside. This became our new standard… IT’S OPEN! We had to retrace steps to find it again and were when we got the only remaining empty table in the place. Fortunately, the food was wonderful so the new standard wasn’t a disaster.
The town of Dunedin is a charming town (on the east coast of NZ’s south island) founded by Scottish settlers in 1848. There was a rift forming in the Presbyterian Church at the time and a conservative group of parishioners decided to start anew in the new land. The name comes from the Gaelic name for Edinburgh and many of its street names are still Scottish. It became the center of NZ commerce in the 1860s and education with the first university, woman’s college, and medical school. Then the gold rush hit, but unlike some towns in the American west, Dunedin stuck to its Scottish Presbyterian roots and the town flourished. Some very fancy Victorian and Georgian buildings were constructed here during that time. We stopped by a few of them such as the Railway Station and the First Church.
The Railway Station, which opened in 1906, was built in the Flemish Renaissance style. It is very striking due to the details on its windows and towers and the use of dark and light stones. The dark stones are called Otago bluestone and the lighter ones are Oamaru limestone (from two different locations in the area). Many nice details were inside the building such as stained glass windows and glazed tile around the ticket hall.
The First Presbyterian Church of Otago was designed by a Scottish architect in 1862. Its spire is 184 feet tall and it had a lovely wooden ceiling.
The highlight of a trip to Dunedin is a visit to the Otago Peninsula. This is the place to see the royal albatross nesting area, yellow-eyed penguins, seals and other ocean wild life. We drove to the end of the peninsula to see the albatross but they are just settling on their nests right now so there is no viewing allowed. We made up for it by looking over the cliffs and spotting seals in the ocean different birds nesting in the cliffs.