A Travellerspoint blog

Doin' Dunedin

Checking out South Island's largest city

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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.

Winds at Moeraki Boulders Beach

Winds at Moeraki Boulders Beach

Moeraki boulders

Moeraki boulders

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.

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station Stained Glass Window

Dunedin Railway Station Stained Glass Window

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.

Dunedin First Church

Dunedin First Church

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.

Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula

Shag Family

Shag Family

Seals at Otago

Seals at Otago

Posted by Aeren 00:14 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

New Zealand flowers

Special edition of the blog!

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On Sunday we attended the historic Holy Trinity Cathedral's morning service. Pictured below is the inside and outside fo the cathedral. We later walked through The Doman, a large park in Auckland. Here are some treats from the walk.

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Holy Trinity Cathedral

Holy Trinity Cathedral

Foxglove

Foxglove

Water lily

Water lily

Sir Edmond cactus

Sir Edmond cactus

Torch Ginger

Torch Ginger

Flower buds

Flower buds

Pineapple

Pineapple

Flowering tree

Flowering tree

Chinese lantern

Chinese lantern

Cabbage tree

Cabbage tree

Bromeliad

Bromeliad

Posted by Aeren 16:14 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Birdwatching on the Thames

Major British influence in a small NZ town.

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Today is Saturday and in the quaint town of Thames it is time for the outdoor market on Pollen Street. People were selling everything from used books and knitted socks to honey and old tools. This part of town was built in the 1800s during the gold rush so it had the very homey feel of small town folks getting out for some excitement.

We walked past a lovely old wooden church called St. James Church and approached the entrance where two women were talking. Wondering if the church was in use I asked, “Is this an active parish?” One woman responded, “Oh yes, and we wish it was more active!” We all had a good chuckle after that.

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St. James Church

We then climbed a hill to get a look over the town and the estuary named the “Firth of Thames”. We continued our walk down to the water line where there was a ring of mangrove trees along the banks. These trees are amazing in the way they withstand the pounding of the waves pulling at their roots. We came to a bird blind and enjoyed watching the birds interact as I took pictures of herons, oystercatchers, and godwits. I know I’ve seen programs about the migration of birds, but it’s still amazing to see birds that travel from as far away as Alaska to this island nation.

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The Firth of Thames.

By the time we came back into town the streets were empty and found that we missed the hustle and bustle of the market. Many of the dramatic spots we’ve visited have been a bit lonely because it’s not quite tourist season. It’s nice to have people around now and then. We dropped into the Sola Café because it was supposed to have nice vegan food and we were totally impressed. Not only was it cozy but the moussaka and the herb fritter we had were delicious. Add to that their homemade soy chai and I was in gastronomical heaven.

Next we were off to do a little hiking in the Coromandel Forest. We were aiming for the Kauaeranga Valley where there was supposed to be a nice view of some falls and a swing bridge over a river; nothing too strenuous but enough to get an idea of the place. On the trail we saw a few Kauri trees that were almost entirely wiped out by logging from the 1870s to the 1930s. They’re trying to bring them back to the park with a conservation program. The swing bring was a one person bridge that was quite fun and much easier than the single rope bridges I’ve crossed over in my Army days.

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Scenes from the hike.

As we drove back to Auckland to meet up with Jeannine’s college friend she spotted a cool looking sign that said “Abstract Gallery and Café”. We decided to have a look and I detoured to it. The gallery space was closed, but the café was very nicely designed and the menu interestingly enough for us to have a couple of entries and tea. The presentation of the food was quite lovely and I had to pull out the camera to share. I should add that the food at Sola Café was also photographic quality, but at that point we were too hungry to stop to think about a picture!

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Posted by Aeren 19:12 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Visiting a Natural Cathedral

and partaking of the healing waters

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We had been to the grounds of the Government Gardens in the evening, but had not yet gone inside the Rotorua Museum of Art and History located on the grounds. It was converted from an 1880’s hospital which used mud and thermal baths to help heal skin conditions and aching muscles. Some of the claims sounded a bit outlandish, but I’m sure that there were soothing properties to the warm waters. The museum featured two films; one was about the volcanic eruption of 1886 that destroyed the famed pink and white terraces at Mt Tarawera and the other told the story of the 28th Maori Battalion in World War II.

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The Rotorua Museum of Art and History.

The documentary about the volcanic eruption came complete with a simulated earthquake in the theater as our seats shook to and fro to the rumbling sounds of the eruptions on the screen. The story of the 28th Maori Battalion brought tears to my eyes as once again I saw a people who really wanted to fit in to the greater society gave it their all. It was like the story of the American code talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 65th Infantry Battalion of Puerto Rico. All people who proved their citizenship and patriotism by providing the ultimate sacrifice. The rest of the museum had some Maori exhibits and they had designed the basement so people could put on a hard hat and see the inner workings of the pipes that provided the water and mud above.

They are adding a south wing to the museum that was in the original 1880 plans but never built because they ran out of money. The front façade is finished and provides a nice balance to the entire building.

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Entry to Government House grounds.

We decided we could not leave Rotorua without checking out the “healing waters” so we went over to the Polynesian Spa. There were all kinds of options to try out, family pools, private pools, private deluxe pools, mud therapy with spa; almost too many choices. In the end we opted for a private pool that had a view of the lake. We luxuriated in the warm water for 30 minutes and it was more than enough.

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One of the baths at Polynesian Spa.

A three hour drive later we were hiking along the coast to reach a beach known as Cathedral Cove. The 45 minute hike took us up and down to large hills. The trail was well maintained and we saw many of our favorite Tui birds as we walked. The final descent to the cove was down several staircases of over a hundred steps (though I was not counting). We could hear the surf from above long before we saw it. Cathedral Cove got its name from the shape of the tunnel through the stone which looks like the entrance to a cathedral. Normally you can walk through it to the beach on the other side but some of the ceiling had fallen so they had it closed off. After enjoying the beach for a little while we made the long trek back and drove another hour to get to our hotel in Thames.

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Another Tui bird eathing from its favorite flower.

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The Cathedral Cove.

Posted by Aeren 11:04 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

What Planet is This?

Visiting the thermal active area of Rotorua

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We’re now in Rotorua, an area just north of Taupo. It has the most energetic thermal activity in the country. Our sinuses are clearing up just in time for us to enjoy the rotten egg smell of the sulphide gas coming from the ground here. I don't care how silly I look, but I'm wearing my carbon filtered mask and it's capturing most of the nasty smell before it gets to my sinuses. Jeannine is toughing it out without a mask.

We started by walking through the town toward Lake Rotoura which formed when a volcano erupted many moons ago. We walked along the shore until we came to St. Faith’s Anglican Church, built in 1910 to evangelize the Maori population. The church is a lovely mix of Tudor and Maori architecture. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside but the altar was framed by the traditional gables we’ve seen on the Maori meeting houses and the walls were decorated with Maori weavings. Topping it off was a large window etching of Jesus dressed in a Chief’s cloak that looked like he was walking on the lake behind. Near the church was a traditional Maori meeting house and steaming thermal holes.

Rotorua St Faith's Anglican Church

Rotorua St Faith's Anglican Church

We then walked up the hill to Kuirau Park which was full of mud pools, steam vents and small geysers (the New Zealanders call them “geezers”). As we approached the park, steam rose through the trees like writhing spirits.

Kuirau Park

Kuirau Park

We marveled at the boiling earth and then walked back to the city to have dinner. Tonight we’re staying at Jack & Di’s Travel Lodge. It’s a cute old-fashioned horseshoe-shaped motel that looks out on the lake.

The next morning we were up and heading outside of town to catch the Lady Knox Geyser which erupts daily at 10:15 am. The geyser is inside the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland which had an amazing diversity of thermal activity going on. The crowd sat mumbling when 10:15 passed and the geyser didn’t erupt. Then a man from the park stepped in to say that they usually prompt the geyser with some soap powder to get it going. According to the park attendant, the story (or legend) of this geyser goes that some prisoners were washing their clothes after working on the road crew all day and when they added soap to the bubbling water the geyser erupted and their cloths ended up in the trees. Realizing what happened they had some fun with it by making a cone shape that would make the eruption more dramatic. The wife of the governor christened it open to the public and it became known as “Lady Knox Geyser.” Shortly after the soap was tossed in the geyser went to work. It’s been erupting with soap for over 80 years. Not exactly what we planned on, but still impressive looking.

Wai-O-Tapu Lady Knox Geyser

Wai-O-Tapu Lady Knox Geyser

Walking through this park was like walking on another planet. When other people weren’t around and you listened to the sounds of the gurgling pools, running water, steam from the ground it was a little eerie, the stuff of sci-fi movies. In other words the rest of the park was spectacular! The names seemed appropriate to the various pools we found. We first passed some black boiling mud pools they called the Devil’s Ink Pots and then the Artist’s Palette which looked like a shallow lake with colored spots inside.

Wai-O-Tapu Thunder Crater

Wai-O-Tapu Thunder Crater

20091104 -  Wai-O-Tapu closeup formations

20091104 - Wai-O-Tapu closeup formations

Other highlights included the Champagne Pool which was large and full of bright colors due to the minerals inside and the Devil’s Bath, a large crater with bright lime green colored water.

20091105- Wai-O-Tapu Champagne Pool

20091105- Wai-O-Tapu Champagne Pool

20091105- Wai-O-Tapu Devils bath pond

20091105- Wai-O-Tapu Devils bath pond

We ended the day with a trip to “Rainbow Springs”, a wildlife park that features a special Kiwi bird breeding program. Kiwis are endangered because they can’t fly and are easy prey for invasive species like the possum and dogs. They were much bigger than we thought they were, about the size of a small cat, and they were quite friendly. We went to see them at night when they are active and one put his long beak up on the knee-high fence to look at us. The park featured some other native birds and it was nice to finally get the name of the bird with the white tufts on its chin that we saw a few days ago. It’s a Tui and is found abundantly in the area.

Rainbow Springs New Zealand Pigeon

Rainbow Springs New Zealand Pigeon

A Cultural Aside...

One thing we’ve noticed in New Zealand was lots of people walking around without shoes. I don’t mean at the beach. I’m talking about the grocery store, shopping, walking about town, doing everyday things barefoot. I looked this up on Google (not wanting to ask an individual) and apparently there is a “barefoot movement”. One guy wrote about how he hates wearing shoes, especially the ones that are chemically treated. Shoes just aren't natural to him and others who have tossed their shoes aside. I wonder what they do when it snows.

Posted by Aeren 12:41 Archived in New Zealand Comments (6)

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