Dunedin parkrun. Again!

Dunedin parkrun. Again!
Momona, New Zealand

Momona, New Zealand

Dunedin parkrun route
Dunedin parkrun route. Hills not pictured.

Just a short jog from my hostel to the start this time, and it was lovely to feel I was among friends rather than strangers. Emma had continued her party trick of remembering people’s names after one meeting, so I got a “morning, John!” as I jogged in, and a couple of cheers on the course; as good as being at home.

If there’s one thing I like more than heading to a new parkrun, it’s heading back for a second go – those runs I’ve tried multiple times are much rarer than the single appearances, and it gives my overall parkrun list a slightly less obsessive look. Slightly. After the run a Kiwi tried to phrase a question about my parkrun odyssey, and couldn’t find much more than “but, have, um, when… why?” He travels for work and has now checked for local parkruns in Denmark and the UK, though I pointed out my sort-of-envy that he would probably not be so desperate as to stay extra nights, or try to switch location if not initially near a run for Saturday morning.

Me, struggling while running up the hill at Dunedin
A hill.

The run itself was hard, but better than last week. I’m not sure whether to put that down to the cooler weather, one more week of training effect or having my racing shoes on for their valedictory appearance. I ran each section a little quicker, the biggest improvement being a 10 seconds-quicker final mile, probably thanks to finally knuckling down on the last climb, on the out part of the out and back section before the long sharp downhill towards the bridge. From there it is 200m to the finish, and that section was a few seconds quicker, too. I had even managed to run up the big climb each time, again more through bloody mindedness than fitness. In an overly optimistic moment in the week I’d wondered if I might attack the hill, but as I slowed to a plod immediately on hitting it, I was motivated only of being able to write “I ran up it all four times”, not any fantasy of really hitting it hard. This really may be the toughest parkrun I’ve done.

Again this week there was a female course record behind me, though by a different runner than last week. Last week’s record setter also went more quickly, but had to settle for second a few seconds back. Looking behind me I could see they weren’t far off, but managed to put a bit more distance between us rather than being caught on the ups, so perhaps I managed a slightly more even pace.

Me, finishing on a green lawn, with yellow cones marking the finish area.

Only 36 of us this week, the prospect of more rain like yesterday keeping people away. I had organised my check out at the hostel better so could stay in the cafe to quiz and be quizzed and the atmosphere was fabulous – Emma and partner Ade were joined by his parents and time flew; laughter in general, disbelief at parkrun tourism specifically.

NZ parkruns: 7 at 6 venues.

Finished: 2, 2, 3, 3, 6, 7, 12.

In the afternoon I hopped on an intercity bus to the airport. With a couple of hours spare on my pass, that was by far the cheapest way to get there (cost; around 30 mins off my pass balance, c.$4, as against $20 on a shuttle), and luckily the timing worked, a 1.55 bus dropping me off around 2.30 for a 4.30 flight to Auckland. On Sunday I take off for Hawaii, cross the date line and so land to do Saturday evening all over again.

Results from Dunedin parkrun, event 8, 1/3/14.

Back to Dunedin, in the rain

Back to Dunedin, in the rain
Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin, New Zealand

My last long intercity journey; nearly five hours back to Dunedin. A distinct feeling of déjà vu, but a stronger one that the season was corresponding exactly with the dates that mark it – today was supposed to be the last day of summer (which fact had entirely passed me by until I read it in the paper, not being used to the idea that December, January, February are summer months) and the weather turned and bit. It was cool and drizzly in Queenstown, no red dawn here, and the rain picked up along the way. We just had one stop, in Lawrence, which is tiny, has free local wifi and several closed shops. That is made extra mournful by the plaques giving the shops’ history; after reading how each building had changed usage I was left with nothing so much as the feeling that ‘this place used to support 10 shops, now it has 5’. I watched Red Dog, an Australian classic. Brilliant film, about the life of a dog in a frontier town.

Flower beds outside the station. Red, then purple, then white flowers, in separate beds
Kilometres away. Outside the station, looking away

It was cold enough that everyone was back on the bus and raring to go before time, despite a lovely coffee shop with homemade cakes. Pulling into Dunedin it was just spitting, and just as well for us all to get to our destinations. After a short walk to the hostel, cursing only mildly that I hadn’t had the inside knowledge that stopping at the hospital is more central than the bus depot, I was checked in and considering my next move when I heard a racket outside. Not students this week, but rain – bucketing rain.

With an icy southerly – that means it has come from the Antarctic – it was cold, too, though the sun broke through occasionally. The next day’s paper had an article on Otago’s rotten summer (“fact or fiction?”, but it seemed to err on the side of fact) which bemoaned the lack of sun, so my short excursion south wasn’t badly timed in that sense. And places had their heating on, mercifully without me overhearing any “gosh, heating! In summer!” conversations.

Huge pipes on the Cathedral's Organ
The cathedral’s mighty organ. In honesty, I was there to shelter from the rain

I made it to the NZ sporting heroes gallery, situated in the huge old railway station. It’s a great museum, not huge but with plenty to read, and lots of memorabilia for the heroes in there. It isn’t particularly rugby focused, either, though that sport is first as you might expect, and I enjoyed the athletics section particularly – Snell, Lydiard, Hallberg, Walker, Audain, Lovelock, Williams, a name roll to rival most. The captions stood out for me by being extremely well written, though I did spot one towards the end that had a missing word, spoiling the ‘perfect’ rating I was going to give it. But still, informative, pithy and devoid of hyperbole, it’s an object lesson in how to write about achievements. They may be awesome, but describing them rather than adding adjectives should be enough to convey that sense.

In the evening I went to the Fortune Theatre, to see Roger Hall’s new play, Bookends. It’s a small theatre, but a professional one – I could have seen Journey’s End, which is on my ‘must see’ list, but didn’t chance the amateur production, despite it being half the price. Bookends showcases 4 weekly meetings of a group of writers, one meeting per year for 2010-2013, with the title ambiguous. Partly it is talking about the changes in technology which may spell the end of books as we know them, but equally the men themselves are bookends. Essentially character comedy, it was well enough done, just a few slips between script and mouth, and a few odd intonations of lines, but a few genuinely funny lines, and the script uses the fact that you get to know the characters better nicely in the final act, as the comedy flows more easily. “The thing about Peter Jackson is, he always leaves you wanting less.” There were some NZ-specific lines that I missed, but I enjoyed it. Despite the characters’ general impecuniosity and the sense of an end of an era, it even ends with a message that is partly hope and partly homage.

The rain poured late at night, but I was warm and comfortable in the hostel, feeling first like a late nighter for being up past 10, though that impression was spoiled by the young crowd making a commotion outside. Even they stopped at 11, though. So civilised for someone who is, as the two girls from my room put it when talking about an acquaintance the next day, is “quite old – 40 or so,” (laughing) “oh, not *so* old”.

Milford Sound is a fjord

Milford Sound is a fjord
Milford Sound, New Zealand

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Wet and shiny rocks form a tight gap for water to rush through
The Chasm. Not an Orc one. Or Chas-m, as a passing American put it

An early start, to be in town for a 7.30 coach. Walking down the hill into town presented me with the most beautiful red dawn over the mountains on the far side of Wakitipu lake. A great start, if a warning to shepherds.

I didn’t meet Shep, but waiting outside subway was Chip, from Atlanta, Georgia; a fine accent by which to be greeted. Wife Margie joined us, full of apologies for not bringing me a coffee, but I was able to assure her she’d brought exactly what I would have ordered, not being a coffee drinker. Fourth to join our queue was Paul. Not his real name, I never found that out, but he looked exactly like a gym-enhanced version of Paul from work, and he looked just as happy. I have got used to not asking my colleague how he is – the answer is never good – and didn’t try here, either.

Grassy knoll type hill by the water

The tour heads to Milford Sound slowly and comes back quickly. It’s a long way – four hours drive or so. It is called a sound, but because it was created by glacial movement it is in fact a fjord. The place was named wrongly by European settlers and somehow the name has stuck. I suppose telling the story of how it is really a fjord is the same as it would be to tell that of how it used to be called a sound but the name was changed. Our driver did a good job of seeming grumpy at the start of the day, chivvying people into seats at the back of the bus to allow space for later pickups, but his grumpiness actually masked a dry caustic wit and droll delivery style, and listening to stories of sheep farming turning to dairy – $1 million just for the milking shed – and deer farming – they were, like all introduced species, a pest in the wild, but valuable, so farmers tried tranquillising and riding/roping them from helicopters before they finally caught enough to breed – all passed the time quickly. We stopped at a few spots for pictures, the mountain spring for water and the Chasm (not the Screaming Orc Chasm) to see where water is forced through a narrow gap before cascading down.

High bluffs and water in the Sound
As a pound.

Finally we were at the Sound for a 2.00 cruise. All the tours offer similar setups, a ride from Queenstown or Te Ana in glass-topped bus and a cruise, with some claiming more picture stops, others a longer cruise. On a clear tending to rainy day, 90 minutes on the water was plenty, time enough to see the waterfalls and get close to Stirling falls, 150m plus high – a lot higher than Niagara. We were shuffled on to the sales – food, drink and welcome picture-deck but soon most people made it up to the top deck for a clearer view, though the commentary was swept away by the wind at times, and the same drove some people downstairs. The cliff sides are dramatic, and it seems incredible that at times the glacier moved through at 7m per day.

Cloudy day over the Sound
Cloudy but mighty fine.

Sloping off the boat, I passed the comments book, expecting to see banalities. My prejudices were satisfied with “the views are beautiful!” from Malaysia, but I was worried by “Ten years passed by and here again, same view, same person”. I think they need stronger medication. The journey back was quiet, without the commentary or stops of the way out. It was just a little overlong, but that’s the price of seeing the sights – if you’ve time to stay in Te Ana, you can cut two hours off the journey time at either end, or even stay in Milford itself, though the climate there is changeable, to say the least. There are plenty of long walks to be had from there – the longest is a four day epic, $2000 if you want your kit moved for you, $300 for the DIY version. The rain that set in on the cruise back to base accompanied us most of the way back, and it was wet in Queenstown, too, not the bright evening I’d arrived in. I made it out for a run, turning away from town along the lake and finding an undulating trail in the twilight. The fading light stopped me enjoying the downs as much as I might have, though I’d already found a part of the path open onto a cliff edge so slow seemed sensible in any case.

Mountains reflected in the lake
Mirror lakes. There’s a sign there to explain how they got their name

FJ to Queenstown

FJ to Queenstown
Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

Snowy peaks in the morning sun
Snowy peaks in the morning sun.

Just as the journey to Franz Josef was enlivened by commentary and the journey broken up by regular stops, so was that the other way. From what I’d read, more people go counter than clockwise, but that isn’t reflected in the bus service. One per day, each way.

Two different drivers, which scotched my impression that my original two did this every day and the company would struggle to replace them if they retired. It makes more sense that they aren’t always on the same drive, switching between routes north and south of Franz Josef to save them going mad.

The first few hours we had Andrew, who liked to question his audience; “anyone know what that fence there is for?” though I’m not sure he got many answers. He was an ex farmer, comfortably talking us through opossums, road kill and tb testing.

Looking over a roof to a lake and mountains

In the middle of nowhere, about 20 minutes outside Fox, was a barn painted in desert camouflage colours, with “World bar secret HQ” painted on the sloping roof. Driving past revealed the front, on which was painted “shhh…”. Andrew went quiet for a while and I watched Senna, which is a great documentary, with some uncomfortable, unsettling scenes as first Ratzenberger and then Senna are killed toward the end. Really well done and, as the reviews chorus, it brilliantly avoids talking heads, using contemporary footage; much better.

The second driver was an Irishman; today was his third anniversary of moving to NZ and he obviously loved the Queenstown life – he’d had first hand experience of several of the activities he listed, and was dashing off after the trip to take his paraglider for a …glide.

Another fabulous trip, 8 hours done in a near flash, and Queenstown was bathed in sunshine. It is on the shores of another huge body of water, Lake Waikatipu, up to 400m deep, with mountains looming over the water on the other side. A beautiful location, though it hasn’t always been a busy town; after the gold rush years, the population dipped to just 190 until someone spotted the opportunities for adventure out here. The original bungy is from a bridge just outside town but you can also skydive, jet boat, waterski, ski, white water raft, mountain bike. You name it, they do it, with plenty of sedate activities, too, including the original paddle steamer across the lake, now over 100 years old and still coal powered. I compromised, not going for anything extreme, but getting out for a run as soon as I’d walked to my quiet hostel – it’s described as being in a suburb of Queenstown, but at just 10 minutes walk from the centre, I’m not sure where to draw a dividing line between city and suburb. The place is like a small town, but busy, particularly by the water on this sunny day. I went round the edge of the busiest part and was soon on a lake side track, round the edge of the Queenstown gardens. Other than navigating round one group who committed the sin of both blocking the 2m wide path and paying no attention – and were startled by my appearance flying past on the edge as a result – it was just a glorious run in the sun.

Reading: Simon Singh, The Mathematical Secrets of the Simpsons.

Various shades of orange at sunrise, over hills and trees
Sunrise the next morning. From the hill, city off to the left.

Franz Josef glacier

Franz Josef glacier
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Quiet street with mountains behind
Franz Josef on a sunny morning.

Last up, first out. I’m always impressed by the youngsters getting up early in the dorms, then disappointed that if they’re not up for transport, they’re not up to much – just as capable of taking an unaccountable amount of time getting dressed and eating breakfast as older people.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t up till after 8, but had had breakfast and started my first walk before 9. The glacier is left out of town, I headed right, just a few hundred metres along Cron Street to the Taheru tunnels and Gorge walk. The former is 1h20m return, the other 40 minutes one way, which looks odd, but makes the point that they are not on the same route – the path branches after several minutes walk – and is also because the gorge used to be just the starter for the Roberts walk, now closed due to a landslip.

Rocky landscape, glacier retreated to the far end and looks small
As close as you get. Without a helicopter ride

Both walks are along well maintained gravelly tracks, through forest. The morning had a nip in the air – it feels icy around here, even though the glaciers are retreating – but walking made me a little warm. It gets very cold at night, such that I wondered if I had warm enough clothing, but it was warm enough even though it warms up slowly. The walk to the tunnels was up and down but then all of a sudden there was the entry to the tunnel. I realised at that point I hadn’t brought a light; not that my tiny light is the most brilliant object ever, but it did see me through the Abbey Caves. I hadn’t really expected the walk to end quite in quite such a dead end, but lots of the walks here do, though partly because so many used to be longer and have closed as the landscape has shifted. The Terrace walk, just 100m out of town, is now a short 30minute (at most) walk to a barrier, but used to go all the way to the glacier, a good 6, 7, 8km away.

Still, I was at the tunnel, and might as well go in. My iPod’s flashlight was effective enough, and I picked my footing carefully to avoid wet feet. The surface is water covered, avoidable for the first 30m or so, then it is a few inches deep. I stopped there, a bit of a cop out given that I could still see light from the entrance, but I wasn’t sure I was going to find much in any case.

Backtracking I found one fellow early walker out, heading the other way. I got past the fork and swerved onto the wide track, realising it was a road when a truck came barrelling down towards me. Plenty of room to move over, just as well because he wasn’t slowing.

Lake Wombat, trees all around
Lake Wombat.

After a few minutes I reached the site from which the truck had come and took a smaller track. The route was climbing now, fairly steep in places, and I was glad I hadn’t saved these routes for a run. After a while the track turned down, twisting through the forests until, finally, it reached a suspension bridge. I stepped happily onto it – the instructions are to NOT cross the bridge, but the barrier is at the far end, so here ‘cross’ means ‘stepping off the bridge at the far end’. Only once I was a few steps on did I realise that this was a wobbly bridge. A little disconcerting in a lonely spot, but of course it was safe enough. The grey river rushes underneath the bridge, meandering away to one side while on the other the landscape opens out onto the hills in the distance.

Quite something. By 10.30 I was back at the hostel, setting off again after 11 once I’d picked up some food for the afternoon. Just out of town is the original church, built 30m from the river and with a view of the glacier. Originally, that is. The glacier has retreated out of sight, though the view from the picture window at the front of the church – unusual in itself in that context – is still beautiful. During floods, the river was only a few metres from the church, which was at risk of tumbling, though the banks have now been shored up. The walk to the glacier takes you back over the bailey bridge and along the side of the road and river for a few kms, till the path veers away from the road and through trees for the last part of the 4km walk to the car park. The options are more limited than they once were, with the 5 hour Roberts walk closed, so I did all but the 8 hour Alex Knobb scramble walk. First the forest walk, an approx 1.5 hour walk through the valley floor to the safe viewing point. I took the optional side path to the scenic hill viewpoint, which is worth a look. Not far, with a sharp climb near the end, and it sets you up nicely for all the out and back routes you’ll be doing. At the end of the longer trail it is still a few hundred metres to the glacier, which is way above you. Just over a hundred years ago, this spot was under piles of ice; more easily grasped, even in 2007/8, the ice would have been right in front of this spot. There are dire warnings about crossing the rope barriers, illustrated with news stories of two 20 somethings who were crushed by an ice fall in 09. I contemplated the glacier for a while then walked back, along the moonscape of the valley floor and past several tall, thin waterfalls.

Back at the car park, I took the Douglas walk, another 1.5 hour trail, passing Peter’s pool, in which the densely wooded hillsides are reflected. This route winds through the trees before ending up crossing the track I had already walked, back on to the path to the car park. There’s a crosspaths there, with the 1.5 hour (now I think about it, these three walks are conveniently similar in time, allegedly – one would be right to be suspicious) Lake Wombat walk on the other side of the crossroads; left goes back to the car park, right to town.

Pool in the foreground, mountains behind are reflected in the pool
View from St Peter’s pool.

Emboldened by being a little nearer to town, I covered the lake walk too. It’s a small lake, but a nice enough walk. Again it’s undulating and winding, but everything was a pleasure on a sunny day.

After retracing my steps from the original walk, following the path between road and river, and admiring the landscape, my eyes filled with tree lined skyline, blue sky and rushing grey water, I was back at the hostel at 3.30. The place has a spa, so after I’d sat for a while I eased aches in there, before the weather completely turned, raining from 5 right through till after I’d gone to bed. People hunkered down, sitting in the communal spots where the wifi is free, catching up with the rest of the world and listening to rain drumming on the roof. Those who were here just for that night would have had to walk to the glacier in the rain, assuming they’d arrived on the bus after 4; those staying longer were hoping for better weather the next day.

Reading: Gary Gibson, Stealing Light.

The bus journey to Franz Josef

The bus journey to Franz Josef
Franz Josef, New Zealand

Franz Josef, New Zealand

A wide lake with mountains on the far shore
Lake Hawea (I think).

I’d saved two hours of bus journey by staying in Cromwell rather than Queenstown, as journeys north and south all start and finish in Queenstown but pass through Cromwell.

A long, thin, waterfall
Pic stop at the waterfall.

One on the way there and one on the journey to Franz Josef, but it was still a 7 hour-plus journey, starting at 9. I was a little nervous, given previous slight bus sickness and odd-timed breaks, but it couldn’t have been better.

The journey is split into two, with one driver covering the first four hours (from Queenstown) then picking up the southern based coach while the driver of that one takes the northern coach up. With two drivers, we had two lunch breaks, and both see their role as being as much about tour guiding as driving, so were full of information about the landscape, roads and towns we passed through. They even had a couple of stops purely for photos, and one for a short walk to a waterfall, so this was just like being on a tour. It’ll probably be the same on the way back, but that’s my fault for covering the same ground.

The Northern driver stopped for an age at the changeover point to check where everyone was staying. Fabulously, he then dropped everyone right outside their accommodation, which made perfect sense for those who were at the motel on the glacier side of the ‘temporary’ bailey bridge. For everyone else, it meant delays while we backed out of various places. Franz Josef is tiny, nowhere was more than 5 minutes from the bus stop. Still, churlish to be miserable about such great service. The driver also ran through our options for reaching the glaciers, essential for those staying just one night who needed to get on with it seeing as we arrived around 4 and might want to book a shuttle.

A wide street, with a phone box and car, the mountains behind look dramatic, as clouds envelop the tips
Franz Josef, looking over the hostel.

I didn’t, I’ve two full days here so chilled out, walking to the supermarket under overcast skies, coming out to pouring rain. “Oh stop raining”, said the weary girls huddling in the doorway, suggesting they’ve had enough of the west coast precipitating on them. Twenty minutes later we were shooting the breeze in glorious if cool sunshine. That was a first for NZ; the temperature is often cool, but the sunshine has always been roasting when it hits. That factor had brought my chat companion here from Queenstown, avoiding mugginess. And spreading his own conspiracy theories. I was with him on the power of the banks, but then we got to the “911 was a bit stagey” moment, which is becoming as much of a red flag as when Hitler is introduced into an online debate, or the line “you know who’s to blame, don’t you?” is uttered by a stranger in a pub.

A wooden pole on the high street, more dramatic mountains behind
Franz Josef, high street.

Dunedin parkrun

Dunedin parkrun
Dunedin, New Zealand



Dunedin parkrun route
Dunedin parkrun route.

Number six! Set completed! No one else has finished the six NZ parkruns today, so I’m the fourth to do it, first from overseas.*

It was hard work, mind. I’d been warned. It is flat to start with, then there’s a hill to go up twice. Two laps of the lower part of the Botanic gardens make up the flat bit, then cross a bridge and two-larger-laps of the upper part. That second section starts with a couple of short uphill drags, and I wondered if that was it for the hill. Having walked round the gardens the evening before I knew there was more of a climb above me, but maybe from here it was a flat loop round the hill?

Running down a slope on a gravel path, yellow, green and orange growth to the left, bank of green and lilac to the right
Down the slope. Come down here twice. The second time you head over the bridge to the finish.

No. No, it wasn’t. Instead, a left turn before some swings-beware running out of the park if you miss it-took us onto a shallow section and then on and up some broad steps for a lung busting climb to the top. It would have been lung busting had I run it hard, at least-the second time round, only sheer bloody mindedness kept me running the whole thing at all. Once at the top there’s a short flat section, one more plodding climb during an out-and-back section and then a swooping descent. Lovely, but of course run in the full knowledge that every metre you’re dropping on the first loop round this part is a metre you’ll be climbing up again. The final descent is particularly steep, one to practise so that the legs go; the less braking you can do, the better (unless it leads to a fall, of course).

Watching people warm up, I could see there were some handy looking runners up ahead, so I wasn’t too surprised to be 7th. Still, this was event 7, I’m the 15th fastest overall, 7th on the day, so that shows how many quicker bods showed up on the day. First man and lady both set course records-she was just behind me, nearly caught me on the first up, did on the second but opted not to pass, mindful either that I’d so far been the quicker over downhill sections, or that chasing me had pulled her to a big pb so she didn’t need to push harder. I was grateful. 20:51, 2 minutes slower than Lower Hutt two weeks ago. I’ve another go next weekend to see if I can improve with different pacing but still, that is one tough run. First Lady was 20:53, man 17:49-talking to the bloke just ahead of me, the leader is a 15:xx runner elsewhere, which would figure.

I chatted to the event director. I’d been told she was lovely and sure enough she is; a doctor, so interested in the public health side of parkrun, and she’s already learned the names of pretty much anyone who has run there before. She also knew to look out for me – “I was warned about you” – because Leanne had mentioned I was on my travels. Great. And Leanne was the one event director I didn’t even meet, shyness kicking in at the end of the Cornwall parkrun.

I had to get back and check out, so jogged the couple of miles back to the hostel without chatting more, but I wasn’t too worried because of that extra go at this one. The most events table for New Zealand is most pleasing – I sit fourth of the completists on goal difference, not having run an inaugural in NZ, and having run only 6 parkruns here. Job done, till someone starts a new one here and I have to come back. Though in an ideal world I’ll be coming back here in any case.

Kaikoura. River in the foreground, mountains behind
From Kaikoura, 17th Feb.

Reading: Carl Hiaasen, Sick Puppy.

*spoke too soon! Number five was at Barry Curtis today. Five of us. The more that do it, the more it is publicised and the more will join us, I’m sure.

You’ve Dun my Edin with this museum

You’ve Dun my Edin with this museum
Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin, New Zealand

Pacific islands exhibition
Pacific islands exhibition.

Perhaps punning is the lowest form of wit.

After a long bus ride, I was in Dunedin by early afternoon. Wandering in town I spotted ads for a festival, coinciding with the start of term for Otago university, which explained why so many backpacker hostels had said no (on the BBH site you can’t see which have rooms available, just submit a request to a group and see which says yes). Those further away from the university were okay, though, and although it’s a bit ramshackle, the Stafford Gables is a charming old building.

Botanical Gardens, masses of trees and a well-tended lawn
Looking down at the Botanic gardens. I’m running up this hill tomorrow. Twice.

Not that I spent long there. I dumped my bags and was up and out, to see the city and find parkrun’s start ready for the morning. The city was all a-bustle. It is known for its Scottish influence – even having its own tartan – and the railway station is a contender for ‘most photographed building in NZ’. It is a lovely Edwardian structure, probably over large for the traffic going through, judging by the scarcity of rail services here, though there are a couple of scenic routes from Dunedin. The octagon, in the centre, is the public transport hub and a place where tourists come to stand. In the way, mostly.

Once through, I was making good progress to the Botanic gardens when it occurred to me that it would be light till after 8, but the museum wouldn’t be open for much longer, so I diverted. Otago museum is a grand building, just to the north of the centre and set on several floors, with exhibitions on nature, maritime, people and a special on Dunedin’s Scottish links. I was pleased that the video at one end had a Scotsman talking in vaguely positive terms about independence – the London based media seems to be so full of the idea that breaking off is an outrage, and anyway why would they, and, and, bah, England would immediately cut them adrift out of spite – the only way to explain the more hysterical/’comic’ reactions to the idea of Scotland having its own EU membership, defence and finance. It’s good to get the other side, in this case along the lines of “it’d be nice for Scotland not to raise the money and have the English spend it”, which idea would surprise the brainwashed English right now, but seems to be broadly true.

Large skeleton of a Fin Whale in a museum
Fin Whale. Just a juvenile

Though this was my final stop, not my first. I found myself on the first floor and wandered into the pacific islands’ exhibition. Staggering. A phenomenal collection of artefacts, arranged by island with maps to show just how far apart these places are. I’m not sure why the galleries impressed me so much, but I wandered in a kind of daze; possibly I’m so used to the ‘new world’ having little history to show a European, yet here was an ancient culture – and one revealed without the usual ‘and the spirit fathers said’ cover story, or at least not overplayed. There’s a slide show and explanatory diagram from a recent archaeological dig; a few of the slides show the team’s tiredness from working in 30 degree heat, which makes the photo of a local holding up a find whilst wearing a woolly hat a standout. I go to a lot of museums, and they’re always interesting, but can’t remember the last time I was so impressed.

I found the botanic gardens, and the start for the next day. The course seems as clear as mud from the diagram, so I couldn’t check that, but I climbed the hills in the park and confirmed to myself that yes, Mark hadn’t been kidding when he said there was a short sharp hill to climb, even though I wasn’t sure which route we’d be taking.

Stone statues from Pitcairn Island
Pitcairn Island. Rudely shoved off when the mutineers landed

Walking back I took a back road, which seemed populated entirely by students. Probably not so, but anyone else was keeping their head down. And installing triple glazing. At every tenth house or so, a group of youngsters was gathered outside, shooting the breeze on whatever chairs they could find and searching for 11 on their stereo’s volume knob. I liked it, the atmosphere was, well, banging. I’d patronise their musical choices, but I’m not well enough informed to know whether they were old school or not. It wasn’t quite Radio 6’s latest, but neither was it the Spice Girls’ original-the latter treat was saved for my evening in Cromwell, played without irony, so far as it is possible to tell, from an open window. Many of the houses were named; this, perhaps, is how you spot the student ones, helpful in digging out a party late at night. The Fridgette was at the end, and I grabbed a cold beer as I swept past.

I didn’t really. Otago University campus was at the end of the street. Along with museums, I’m a sucker for a campus. It seemed a charming one, despite construction work on the main thoroughfare right through the middle, which spoils pictures. It all made Dunedin another candidate for ‘where I’d live in New Zealand’. I cracked out the laptop and used the eduroam network, more because I could than anything else. The hostel has free wifi, and it’s actually effective. Eduroam was quick, too, so Dunedin is perhaps ahead of the game in getting fibre broadband.

Charming city. I’ve saved the sporting experiences exhibition (at the railway station – I knew it was too big just to be for trains and passengers) and steepest residential street for next week’s visit.

Otago museum showing some of its storerooms
Some of the collection not normally on show.

The transitional city

The transitional city
Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, New Zealand

Pastel-coloured buildings form a pretty shopping street
New Regent Street mall.

A Garmin strap, my wrist for a Garmin strap. First thing today, an errand. I’d found a supplier with Garmin straps in stock, to replace the one that had been torn free in my Perth bike tumble. I checked he was in and ran over. Perfect, just under 6 miles to his house, taking me through Hagley park and out through Riccarton to Russley, motel after motel displaying ‘no vacancy’ signs. Riccarton is a bustling high street, more or less unaffected by the earthquake and so filled with busy shops. Kiwi GPS is run out of a house in an ordinary street, so it wasn’t like calling in to a shop, but once I’d saved him from undercharging me – “oh, I thought it was only $20” he said – I was off, running back in to town, and I soon had a wrist rather than hand-borne Garmin.

Hostel owner Graham had seen me leaving for the run and dropped into the start of a conversation about running, and we picked it up once I returned. He is the master of the non sequitur with his own special linking sentence, used whenever there’s something else to add; ‘the thing about that is’. But “the thing about that is” always the thing about something else and we darted between topics with dizzying speed.

Shipping containers blocking or shielding an area
Shipping containers used to contain. Not a real man on the roof behind

I started the rest of the day with ‘Quake City’, which tells the stories of the earthquakes of 2010 and 11. The former was large but away from the city and caused less damage-at the time they felt they’d dodged a bullet, only for the next earthquake, Feb 22nd 2011, to be nearer the surface and to the city. I am not sure why, having no connection to either city or earthquake, but I found the exhibits extremely moving, pictures of railway lines bent adding to the collapsed pavements and ruined buildings I’d already seen in town. Shortly into the exhibit is a ‘feature length’ film with residents giving their quake experience and that is very effective and a varied view of what people went through, from the lady rescued from the cathedral to the policeman who had to take prisoners from basement cells, find a judge and conduct an impromptu court session by the river in order to process them. It’s not a huge museum but doesn’t need to be-just make sure you watch plenty of the video, or you’ll be through it very quickly. There’s plenty of information about earthquakes in general and this one in particular. Even the toilets are themed, decorated with pictures of residents’ long drops, dug in gardens either because they had no water or because using existing loos was overloading the system.

After a dim start, the day had warmed right up and I walked the streets in the sunshine. With so much of the CBD taken down or out of use, you have to work a bit to find shops-there’s a paucity of convenience stores. Not exactly a post disaster search for supplies experience but still worth bearing in mind.

A huge rugby ball on display
Of course.

There’s a great sense of energy in the centre, the gap filling project leading to popup shops, cafés, art exhibits and murals. I found my spirits went from sad at the sight of broken buildings and rubbly plots to optimistic at what people had created. The pallet city, cafés and take aways round a space marked by painted wooden pallets was underpopulated but charming, with live music in the centre. I liked the art exhibit of wooden shelters, with a box for feedback in which someone had dropped the note, “lovely smelling wood”. I’m not sure whether it was lovely smelling or just smelling wood that was particularly fine. Quick! Fetch the smelling wood!

To Christchurch

To Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, New Zealand

Colourful wall mural
Hello mural.

Just over 3 hours on the coach. Ideally I’d have gone in the morning, but the bus was due to leave just after midday, giving me time to sleep in, wander to the supermarket and library and use the free internet at the hostel. So many different prices, 10 cents per megabyte is common, but at Sunrise lodge you can just take 100mb codes for free. It can’t be the case everywhere in Kaikoura because New World supermarket always had a few stragglers hanging around outside, using the free wifi there. Carefully, because it only gives you 45mb.

The train route between Picton and Christchurch is known for being scenic, but the road and tracks intertwine, so the bus ride was pretty lovely, particularly along the Kaikoura coast. I didn’t feel 100%, not sure whether that was due to bus manoeuvrings or a cold, but we got to Christchurch bang on time, which hasn’t happened for a week or more.

The old cathedral, partly in ruins
The old cathedral. There’s a new, ‘cardboard’ one – this has been deconsecrated and may be demolished, though that’s controversial.

Three years after the earthquake – not quite to the day, I leave on Friday, the day before the anniversary – the clean up operation is in full flow. Around 70% of the CBD has been, or is due to be, demolished, so there are vacant plots all around. Equally, some buildings have been fenced off and left, giving them a ‘just derelict’ look, signs advertising deals still sadly giving out their message. The first building I walked past was the YHA, disused. It is essential to book accommodation; there are fewer beds than there used to be, and an influx of construction workers puts extra pressure on those that are left.

An empty lot next to some rebuilt ones
Partially rebuilt.

I checked in with chatty Graham, again sharing a room with two German girls, and went to explore. My last roommates had found the city ‘just sad’ and on balance I agreed. There’s plenty to be optimistic about, a chance to rebuild the city, create lots of public spaces and so on, but the near-completed projects and fenced off buildings give a wistful air of disaster. Walking through the cool Re: Start mall-shops made from shipping containers, I couldn’t find the bridge of remembrance before realising that it, too, was behind fences.

Much as it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of rebuilding a city if you live there, this place seems like a good one to be a repeated tourist – it is going to change appearance every few months, fascinating to see as a time lapse photo.

Reading: James Kelman, How late it was, how late.

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