Dunedin, New Zealand
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.
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.
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.
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.