Adventures in Dunedin

April 6, 2011 Comments Off on Adventures in Dunedin

We—or at least I—had had grand plans for horseback riding in Dunedin, which in the end didn’t pan out. But that’s okay. Instead we kicked off our Dunedin day with a trip to Sandfly Bay (thankfully too windy for sandflies) on the Otago Peninsula. From the parking lot you had to cross a sheep pasture, skid, slip, and slide your way down a sandy bluff face, and cross a few dunes to get to the beach. It was incredibly windy. I know I comment on the wind a lot, but really, there has never in my life been as much wind as I experienced in New Zealand. Especially here, because there was also a lot of loose sand around, so our faces got pretty sandblasted. Simon and I were both in full bundled-up mode, which turned out to be perfect; I’d brought exactly the right combination of clothes: turtleneck, sweater, fleece, and awesome purple dead-of-winter hat. It was all I had, but it was just right.

Slumped on the beach in broad daylight were two big sea lions, fast asleep. One had his head pillowed on a clump of rather unpleasant-looking seaweed. The signs at the top of the hill had said you could get ten meters away from them if they were asleep, twenty if they were active, so we got right up to him (by which I mean a law-abiding ten meters). Every so often he would shuffle his big body into a more comfortable position, sometimes glancing at us to make sure we hadn’t sprouted harpoons or 100 extra pounds. At the ends of the beach were a few fur seals; on our way back we saw one chilling on top of a big boulder. We sat and watched him for a while, during which time he had really bad dog paranoia, where he couldn’t stop glancing at us. Finally he’d had enough of the stress, and booked it for the ocean. If you’ve never seen a seal book it, it’s hysterical. They can’t quite keep their balance on their silly flippers, and this guy kept narrowly avoiding faceplants in his rush. I felt kind of bad for freaking him out, but it was SO CUTE.

We spotted these ducks in the pasture. They're called paradise ducks, and they're a pair—the white-headed one is the female. Aren't they pretty?

The climb back up was terribly tiring. You had to hike back up the dunes, back up the steep steep hill of sand, which, as we all know, is exhausting to walk in. The wind howled and dark clouds gathered overhead. Even the sheep pasture wasn’t easy. Wind-lashed, we finally made it to the car and cowered inside, gasping for breath, and blindly tore open some kind of sparkling blackcurrant juice and chugged it. It’s always kind of surreal when you realize how important it is to have shelter. It made all the difference in the world to be out of the wind. We sat and savored it, and debated whether, in the end, we wanted to do the Taieri Gorge Railway, which had been on the list. I kind of insisted, so Simon gave in. It would feel great to sit for a few hours and watch amazing scenery go by.

We had lunch at a café near the train station that served the most delicious seafood chowder I’ve ever eaten. Mmmm. Then we hustled onto the train and settled into an antique 1920s railroad car, all wood. It was half-full, so we got a four-seat set to ourselves, which was nice. At first the ride was dull: suburbs, horse pastures, and trees too close to the car. But after a while, when we really got into the gorge proper, the scenery was breathtaking. It was a craggy gorge, with rock poking out all over the place, very like Scotland, actually. The river ran along the bottom, lined with willows, and raptors cruised at our level, looking for prey. The rails were held up in places by antique wrought iron and stone viaducts, which everyone photographed feverishly. It had been intended as the link between the mines out in the countryside and civilization (and buyers) in the form of Dunedin, so there were a couple stops where you could get out and look at old buildings built for the miners. The tunnels were quite narrow, and it was kind of fun to go out and stand between the cars, with the rock wall flashing by not two feet from you. My only complaint is that they switch only the engine at the far end. I understand that it’s a lot more complicated to turn the entire train around, but it’s not fair to the people (like us) sitting on the wall side of the train: the people across the way get the best views there and back. Fortunately, the elderly couple across from us offered to switch. Actually, I asked if they would like to switch, and felt guilty the whole rest of the trip, although I asked nicely, they could have said no, and the woman did bring it up by asking if we’d like to take pictures out that side. Whatever. It was only fair. On the way back Simon went to the dining car and brought back a cute little bottle of champagne, for fun.

This was the epic laundry night, when the laundry closed at 8:30, so we had to take all our stuff out of the dryer (still wet) and hang it all over the place. This is why it was good we had a three-bedroom apartment. With a space heater! Some of the stuff was actually dry in the morning.

We tried out a Japanese place from the guidebook for dinner, which was difficult to find because its sign was tiny and in Japanese, so we had no idea what it said except it was in the same place as the one in the guidebook…I suppose it’s possible that it wasn’t the one we were looking for. Anyway, the place was amazing. It was intimidating because the menu was comprised entirely of things I didn’t recognize, but I bravely ordered stuff anyway, and it was all good! Simon and I each got three or four little dishes: salmon/avocado salad, gyoza, yakiudon, and these beef skewers that had the most tender, flavorful beef I’ve ever eaten and it makes my mouth water just to think of them. Simon also got a couple weird things, like a seafood pancake that I didn’t like very much. But at least they were his responsibility.

[back-posted]

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