Dunedin is the South Island’s second largest city, founded in 1848 at the site of an earlier whaling port. The first settlers were mostly Scottish (the name is derived from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, ‘Dùn Èideann’) and the city was deliberately built to emulate its namesake. The city’s surveyor, Charles Kettle, laid out grand plans to mimic the streets and buildings of Edinburgh, and these were carried out with mixed success on the challenging landscape. Most notable is the iconic railway station, built from black basalt with white stone facings to give a distinctive light and dark pattern, which is repeated throughout the city.
Rev. Thomas Burns, nephew of the famous Scottish poet, was one of the first settlers
Dunedin Railway Station
Out of town on the Otago Peninsula is the Royal Albatross Centre. This is the site of the only mainland breeding colony in the world, and so is a rare opportunity to see these majestic birds. On a windy day, they soar over the waves and round the headland, looking almost like gliders with their massive 3 metre wingspan. They spend most of their lives at sea, travelling an estimated 190,000 km each year between feeding grounds. We were lucky to visit on a sufficiently gusty day, and stood in awe watching the albatrosses circle above us.
Spot the albatross
We were in Dunedin over Easter weekend, and it was pretty strange to spend this time of year in the Southern Hemisphere. Forget lambs and daffodils – the leaves were brown, the sheep were old, and pumpkins were lining the grocery shelves. Luckily, Easter eggs can still be found in abundance, and so we managed to preserve some of the usual tradition by stuffing our faces with chocolate.
From Dunedin we set off north to visit my cousin Matt, who lives near the town of Rakaia. We had planned to arrive in the late afternoon and stay for one night before moving on; however the journey took longer than expected, and following some ‘navigational challenges’ it was dark by the time we arrived. It was great to see Matt and have a catch up, and the next morning we came down to the farm to see the cows being milked, before heading off.
Dramatic skies over Hanging Rock, near Timaru
Hanging out with my cousin Matt
Calves at the farm
Whilst in New Zealand we wanted to challenge ourselves with an adventurous activity, something we wouldn’t normally do at home (like climbing, hiking or cycling). With this in mind we had booked a whitewater rafting trip, and setting off from Matt’s we stopped at a pay phone to give the rafting centre a call and check river conditions were ok. We were pretty gutted to learn that in fact the river had risen to the highest level in months, and it was too dangerous to run a trip. We provisionally moved our booking to the following day, which would be our last chance before leaving the country. After a quick prayer to the river gods, we turned the car round and headed to Christchurch instead.
Christchurch was founded at a similar time to Dunedin, but with mostly English rather than Scottish settlers the intention was to build a city around a cathedral and college, following the model of Christ Church in Oxford. Christchurch soon gained a reputation as the most English of New Zealand cities, which certainly feels the case as you wander along the leafy banks of the River Avon.
On Saturday 4th September 2010, Christchurch was struck by an earthquake registering a magnitude of 7.1 on the Richter scale. There were no resulting fatalities, but a number of buildings were seriously damaged. Just 5 months later, on 22nd February 2011, a second earthquake earthquake rocked Christchurch and wiped out large areas of the city. The magnitude was slightly lower than the first earthquake, but with the epicentre right underneath the city the impact was catastrophic, with the intensity and violence of the ground shaking being amongst the highest ever recorded in an urban area. The famous cathedral lost its spire, many buildings collapsed, and 185 people were killed.
Visiting the city 4 years later, the aftermath of the disaster on the city is starkly visible, and not just on its physical structures. Walking through the streets, there is still a tangible feeling of shock and sadness. However, resilient Christchurchers have picked themsleves up, and there are a number of transitional projects and installations whilst the city is being rebuilt. Amongst these are the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, a temporary location whilst the fate of the original building is decided, and Re:START, an innovative shopping centre composed of a jumble of brightly painted shipping containers, housing everything from clothes shops to banks.
The temporary ‘Cardboard Cathedral’
Visiting the Rose Garden at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The Re:START shopping complex
After a day in Christchurch it was our last chance at rafting, and we were thrilled to find out that river conditions were good, meaning our trip was on! The usually crystal clear Rangitata River was a steely grey after the heavy rainfall, and the grade 5 rapids were running at an excitingly high level. Rafting is different from other adventure activities, in the sense that you are part of the crew rather than just a passenger – if you don’t follow instructions and paddle hard, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be going down the rapids alongside the raft, not in it! We had a good team, and after running the biggest sections, we deliberately flipped the raft while surfing a wave and took a swim. It was a fantastic day, and after a hot shower and a barbecue, we drove back to Christchurch tired and happy.
The dream team
This morning we had a quick catch up over coffee with an old school friend, parted ways with our trusty Nissan Tiida, and are now in the airport waiting for our flight to Melbourne. We’ve had an incredible time here, and although we’re excited about Australia we are sad to be leaving.
Thanks New Zealand – it’s been sweet as!