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 January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

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Dunedin:  Waiting... and Waiting

I spent a week in Dunedin waiting for the rain to stop so I could go out and explore the area, but the rain never quit so I had to console myself by perusing through my Lonely Planet guidebook, looking at the beautiful pictures of the Dunedin area, including the Otago Peninsula.  According to my guidebook, the peninsula is a beautiful pastoral area just east of the city, about 20 miles long.

 

Speaking of rain, when I was a kid, this song was one of my favorites.  These are The Irish Rovers singing about The Unicorn.

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After several days of waiting, I finally drove out to the peninsula, but I didn't see much of anything but clouds and driving rain.  I kept referring to the pictures in my guidebook to see what it would've looked like if it was sunny -- yeah, O.K., it was pretty pathetic. 

 

There's an albatross colony out on the Otago Peninsula, though, which was pretty interesting.  Albatrosses are seabirds that fly thousands of miles each year during their migrations, and they nest only in a few places around the world, including here in New Zealand.  Albatrosses are also HUGE -- imagine a seagull that's as big as a turkey and you'll get an idea of what they look like.  Seeing one of these humongous birds for the first time, I finally understood the term, "Like an albatross around my neck." And, for some odd reason, I started thinking of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

 

I drove into town several times during my week in Dunedin and strolled along George Street, the main thoroughfare.  Despite being soaked, Dunedin was really hopping, this being the middle of the six-week summer holiday.  I headed down to the train station one afternoon to take the 4-hour scenic train ride through the Taieri Gorge, something like the Durango-Silverton train ride in Colorado, but the train was just about full and I didn't think I'll have a very good time sitting cramped on a steamy train in an aisle seat, so I decided instead to get some fish and chips from a takeout, go back to my motel room, and turn on the T.V. and watch the New Zealand Black Caps cricket match that afternoon against Australia.  First, however, I wanted to visit Baldwin Street.

 

Other than the rain and the albatrosses, the thing I'll probably remember most about Dunedin is Baldwin Street, which is reputedly the steepest street in the world.  Unfortunately, though, my photos on this page don't do it justice.  When I first saw Baldwin Street, my jaw dropped.  I didn't have the nerve to try to drive my Corolla up the street because I wasn't sure if it would make it -- or if the brakes would work well enough on the way down -- so I hiked to the top, during which I had to stop twice to catch my breath.  Yep, I imagine the folks who deliver the newspapers and mail here get big tips.

 

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Above left:  This is what Dunedin looked like during the week that I was there.  The rain gave me a chance, though, to update my website and return e-mails.

Above center:  The Railway Station, still in use, is probably the most beautiful building in Dunedin.

Above right:  This is inside the Railway Station.  I was going to take a scenic all-day rail trip from here, but the train was packed.

 

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Above left:  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Baldwin Street in Dunedin with a 35% slope is the steepest street in the world.  

Above center:  Don't people here know how to build houses?

Above right:  Just foolin'.  Actually, this is what the houses on Baldwin Street look like.  Cars have to get a running start before driving up the street.

 

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Above left:  George Street, the main thoroughfare in Dunedin.

Above right:  Folks told me that this creek at Otago University is normally just a trickle.

 

Green Acres, New Zealand Style

After waiting for a week in Dunedin, I left to search for sunnier climes.  As I was checking out of the Acadian Motel, the friendly owner apologized profusely for the weather and assured me that Dunedin is actually a wonderful city, which I assured her it seemed to be.  Hopefully, I'll see the "real" Dunedin the next time I visit New Zealand. 

 

I continued heading south that morning and drove through an area on the southeastern coast known as the Catlins, which is one of the most remote places in New Zealand.  There aren't a lot of people in the Catlins and the highway becomes a dirt road (or "unsealed" road, as they call it here).  Since my car isn't insured on unsealed roads, I was a little apprehensive about driving through the Catlins but the road is pretty wide and there wasn't a lot of traffic, so I didn't have any trouble.  Since I'd been dealing with a lot of crowds all through New Zealand for the previous month, the Catlins were a nice break and, probably for the first time, I felt like I was seeing the real New Zealand.

 

The sun finally emerged late that afternoon as I pulled into Invercargill (pop. 50,000), a farming city on the very southern tip of the South Island and about as far south as you can drive in New Zealand.  Invercargill is the butt of a lot of jokes in New Zealand since it's a pretty rural area and there are a lot of farms in this area -- definitely life in the slow lane.  A few days earlier, I had talked to some adventure-seeking teenagers and when I said I was going to Invercargill, they asked me one question:  "Why?"  

 

Here's the theme to Green Acres.  Those younger than about 30 have probably never seen this show (which is fortunate).

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Invercargill was a nice change of pace, though, because every city that I'd visited in New Zealand up until now boasted a myriad of adrenalin-pumping experiences, including jet-boat rides, white-water rafting, hang-gliding, bungy-jumping, sea-kayaking, and a lot of other hyphenated thrill activities which can whittle down your wallet in no time flat.  The most exciting thing to do in Invercargill was visit the Southland Museum (which I did) and walk around the beautiful downtown area (which I also did).  More than any other place I've visited yet in New Zealand, Invercargill reminded me of a large Midwestern farm town, something like a Bismarck or Wichita, which was all the more reason to like it.  

 

Invercargill isn't real exciting, but it seems pretty down-to-earth and the folks there take life a little slower than elsewhere in New Zealand.  During my two days there, I got a good feeling for the town and, although it's the antithesis of all those New Zealand action-adventure towns, I liked Invercargill a lot.  The thrill-seekers can stay in Queenstown or Wanaka, as far as I'm concerned -- I'll take Invercargill any day.  

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Above left:  After a week of rain, I left Dunedin and headed south.  This is Nugget Point on the southeastern coast of the South Island... and yes, it's a real nugget.

Above center:  Driving across the Catlins, probably the most remote part of New Zealand.

Above right:  Only 4 million people live in this country but there are 48 million sheep.  I think I've seen most of them.

 

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Above left:  Invercargill is about as far south as you can go in New Zealand.  With a lot of farmland nearby and all the John Deere Tractor places, it feels like a Midwestern city.  And, like a lot of Midwestern cities, there isn't a whole lot to do in Invercargill -- but maybe that's why I liked it.

Above center:  The Southland Museum in Invercargill is the best museum I've visited so far in New Zealand.

Above right:  Getting some Fish and Chips from a seafood market in Invercargill.

 

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Above left:  Literally the end of the road.  This signpost is in Bluff, a few miles south of Invercargill and as far south as you can drive in New Zealand.

Above center:  Surfer dude along the highway.

Above right:  The sausage capital of New Zealand?  This is my kind of town!

 

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Above left:  A few more of those 48 million sheep.

Above center:  Monkey Island on the southern coast, where I was first introduced to New Zealand's notorious biting sandflies.

Above right:  Clifden suspension bridge, built in the 1800s.

 

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Above left:  On the beautiful drive from Invercargill to Te Anau in southwestern New Zealand.

Above right:  Sunset on Lake Te Anau, the second-largest lake in New Zealand.

 

The (Doubtful) Sound of Silence

I left Invercargill on an overcast morning and headed north to Te Anau (pronounced "Tay ANN-ow," pop. 2,000), a bustling summer resort town and the activity hub of Fiordland, a beautiful area of southwestern New Zealand with lots of... well... fiords.  If you studied geography in college like I did for eight years, you probably know that a fiord is a glaciated valley that's been submerged by the sea, and there are lots of fiordish things to do in this area during the summer time, such as fiord cruises and fiord aerial sightseeing. 

 

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Left:  The Fiordland National Park Visitor Center in Te Anau.  

You can also go hiking, or "tramping" as they call it in New Zealand, on two of the most popular trails in the country, the Milford and Routeburn tracks.  These two trails are supposed to be spectacular but, on the other hand, they're immensely popular and you need to make reservations months in advance to hike on them, and even then your itinerary is strictly regimented. 

 

You can't camp on these trails; you have to stay in communal huts and can only spend one night in each hut, no matter how bad the weather is.  These kinds of Disneyland regulations are essential, I'm sure.  However, they don't appeal to me, so I didn't try to do any hiking there.  Plus, the idea of sharing a hut with 35 people I don't know, many of whom are drying their wet socks and underwear doesn't really float my boat.  Yeah, the guidebooks say that staying in New Zealand's tramping huts is a good way to meet people, but I've got this strange philosophy that says you go backpacking to get AWAY from people.  

 

Hiking, therefore, was out of the picture and I'm too cheap to go aerial sightseeing, but I really wanted to do the fiord cruises since I'd heard a lot of good things about them, so cruise I did.  I spent three days in Te Anau and took a cruise on Doubtful Sound one day and a cruise on Milford Sound the next.  They were two very different cruises and I'm glad I did each.

 

Doubtful Sound was named back in the 1700’s by Captain James Cook during his exploration of New Zealand.  As Cook approached the narrow sound on his ship, the H.M.S. Discovery, he decided not to enter it because the prevailing wind direction made him doubtful that, once inside the sound, he would be able to leave.  Today, Doubtful Sound is still pretty difficult to get to -- in fact, I had to do an all-day trip to get out to it.  First, our group rode a boat across a lake for an hour, then we hopped on a bus and rode down to the sound where we boarded another boat to cruise on the sound.  After a spectacular 3-hour cruise, we then repeated the whole procedure in reverse to get back to Te Anau.  I know it sounds complicated but it's definitely worth it. 

 

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Left:  During my three nights in Te Anau I stayed at the Alpenhorn Motel, which I highly recommend.  I had several nice long talks with Tony, the friendly owner.  

The best part of the cruise was when the captain brought the boat right up to the edge of a precipitous cliff that plunged straight down into the water, cut the engines, and asked everyone to be quiet.  For the next three minutes, everyone stood still and we enjoyed what the captain called “The Sound of Silence,” hearing only the seagulls crying and the water dripping off the cliffs from three hundred feet above.

 

The only bad thing about the cruise was the group of a dozen or so retired Americans who went along.  A few of them were nice, but a lot of them were your typical and much-dreaded "Ugly Americans" -- very loud, rude, whining, and obnoxious. 

 

The 50ish woman whom I had the misfortune to sit next to on the bus ride back got really agitated about a single sandfly that was flying around inside the bus.  With a sadistic smile, she took out a can of insect repellent and proceeded to empty the entire contents of the can inside the hermetically-sealed bus.  I don’t know if the sandfly bit the dust, but several tourists on the bus nearly did and you could hear the coughing and wheezing all the way to Invercargill.  That group of Americans was something else, and being the only other American on board, I felt like putting a sign around my neck saying, "I'm not with them." 

 

Other than that, though, it was a terrific cruise and I had a great time. We didn't see any other boats during our cruise on Doubtful Sound and it was all very memorable.  So if you ever get a chance to see it, don’t be doubtful like Captain Cook – go for it.

 

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Above left:  I spent a few days in Te Anau and while there, took a day-long cruise to Doubtful Sound.  Actually, it's a four-part trip all crammed into 8 hours, with Part One being a boat ride across Manapouri Lake.

Above center:  Cruising with the Ugly Americans across Manapouri Lake in the morning.

Above right:  Part Two is a bus ride down to Doubtful Sound, which is on the Tasman Sea.

 

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Above left:  Part Three is a cruise on Doubtful Sound.  Captain Cook named this sound in the 1770s because, due to the winds, he was doubtful he could sail back out of it, so he never entered.

Above center:  Seal colony on some small islands in the Tasman Sea, at the mouth of Doubtful Sound.  Next stop, Australia.

Above right:  Part Four is a visit to the hydroelectric plant that links Lake Manapouri with Doubtful Sound.

 

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Left:  Here's a diagram of the hydroelectric plant, with Lake Manapouri on the left.  Our bus took us down in a tunnel (the yellow line) hundreds of feet below the surface.  I liked the tunnel ride almost as much as the cruise on the sound.

 

 

 

Next News

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

 

 

Previous News

January 12, 2002  -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002  -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

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August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

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June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

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April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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