Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dunedin, a Touch of Scotland

Jan. 9, 2013
We had a lovely drive from Oamaru to Dunedin, with a stop along a gorgeous beach, with golden sand and turquoise water, dramatic cliffs, a maybe volcano - you know, the typical New Zealand landscape that never ceases to amaze.

Dunedin (pronounced dun-EE-den) is the second largest city on the South Island, and is the home of the country’s oldest university.  The city is located on Otago Harbour, and is protected by the Otago Peninsula (where most of the yellow eyed penguins live, as well as colonies of little blue penguins, seals, sea otters, and amongst all those animals, an albatross colony).

The area was originally Maori, but in the mid-1800s Scottish settlers arrived and created the city that is here today, with The Octagon, a vaguely octagonal town center, full of major buildings like the center of government, churches, the current art gallery, and of course little shops and cafés.  The High Court is off on a side street, an impressive stone building full of turrets and towers; the railway station is nearby, another stone building that seems to take up half the block and could probably house an entire train itself.

We’re staying at a guesthouse in the university area.  The neighborhood is full of old Victorian homes, many turned into hotels or guest houses, others renovated to provide student housing.  The buildings are more solid and traditionally Victorian than Oamaru, and most seem to be brick, which gives the architecture that feeling of solidity.  Probably needed, as Dunedin seems to have a rather foggy, misty, rainy, windy climate, somewhat reminiscent of Scotland.  But our building is a nice old house, and our room has a wonderful bay window (with a couch), and the moulded plaster ceilings that are so ethereal and lovely.  We even have an old tile fireplace, though it has been blocked off and an electric heater installed.
I’ve added a photo of the room across the hall – I love the little alcove with its own ornamented arch – just wonderful!  I can just picture a little girl sharing that room with her parents, and loving having her own little alcove!

We spent our day wandering around Dunedin, enjoying the (rare) dry day and watching cruise ship tourists, talking with locals, and just having fun.  We also went to the art gallery, which had some interesting pieces:   A nearly complete set of Hokusai’s “Views of Mt. Fujiama” – one of the most complete I’ve ever seen!!!  Plus a few paintings by Sir Edward Burke-Jones.  Etchings, engravings, lithographs by Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt.  Huge murals painted on canvas by Sir Frank Brangwyn, who was invited by Rockefeller to paint alongside Diego Rivera and create murals for the New York skyscrapers.   It really was an impressive collection for such an out-of-the-way city.  (Keep in mind that Dunedin is just about 46 degrees south – halfway between the equator and the South Pole.  Out-of-the-way barely describes it.  There’s hardly anything south of here!)



In our wanderings, we found a delightful tile mural in a park, featuring the friendly yellow eyed penguins that are one of the special attractions in this area.  Well, they look friendly in the mural - I'm not sure how friendly penguins really are.

Many restaurants and cafés are still closed for the holiday break, and won’t re-open until Jan. 15.  So our dinner tonight was fish and chips, that old British Empire stand-by – but, as seems usual, it was takeaway, so we drove our little car around until we found a park, and had a very nice picnic.  Of course, being on the Pacific, there were sea gulls – we ended our meal with a large group of mostly quiet gulls politely waiting for us to finish.  (One young gull kept yelling at us – I’m guessing he was a juvenile, still used to his mother feeding him – but I kept telling him he had to wait.)  I never finish all my chips, so I took my paper of chips maybe 10 yards (meters) away from our bench and tried tossing the chips in an arch.  Well, of course, they all fell into one clump and I was suddenly in the midst of screaming squawking lunging soaring scooping-up-food gulls who were fighting over every morsel.  And then, as I walked back to our bench, they followed me – as if I would find more food to feed them.  It wasn’t straight out of Hitchcock, but it brought back memories.

Tomorrow we’re going to explore the peninsula, and see if we can find some more penguins.  Or maybe take a boat tour.  Depends on whether the rain arrives or not.

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