Dunedin – Well known for its Scottish heritage and scarfies (university students).
Arriving in Dunedin late afternoon gave us an opportunity to visit the Chinese Gardens. Established almost eight years ago, this is an impressive example of a Chinese Scholars Garden – and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. The gardens represent the valuable sister city relationship with Shanghai and recognise the Chinese people who first came to Otago during the 1860s gold rush and stayed to establish some of the city’s businesses. We dressed up like Scholars, drank traditional tea in the Tea House, feed the resident Gold Fish and were even fortunate enough to meet one of the resident panda’s.
A brisk start turned out to be a sunny, clear sky day – not overly common in this city. We headed out to explore Tunnel Beach. In 1870 a tunnel was excavated to provide access to a secluded beach so the Cargill families could bath in privacy. However, a dangerous rip actually claimed the life of the creator’s youngest daughter. The beach is flanked by a line of high cliffs and a headland that provides breathtaking views of the ocean continuing its relentless artistry. smooth. There is even one cliff which is shaped like a whale! Best at low tide, there is a massive sandstone sea arch, fossils and mysterious graffiti carved into the cliffs. Beware: the track down to the cave is fairly steep… And it’s the only way back up. But it is so worth it!
Larnach Castle, built in 1871, is the only Castle in New Zealand. It has an exciting, sometimes scandalous and tragic history. After Larnach’s suicide in 1898 his family sold the Castle. Over the course of 60 years it was used as a lunatic asylum, a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers and a nuns’ retreat. The Ballroom was once even used as a sheep holding pen. When the castle was purchased in the 1960s many thought that it was beyond repair. After the restoration was completed the Castle was opened to the public in the hope it would become a tourist attraction. After a guided tour of the Castle, which boasts magnificent carved ceilings, New Zealand antiques and breathtaking views from the tower it was time for a stroll around the gardens, which are of International Significance.
Our afternoon out on the Otago Peninsula continued. Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours took us out to Taiaroa Head to view the world’s only mainland nesting place for Northern Royal Albatross. During the one hour cruise we saw different species of Albatross, New Zealand Fur Seals, nesting Cormorant’s and a dolphin.
After this, we drove out to Taiaroa Head where The Royal Albatross Centre is located. We opted to do the Ultimate Tour, which is 90 minutes in length and tells both the story of the Northern Royal Albatross and Maori history of Taiaroa Head. This gave us the opportunity to view the Albatross Colony and nesting chicks up close from a viewing room and learn about the tunnels of Fort Taiaroa, which was established in the 1880s to counter the threat of invasion from Tsarist Russia and became a large defence base in WWII.
Walking through the restored underground passageway was epic! I can only imagine what it must have been like to be stationed at The Observation Post on the exposed Head. Another feature of Fort Taiaroa is the fully restored 1889 Armstrong Disappearing Gun. Situated in an underground circular gun pit, it was aimed while below ground, then raised, fired and returned back into the pit by the recoil for reloading. It has worldwide recognition as the only one still in working condition, in its original gun pit. Interestingly, it has never actually been fired at an enemy.
As the sun set it was time to assemble in Pilot Bay to watch Little Blue Penguin’s in their natural habitat. Little Blue’s are the smallest penguins, only 33cm in height, but they are also the most vocal. After a day at sea the penguins congregate in groups called “rafts” not far offshore. At dusk the penguins come ashore and scurry up to their cliff-face burrows for the evening. The length of time it took for them to walk up the beach to their nests appeared to be determined by how many were in the raft. The larger the number, the faster the process. Check out this little video clip of it.
The rain was falling heavily when we woke the following morning. Perfect conditions to visit Toitu, the Otago Settlers Museum. Toitū resonates with the Museum in its direct meaning, while its separate components can be translated as toi – artistic pursuit, tū – held on to forever. Being a museum there were plenty of restrictions of what we could actually film. However we still got some great footage and were able to enjoy learning about the people whose character, culture, technology, art, fashion, and transport shaped New Zealand’s First Great City.
For lunch, we went to the famous Cadbury World. Filming was also restricted here, due to the fact that this place is operating, producing chocolate. But we were quite happy to put the cameras down and enjoy a full tour. After donning hairnets, and in Sam’s case a snood, we learned the chocolate making process from the cocoa bean through to the delicious products. We followed the yummy scent of chocolate and saw chocolatiers in action. Then the main event – the Purple Silo where we saw a one ton liquid chocolate waterfall! We got to sample the liquid chocolate during the tour and a goodie bag of chocolate treats was also filled along the way.
The cafe provided an interactive conclusion to the tour. Here, we sampled a Pinky Hot Chocolate where I squirted a syringe full of strawberry marshmellow into the caramel flavoured milk, followed cup cakes, which we got to decorate with a multitude of toppings. Then there was the sampling tray of Hot Chocolate flavoured drinks; dream, mint, caramel, milk and dark chocolate. That was one intense sugar rush!
What better thing is there to do after a Cadbury tour than a Speights Brewery tour! Since 1876 the brewery has been proudly producing Speight’s legendary ales. The brewery is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar upgrade due to the damage caused to their brewery in Christchurch. Sam’s good friend Snowy is the brand manager, so we had an informal tour with him as our guide. After sampling an array of beverages in the onsite bar our tour concluded with a glass of the new release alcoholic Ginger Beer at the Speights Ale House. While it was delicious, I probably couldn’t have more than one due its sweetness but this could definitely be one dangerous drink for the ladies…
The clouds were breaking when we decided to test whether the Jucy rental van could make it to the top of Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. I managed to get a run up before the incline became too steep, which is what saved us. Towards the top, on the steepest part, our faithful van was showing signs of struggling. She made it gracefully though. Then we got to witness another Jucy van attempt the climb, and make the rookie mistake of stopping before they reached the summit. The resulting burnout definitely left some rubber on the road.
On Saturday’s the Otago Farmers Market happens at the Train Station. This iconic market has plenty to offer; fresh produce, specialty breads, coffee, preserves, infused oils, vegan delights, pizzas, dumplings, the locally famous Bacon Buttie Man – and much more! With a great community vibe and super low prices it is well worth checking out.
Courtesy of Speights, we received tickets to the Super 15 Final between the Otago Highlanders and the Canterbury Crusaders at the Forsyth Bar Stadium. This is an epic venue and our seats were in a prime spot on the halfway line, behind the Highlanders reserves. The atmosphere in the stadium was phenomenal, with both teams playing a physical game resulting in an even contest. The outcome was a narrow win to the Crusaders, much to the disappointment of the crowd. For us, it was time to hit the town and celebrate. Cheers, Dunedin!