Team VA's Wonderings

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Life is a highway

When a Canadian told me that I looked like a Canadian singer, I was dreading him saying Bryan Adams (I was confident it wasn't Sea Lion Dion). So I guess I should be pleased with him calling me a young Tom Cochrane, who provided the soundtrack to my trip to NZ.

Dunedin, through no real fault of its own, spent my first 24 hours here being the city of 'no you can't do that'.

Aware that the following day was Good Friday, I went straight to the Dive shop, which encouragingly had 'start learning to dive today' on it's walls in bright, five foot high letters. No you can't, next course starts in a week and is spread over a fortnight.

I want to go to Invercargill through the Catlins and spend the night there. No you can't: the Intercity uses a different inland route; the Catlins coaster only works one way in the opposite direction; Kiwi Experience ignores its brochure, no longer stops there overnight, so you'll have to pay extra to stay 2 nights. And we've no space.

No you can't visit the National Sports Museum on Good Friday, it's shut, even though it said it would be open.

I need to top up my current account; no you can't as Egg have decided to stop my account as they had some post returned to them.

I need to top up my phone's credit; no you can't as we've decided to change our technology, which means we've stopped top ups. Oh, and we should have told you that we'll switch the service off on April 20th. But it's OK, we'll send out new sim cards in the middle of June. Yes, you would need a time machine to stop that being fucking stupid.

No you can't have a drink, it's Good Friday. To be fair I got around this one as it appears to be the week of women plying me with booze. After Kylie, American Jen was giving me beer and Oranje Joelle red wine. So, as usual, no real dramas.

All the same, I was quite gutted as I walked back from the dive shop. I'd convinced myself I'd be learning to dive here, so was disappointed and now had a tricky bit of travel to arrange instead of spending a week in Dunedin. I had to organise Dunedin activities, the tricky Catlins journey, ferry to Stewart Island, Doubtful Sound overnight cruise (complete with buffet), Milford Nature cruise, relevant buses, connections and hostels. In a city that was largely closed. It was a bit of a pig.

Allan had recommended me the Elm tour to the Otago Peninsula, which is something of a wildlife paradise. Booking this was Thursday's one success, particularly as they did operate on Good Friday.

I had some time before we set off, so I took a bit of a walk round town, snapped the Robert Burns statue (the Scots came here), did some internet and grabbed an early lunch at the hostel, where I fell into conversation with the very lovely Joelle, who decided to join me on the peninsula.

Speaking of the hostel, I have to say Dunedin's Central Backpackers is ludicrously trendy. I've not been in a place with this much design since John and I uglied our way round super-chic, super-hip Stockholm, staying in a hotel, which styled itself as a celebration of design. No Ladies and Gents or Guys and Gals on the bathroom door here. Instead they use a couple of those black and white photos, accompanied by a bit of text. We've got a bloke resting his head on his hand, which is captioned 'Bob worked on the theory that if you use your left hand, it felt like someone else was doing it'.

Anyway, first was stop the Royal Albatross Centre. Before heading up to the top of the hill where the colony lived our guide gave us an informative introduction to the albatross and this, the only mainland albatross colony on earth. Essentially, this is the only place on earth I'm likely to see an albatross in the wild. As their 8kg bodies have 3m wingspans (think of someone stood on someone else's shoulders and you're about there), I hope to hell there aren't any in captivity.

The presentation included some video on the bird and colony, which was narrated by the Greatest Living Englishman (Sir David Attenbrough, in case there's any confusion). He was brilliant as ever, but made seeing the birds all the more surreal. After years of wildlife programmes, it was very strange to watch one, stand up, walk up a hill and be in the very place that David had just been talking about.

We were amazingly lucky. We saw chicks and parents feeding them; several landings-largely of the crash variety; take offs; and lots and lots of flying. Albatrosses don't flap their wings much, they're really gliders-damn good ones, who can stay away from land for years, using the prevailing winds to circle the Southern polar region. It was remarkable and when 3 albatrosses were doing a kind of formation glide, I had the sensation of watching something I would remember for a very long time. They're bloody fast too.

Next we headed over to a stunning beach, which was home to a lot of male sea lions. On the way down, we had to detour as there was a yellow penguin on the path.

Initially the sea lions were all asleep, but once one surfed in

It got quite heated

They spend a lot of time bullying each other, mostly as practise. Their motivation is that only the biggest bully gets any. 400kg sea lions aren't scared of me, so you have to watch them. Even so, we got quite close

The highlight on the beach was definitely the two yellow eyed penguins who had to go mountaineering to get home

They're very private birds and like an out of the way home. These two had gone to extremes. With one always a way ahead, looking back in what appeared to be impatience, it was very easy to imagine the penguins' conversation. Joelle and I put words in their mouths as we watched them waddle, struggle and jump their way up what must have been well over 100feet.

'Wahey. We made it.' 'I'm really tired. I told you not to build the house up here.'

We finished by hiking a pretty steep hill to get to the seal nursery pools. Seals learn to swim here so they don't drown in rough seas or get eaten. Mum goes off fishing for up to a week at a time, so there's plenty of time for mischief.

All in all an exciting and exhilarating day. I hadn't really been down, but it put the other crap in perspective.

I finally resolved the Catlins problem by finding a one way car hire for just a dollar more than the Kiwi Experience bus. Joelle may come too if she can get back to Mount Cook. Be nice and she's very keen to drive.

Good Friday is dry in NZ (as is Easter Sunday) and fairly much everything is shut. I cannot imagine how Easter would have been received by the Rugby tour 15 years ago. Inevitably a lot of bars were opening at midnight, seeing as Good Friday was over. Had they opened 2 or 3 hours earlier we'd have piled down, but at about 11 the inspiration for a big night out had dissipated-just as well if I'm to stay awake on the Taeri Gorge Railway tomorrow.

Ticket to Ride
The Taeri Gorge is a scenic railway, so it was a 4 hour return trip with a couple of leg stretching photo stops. The train rolled out past the House of Pain-Carrisbrook rugby ground, where I believe the All Blacks have only lost once. To England. Nice.

12km down the track at Wingatui, a chap stood on the veranda at the front of his house waving to us all. I suppose he must do it everyday; I thought it a really nice touch, I doubt I'd have felt the same at home 6 months ago.

I did have a couple of moments of heavy eyelids, when sat by the heater on the way back. Just as well I spent most of the way out hanging off the viewing platform between carriages. The cruise ship passengers were on another train, which was nice. It was a lovely way to spend a morning. I'll leave some of the many photos to do the talking.

Since the station contained the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, I didn't have to think too hard about what to do after the train. It was a touch out of date (Bob Charles was still the country's only major champion, despite Michael Campbell's 2005 US Open) and it wasn't slick, but it paid honest and heartfelt tribute to NZ's stars and entertained me for an hour and a half. It also got me thinking-where's the British one. Perhaps I've found my life's work.

Inevitably there were names I expected-Meads, Fitzpatrick, Hadlee, Todd, some surprises (Chris Lewis got an awful lot of respect for reaching a Wimbledon final) and a great many I had never heard of. Chief among the latter category was Peter Snell. Is it just me? Who's heard of Peter Snell? He had the 800 and mile world records, won the 800m at Rome in '60, defended it in Tokyo, where he also won the 1500m. A distance he had not previously run competitively. He was the first to the do the double since Albert Hill, of whom we heard so much when Kelly Holmes did her own double. He was voted Kiwi sportsman of the 20th century-I get the impression he won comfortably. He's their Redgrave, so I thought it bad he was news to me. Peter Snell-worth remembering.

There was a large section on Sir Edmund Hillary, which contained a list of all the 43 Kiwis to have climbed Everest-2 didn't make it back. 1 who did was a double amputee. I think it is testament to Hillary and Tenzing's achievement and a reflection of how mountaineering has changed that it was 26 years after them that Kiwi no 2 got to the top. 21 of them have done it since 2002-9 in 9 days last year.

Amongst the Snell stuff was a list of the top 20 sporting achievements of all time. At no 1 was Sir Roger Bannister's 4 minute mile. Elsewhere was a list detailing the progression of the mile record. Bannister's record was broken, by over a second before the end of the following month. It's extraordinary that something that was so short lived is so eternal-it was an extraordinary achievement. My favourite hall of famer, just edging out the man-beating granny world bowls champ, had to be Ned Shewry

Competitive woodchopping doesn't get the attention it deserves. On the way home I booked ferries, hostels, buses and cruises, which will largely keep me going for the next 10 days.

It wears him out
I pride myself on being able to spot a quality tacky tourist spot. So, despite a very late night, I opened up today with a 45 minute walk to Baldwin Street. Most of the walk was through Dunedin suburbia, where Baldwin Street itself is to be found. I knew I'd hit paydirt when I saw two massive coaches and a souvenir shop. You see, Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world.

I can only assume Norris McWhirter came along with one of those massive potractors they never used on the blackboard at school, measured the steepest bit and ratified the record. Like many busy tourist spots, it wasn't hard to find some solitude-simply walk to the top. I resisted the temptation to purchase a certificate to record my achievement for future generations. If you do ever go to Baldwin Street, I can fully recommend listening to Fake Plastic Trees on the way down-it felt perfect for the view and the thumping as my feet struggled to hold me back.

So, last night. Hmmm. Joelle and Anya had made inquiries and found the places we needed to be. Maybe it would have been better, had Dunedin's bars stayed closed again. The music? Well it wasn't good. It was awful, though we eventually drank enough to just laugh at it. You get a pretty good idea of what punters like when after 2 bars of a song, a cheer goes up and there's a rush for the dancefloor. This was when I knew we were in trouble. The song was Mysterious Girl. Yup, by Peter Andre. A bit like Oz, it's still the 80s here.

There had been other pointers. The mass exitus of fresh faced youths 5 minutes before 4 policemen walked in. The physical danger of getting between the dance floor and some of the local ladies, who were unstoppable once they got the urge to shake their booty. LOTS of priceless dancing onto the dancefloor. The guy who came up for air as he was convinced I was Pete. The dancing king-all shirt, time consuming facial hair and rehearsed moves. Not forgetting the bloke who could barely stand, who stumbled over to us. He made perfunctory and hopeless attempts to engage Joelle and then Anya. Realising he was getting nowhere, he decided to abandon conversation and kiss me. I was too quick for his open mouthed lunge cum headlock, but did end up with slobber on my cheek. I'm pleased to say he wasn't the guy I saw throwing up in the urinal.

It was crap, but very funny. Then we got back to the hostel, boiled eggs, decorated and hid them for everyone's Easter Sunday entertainment. When I finally found my bed, I discovered a pile of small chocolate eggs. I presume it was another nice touch from the hostel; I hope it wasn't from the wobbly at the bar.

Baldwin Street was a longer detour than I expected. I used up more time when I took a short cut through the Botanic-after some 'navigation', I emerged triumphantly where I started and took the long way. So I didn't have as long as I'd have liked at the modern and shiny Otago Museum. I also made a mistake when the short film on survival in Antarctica turned out to be movie with the guy out of American Pie, who all the bad stuff happens to. Still interesting with some amazing scenery; and only 2 of the dogs died. The time I had left, I devoted to the temporary Antarctica exhibition. It's shameful how little I know about the place. A few odds and ends that resonated strongly: it's 1 and half time the size of Australia; if its ice melts, sea levels will rise 60 metres; there was a reminder of the 130km ice shelf that broke off in 2000 (remember 90% of its below the water), bits up to a km long reached NZ, 5 hours away. By plane. I'm just going to turn some lights off. At the end I wished I had more time, wanted to know more (Christchurch should help) and of course I want to go there. Imagine a place where the sun sets for 4 months.

The Masters is the first thing I have really missed. Despite being in April, it always marks the start of the year for me. So, I've been doing early morning runs to the internet. Dare I say, come on our Justin? Well I have. And thanks and good luck to Our Greg.


  • our Justin? Why are you cheering on a bok?

    (yes, yes... I know that's a predictable enough heckle from me, but I was reminded of how much I dislike him when I was watching the little weasel being interviewed after his round yesterday)

    Come of Padraig! Come on Loooooooooooooook!

    I'm loving the idea that post-pub entertainment in NZ consists of boiling some eggs and painting them....


    By Blogger swisslet, at 11:51 AM  

  • incidentally - canadian singers? The Bare Naked ladies? Alanis Morrisette? kd lang? neil young?

    my vote would be for one of the bare naked ladies...... (google images is your friend here)

    I'd also forgotten that our greg got as far as number 4 in the world. that's a good effort.

    Oh, and whilst cleaning out the crap I have stored in my mum and dad's attic, I discovered the £2 they minted for the 1988 commonwealth games. On the presentation pack were a number of notable commonwealth athletes... bannister, cram..... and Snell. I knew I'd heard the name somewhere!



    By Blogger swisslet, at 10:33 PM  

  • Re Justin Rose

    All too easy

    By Blogger Poll Star, at 9:26 AM  

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