Water of Leith. Glenorchy. Macandrew Bay. There are a lot of Scottish names on the South Island, and that’s just the most immediate sign that the main Pakeha settlers in this part of New Zealand came from the land of lochs. Dunedin (Gaelic for Edinburgh) used to be a major industrial and commercial center for the country, but nowadays it’s mainly known as a university town. I’d intended to spend a couple days there, but as so often happens near the end of a stay in a country, there suddenly didn’t seem to be as much time as I’d thought there’d be. I liked what I saw of the town, though.
Theresa’s friend and fellow Couchsurfer Ritchie picked me up from the bus station and we decided the beautiful weather made it the perfect day for a drive along the Otago peninsula. We stopped at a shop next to a tiny beach half full of determined ocean bathers, and I bought a cheese roll, which Ritchie said is something of an Otago institution. It consists of a piece of long bread (the kind you find pre-sliced) rolled around soft cheese and chives, and then toasted. It wasn’t a delicacy, but it did the trick for lunch.
We drove up to the Royal Albatross Centre. The albatross is a rare bird. There’s a well-protected colony on the Otago peninsula, and you can often see them up at the center. We saw a lot of seagulls but no albatross, so we carried on down the winding coastal road to the small town Ritchie lives in. His house overlooks the ocean, and he said he often goes spearfishing for his supper. We relaxed on the balcony and I had the luxury of an afternoon nap and a few hours of reading. That night, Ritchie’s roommate mentioned how clear the skies were, so we stood on the balcony staring at the stars. I’d been searching for the Southern Cross the whole time I’d been in the southern hemisphere, but hadn’t had any luck finding it until this night, when Ritchie pointed it out to me. Just in time before I headed back to the northern hemisphere, where you can’t see it.
The next day, I had to catch the bus up to Christchurch, so Ritchie dropped me off in the Octagon a couple of hours before it left. The Octagon is the town square, with—you guessed it—eight sides. A road rings the small park in the center, and another road bisects the park. Fancy shops and nice restaurants take up most of the storefronts, and there’s also Town Hall and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Right at the top of the hill—this is New Zealand, remember, so there are hills everywhere, I hardly need mention that the Octagon was set on a hill—anyway, right at the top of the hill is a statue dedicated to Scottish poet Robert Burns. This is a city that wears its heritage with pride. (Also, Burns’ nephew was one of the founders of the Otago settlement in 1848.)
The cathedral was putting on a free “cruise concert” for cruise ship passengers right as I was admiring the building, so I went inside. It was a lovely twenty minutes of listening to the organist play Bach, Handel, and Elgar while sitting in the spacious, sparsely decorated church. Afterward, I had lunch at a perfectly collegiate café (trendy, charming, overpriced) and admired the train station made of local stone. On the bus ride out of town, our driver told us some fun facts about Dunedin, all of which I’ve forgotten, but what stuck with me is I need to come back and spend more time here.