New Zealand holiday – part 7
Queenstown – Dunedin
It was a 7:30 am start for the drive to Dunedin with fine, sunny weather prevailing. Dunedin is essentially a university city and our driver warned us that if we ran into any students, not to give them a box of matches. Apparently the students are prone to burning their furniture in the streets in protest at any policy or event that doesn’t agree with them (the driver’s words, not mine). As we travelled along Alan mentioned that his wages were a paltry $17.50 an hour, but he could expect $27.50 per hour driving a coach in Australia. He said all wages were much lower in New Zealand compared to Australia.
We passed several big dams through the Otago region, the main one being the Clyde Dam on the Clutha Mata-Au River. This dam is bathed in controversy because during construction the workers discovered a faultline directly under the dam and spillways. Vast amounts of concrete were pumped into tunnels across the fault called “shear pins” to supposedly lock the fault, even though the fault was 12-15kms deep and such “dental concrete” would be instantly broken in a large earthquake. As a consequence, the town of Clyde just downriver has a warning system in case an earthquake occurs. But it’s estimated once the wall is breached it will take just six minutes for the water to reach the town. About enough time to kiss your wife and roll back over in bed.
It was a day for history lessons as the driver told us the tale of Shrek the sheep who eluded his owner and lived for six years in an Otago cave. During that time Shrek grew a fleece weighing 60 pounds, roughly six times the average coat for a merino. A New Zealand television audience roughly the same size as the one that watched the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana tuned in for the live shearing of Shrek. His wool hit the charity auction market, and fetched high prices. Shrek was put down in 2011 at the age of sixteen years. Our driver also said that twenty-five per cent of the New Zealander population live in Australia, a staggering figure. Apparently when “Piggy” Muldoon was Prime Minister a reporter asked him what he thought of that statistic. Muldoon replied, “That should raise the IQ of both countries!”
Scenery, scenery and more scenery. Scenery like no other. Scenery that just doesn’t let up. Simply scenery.
The coach took us through small towns and settlements that looked as if they had been forgotten by time. One such town where we had coffee was Lawrence, the birthplace of the Otago goldfields. It was also a chance for the backpackers to replentish their food supplies at the supermarket. Bread rolls, tomatoes and avocado provided a much cheaper alternative than buying meals at a cafe. Throughout the Otago area there were many old homesteads built of timber or stucco, lonely in their surroundings with the only modern amentity being a cable TV dish. Unlike Australia, the dish was situated up near the eaves on the side of the houses.
At around 2:30 pm we climbed over a long steep hill, and there in the distance lay big, sprawling Dunedin.
We stayed at the Leviathan, a heritage hotel with backpacker accomodation not far from the central city. There’s plenty to do and look at in Dunedin, but we were only there for virtually an overnight stop. We had a couple of hours to explore the city before it was time for another pre-booked beer-tasting tour, this time at Speight’s brewery. Speight’s Ale House is a large, grand building and one of Dunedin’s icons. For people with limited time this is an ideal way to spend an hour or more. Even if you’re not a beer drinker, it’s an informative guided tour through an historic working brewery. Our guide told the tale of a workman who fell into a vat of beer and drowned. Rather than waste the beer they decided to sell it, and it was known from then on as a full-bodied beer. I must say the samples were a tad larger than back at Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth. In fact, our guide gave us a demo on how to pour beer from a tap and then we got into it. A full five ounce glass of each brew, and then some. Yes, NZ beer is good stuff. Even “the good wife” took a liking to it.