This trip begins in our current home-town of Dunedin. Meant to be a biking adventure on the West Coast of New Zealand, with a group of our daughters teenage mates (yes, we were called brave a lot before we ventured out!!), it didn't quite turn out as intended. We did make it to the West Coast, but only with our previously reliable 4WD, spluttering rather terribly from its behind. With the indication that it would take a few days to fix the exhaust, we ended up "camping" at a holiday park in Hokitika, rather than undertaking the grand biking adventure planned. That is to say, the main purpose of the trip is not actually something I have that much to write about! However, we did see some absolutely incredible sights on-route to the West Coast, which definitely need a share. Pictured above, for example, are the amazing Blue Pools in the Haast Pass - worthy of a trip all on their own. We also took in the picturesque dam at Clyde and Cromwell's perfect blue lake (Lake Dunstan), set amidst the desert-like hills of central Otago. We also stopped for a swim, camped alongside renowned Lake Wanaka, and tramped through New Zealand West Coast rainforest to reach those wonderful pools in the Haast Pass.
The prep for the trip was a little hilarious in itself. At the last minute, we managed to find a small enclosed trailer from a local (budget) rental provider. Complete with roof-top bike rack, our trip was looking a little more organised than the intended plan of piling half a dozen bikes a-top one another on the roof of our 4WD. Packing the four teens in the truck, along with our little lad (our 2-year-old toddler if you're not a regular follower of our blog), proved the funny bit though. Teenagers already taking up the space that they do and filling every inch, we then packed excess baggage around them (what wouldn't fit in the trailer) and our two medium / large dogs went onto teenage laps as well. With all the benefits of hindsight, I'm really not sure how we would have fit everything that we did without the trailer. 'Stretch the boundaries as far as possible', has become something of a family motto in recent years, but this really was at the edge. Hilarious to boot as well though! The teens were laughing at the beginning of the trip anyway...
With the drive between Dunedin and Hokitika estimated (by google maps) to be almost 7-hours all up, we planed an overnight stop at Lake Wanaka on the way, as well as regular stops for a stretch and a little sight seeing. Our first was at the Clyde Dam, which sits in the heart of central Otago. Its bluer than blue waters provide a dramatic contrast to the relatively shrub-less hills - quite unique in New Zealand's otherwise usually green and rolling landscapes. The teens jumped out for an explore, climbing a large rock pile that overlooks the dam - its a good spot for lunch as well, with a picnic table overlooking the water. Even in early December, though, the sun bakes at well-over 30degrees - it didn't take us long to decide we needed shade!
The lake formed by the dam (Lake Dunstan), extends alongside the road, heading west. It weaves its way through the Cromwell gorge to Cromwell township, providing a very picturesque roadtrip. Just above the township, theres also a stop that provides a gorgeous view down across the lake, town and to the surrounding mountains. The dramatic contrasts of this region make this a really must-see place to visit. It is an incredibly beautiful area and only an hour from (New Zealand's very famous) Queenstown and Lake Wanaka too.
Taking our time winding through central Otago's very scenic roads, we arrived at Lake Wanaka late afternoon. I mentioned that the sun bakes in this region through the summer, and we arrived very sweaty; very much looking forward to a swim! I'm more often a lounging on the beach kind of person, but even I joined the teens for their swim this trip. Lake Wanaka's crystal clear waters are fed by the mountains that surround the Lake and it was pure gorgeousness wallowing in the fresh cool water.
The main street of the township runs alongside the beach as well, and its an easy hop out of the water for ice-creams or a restful stop at one of the many fine bars or restaurants along this small stretch. Wanaka is actually a place worthy of a decent stop. There are hills for exploring; a great walk up to Roy's Peak, which has a view out across the lake and many surrounding mountains; and theres some seriously good dining to be had as well.
I've written about Wanaka a little before - I came through here at the beginning of winter, which provided a different experience again (see my page on Wanaka). We also first visited this region a couple of years back, staying at a lovely lodge on the lakefront (I was a lawyer and could still afford a little excess back then!). Our favourite restaurant from that first trip, Bistro Gentil, sits on the hill above the township, overlooking the golf course, lake and mountains. Lovely fine dining aside (I have a couple of pictures of their dishes on my Wanaka page), they also have a particularly novel way of serving wine! Its one of my favourite New Zealand towns and we have lots of happy memories here.
But this was not a gourmet trip this time around! Quite aside from a tight budget, we also had four teens in tow. Take-away pizzas purchased on the way out of town, we head up the lake-side to the top of Lake Wanaka; arriving at Boundary Creek (DOC) campsite as the sun set. It is not at all a bad drive with the late afternoon sun hitting the mountains. Beautiful is a word that gets over used at times, but this part of the country really is simply that. Wanaka is just an hour from Queenstown, and as much as I personally hate the hyper commercialisation of that centre today, the grandeur of this region makes it easy to see why so many tourists go mad for this part of the world. It definitely is in the running for world's most scenic spot.
Boundary Creek campsite is a spot we highly recommend too, if you're intending a camping trip in this part of the world. The facilities are basic, with clean public toilets and some sheltered picnic spots and basic outdoor kitchen facilities only, but the grounds are lovely and the views of the lakes and mountains are incredible. Not at all difficult to wake up to!, Its also only $8NZ/adult a night ($4 for kids), making it relatively affordable (as long as you don't have a big family) - something New Zealand is not known for.
To our surprise, the teenagers actually kicked us out of bed at a reasonable hour the following morning. We'd heard them chittering away half the night, but bleary eyed as they were, they seemed more eager to hit the road than we were.
The big stop for today was the Haast Blue Pools! Located about half way between Wanaka and Franz Josef township (the first real stop at this end of the West Coast), it is a little off the beaten track. The three and half hours drive between, is mainly wilderness and rainforest - no cellphone reception. In saying that, parking up at the long road-side carpark, next to the entrance of the Haast Pools walkway, were many motorhomes and camper-vans, indicating that for those who do travel this part of the country, these definitely are considered a highlight!
The walk down to the pools, through some lovely West Coast rainforest, takes about half an hour (an hour / 1.5km return). Its an easy walk with a fabulous swing-bridge just before the pools, over the Makarora River. The walk and the river itself are a treat, but then you arrive at the pools! They really are as stunning as the pictures suggest too: a clear blue colour, contrasting against the rocks and lush green of the West Coast bush. A second swing-bridge, just along from the first, acts as something of a viewing platform.
Our teens, who swore they weren't going for another swim that morning (there was a bit of a breeze up and some light rain as we were leaving the car), were inspired by some other tourists taking turns to jump off the bridge into those perfect looking waters. After some discussion around whether they were brave enough to try this themselves, a couple of them did a mad run back up to the car to get swim-suits. I have some hilarious footage of the girls hanging off the side of the bridge, willing themselves to let-go with the group egging them on; the boys deciding they need to make a braver showing and taking the almighty leap more quickly. Its a fair drop and made for a fun bit of morning's entertainment to watch. Although we are ourselves only in our early 30s, those icy mountain waters were not at all enticing, no matter how beautiful (must be getting old!!). Watching others make the leap is a laugh though and much cheering followed anyone who did take up the challenge.
After the Haast pools, there are other nice, frequently sign-posted, sight-seeing stops along the main road. We stopped in at a large and beautiful waterfall, just a few minutes down from the pools. There are also many lovely walks up this way too - long and short. Its a good couple of hour on to Franz Josef township from Haast Pass, with plenty to see: you quickly hit the coastline, meaning there are stunning wild beaches to see on one side of the road and dense rain-forest covered mountains on the other. I wrote a little about this road, in a blog on the West Coast, that I did earlier this year. Fox glacier is a little before Franz Josef, which is worthy of a stop for viewing, as well as the glacier and township at Franz Josef. Do be prepared if you're driving up this way though. There really is no cellphone reception and just a couple of very small remote petrol stations along this very long stretch of relative wilderness.
We did eventually make it past the glaciers, all the way up to Hokitika! The plan, as earlier mentioned, had been to do a bike trip from here: the West Coast Rail Trail, if you're interested in doing one yourself over this way. Its 122km and comes highly recommended. We can at least tell you that the scenery really is second to none, although not a lot else. We do also recommend that you take a reliable vehicle - the townships are small in this part of the world, and spare parts need shipping in (as we discovered). Hokitika Holiday Park is one to recommend here too. It has fresh clean facilities, large lounges and kitchens, and just some really lovely people that run the place. When we got stuck for a few days, one of the owners went so far as to lend us their personal car so that we could still get out to see a few things. It wasn't a tough place to stay for an extended visit at all! I wrote a little about Hokitika on my earlier West Coast blog too. Unless you're an adventuring outdoorsy kind of person, there isn't a huge amount to do. The scenery and the beach are great though. Our teens did a scenic boat cruise of the waterways near the township, which they recommend. Mostly though, I'd recommend the West Coast for its laid back, slower-life feel. Spending some time in a local pub, talking to the very friendly locals about some of the history here, is also not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
I had to get back to Dunedin for a meeting, ahead of hubby. My little lad and I therefore got to jump on a plane from Hokitika (pictures from our flight above), while hubby got the long slow drive back home with the teens. A very long drive with a packed car and no bike trip! Hardly a wasted trip though :-)
Sandfly Bay is out on the Otago Peninsula: about a twenty minute drive from the Dunedin city centre. After a visit to the Glenfalloch gardens (for lunch), we headed here for a wander. Discovering our dogs weren't allowed down on the beach, limited our exploration a little, but we made it about half way down the 3km return track - well within easy admiring distance of this picture perfect Bay. Of course, we missed out on the penguins and seals that this beach is known for too.
If you're not up for paying for one of the more comprehensive tours of the peninsula, Sandfly Bay is known for being one of the better places for viewing wildlife. New Zealand's department of conservation does ask that if you encounter a penguin on the beach, that you keep well back and crouch down though - so that they don't feel threatened to come ashore (see the NZ DOC page here).
The name of the Bay comes from the massive sand dunes and windy nature of the coast, which is causative of flying sand - not the small biting insect that the locals often ascribe the name to (so says Official Dunedin). In saying that, even from our vantage point, half way down the hill, there were plenty of sandflies! Not to put you off though. I can think few more beautiful places for a walk and an explore, even if its not a beach for restful sitting in the sun and swimming. Larnach Castle is also out this way, and a morning at Sandfly Bay, lunch at Glenfalloch Gardens, and an afternoon at the Castle, would make a quite perfect sight seeing trip.
It is a gorgeous drive out this way too: either up over the hills, or around the coast. We picked the hill road on the way there, which winds up over what would have been an old dirt track in earlier days. The hills drop down on either side in places, and panoramic views of the two coasts present. Really quite stunning.
The Portobello coastal road, is also an absolutely beautiful drive. You curve around one corner after another, with bay after bay, opening up in front. The waters are crystal clear and a beautiful light blue, framed by New Zealand's renowned and very green native bush and countryside. The little village of Portobello, about half an hour from the city, is also a lovely place for a stop and an admire of the scenery. There are coffee shops there, as well as a pub and a nautically themed Pirate Park, with slides, swings, a boat, fort and mini flying fox. We stopped in here, on our way back from Sandfly Bay.
The Peninsula is worthy of exploration just on its own, but little out of the way places, like Glenfalloch and Portobello, provide the human charm very much evident in this area too!
Update: January 2018 - The Otago Daily Times (Dunedin's local newspaper), posted an interesting article on Sandfly Bay, at the end of December (2017). Actually a repost of an early explorers description, written in 1864, titled "Sandfly Bay just out of reach but what a walk", published as part of a series of articles from the mid-1860s titled "Rambles Round Dunedin". I love it! Combining stunning scenery, with a little history and early intrepid adventure: the picture it paints!
Summer is arriving! And with the weather (very seriously) warming, we've headed out to begin a bigger explore of the bountiful Otago Peninsula. Lunch called first though, and just ten minutes from the city centre, near the beginning of the Portobello Road that leads out to the peninsula, we made this lovely find. The Glenfalloch Gardens sit just up from the coast and offer panoramic harbour views. On a blue sky summer day (as we had), you experience the best of the wonderfully contrasting colours: the light blue of the Eastern Coast harbour and the deep blue of the southern sky, against lush green plantings and brightly featured flowers and shrubs. The layers and depth of plantings, obviously many decades old, make for an absolutely stunning, and very peaceful, setting.
Wandering through the gardens to the restaurant (which has a fantastic menu btw and great coffee), we passed roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, fuchsias and many other varieties of beautiful flowers, integrated amongst the native ferns, exotic imports and indigenous New Zealand trees. I'm told its not just a summer garden either, but that each season brings its own special array of colours and fabulousness too.
For walking off a sumptuous lunch, the gardens extend up into a crafted bush area, with some old and large examples of New Zealand's most beautiful native trees. Native shrubs and ferns are grown amongst, with a number of the bigger trees labelled. The climb also takes you up to a spot where you can look down across the harbour and back towards the city too.
The gardens are open 7 days, between 8am and dusk and are free to wander. In Summer (October to March) the restaurant is open daily for lunch, and from 5pm till late, on Friday and Saturday, for dinner. Winter hours are 9:30am to 3:30pm, Thursday to Monday for lunch / coffee; and for dinner: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 5pm to late. We definitely recommend stopping in for a coffee (at least), and simply soaking in the atmosphere at this lovely spot. Its part of the coffee-culture that is very prevalent in Dunedin too, which has more coffee-shops than any other part of New Zealand (or so I'm told). Its also a spot for striking up conversations with friendly locals, if thats your cup of tea, so to speak!
Dunedin's botanic gardens are something special! We've been settled in Dunedin for a few months now - waiting out the winter, so we can begin our big tour of New Zealand over the summer. Our little lad has been enrolled in a local Montessori (a few hours a week), and its become something of a routine for us to take a little wander through the park, before drop offs in the mornings.
The gardens are huge, occupying 30.4 hectares of Dunedin city's northern suburbs. They run along the main road and back down towards the University (which is situated on the border of central and north Dunedin). They then range up the hill, to a height of 85 metres (above sea level), to look down on the North Dunedin suburbs.
In 2013, the city celebrated the 150th anniversary of the gardens, with more than 6,800 plant species now in evidence. The official site notes 'its wide range of horticultural and botanical collections includes roses, the herbaceous and perennial borders, a rock garden, New Zealand native plants and four hectares of Rhododendron Dell with more than 3,000 rhododendrons'. There's also the New Zealand Native plant collection and 'the cultivation of rare and endangered native plant species.'
For us, exploring on various mornings, there is just one beautiful garden after the next, with signposts leading on from one beautiful scene to another.
Above, is the duck pond that we have often frequented. Its situated next to the playground, winter garden glasshouse (open 10am to 4pm daily) and rose gardens. There's also a cafe there (open 9:30am to 4:30pm), as well as a stall for buying inexpensive duck feed (don't take bread - its not good for the ducks!). Sitting back on one of the lovely benches over looking the pond, and taking in all the beautiful surrounds, is a very easy way to spend a morning.
Climbing the hill towards some of the more exotic gardens (and the aviaries), you gain a beautiful view over the lushly planted North Dunedin suburbs:
As you head up the hill, you begin to encounter the large variety of exotic gardens too, which include plantings from North Asia, the South, Central and North Americas, Southern Africa, the Himalayas and the Mediterranean. Each set of plantings is in its own well-marked section, and provides something new and beautiful to discover at each turn of the garden path. It is a lovely place for just wandering, and you can easily wile away half a day.
One of our favourite spots has been the aviaries, near the top of the hill. There are a variety of exotic and unusually coloured parrots (or similar birds) there, as well as one very cantankerous white-coloured fellow, who talks, but who'll also have a go at your finger if you stick it in - something my tot discovered one morning, despite mum's warnings about his finger looking like breakfast!
Immediately above the park, is also Signal Hill Reserve - most easily accessed by car, but you can walk up too, if you're feeling particularly fit. From the top, there is a stunning view back down over Dunedin city and the long stretch of harbour.
Heading back down the hill (by car) and back towards the city, views of the countryside and farmland surrounding north Dunedin, are also presented (see below). The photos speak for themselves really - it is a very gorgeous part of New Zealand. I am quite in love with Dunedin! It is a mixture of all the best culture that a city can offer, but with the countryside and harbour, just there too. Have a look at some of my earlier posts on Dunedin, if you are thinking about exploring this lovely city.
Saint Clare Beach has become a favourite of ours over the winter. Perhaps Dunedin's most famous beach; we've made frequent visits over the last couple of months. A long smooth stretch of sand makes it perfect for walking the dogs; but its aqua blue waters and dramatic waves and coast (as much of the region offers), makes it an ideal sight-seeing spot too.
She's known for her great surf as well, and we've often seen surfers out with their boards; full wet-suits on, right through the heart of winter. Not my cup of tea - these waters, at the bottom of the world, are freezing, summer or winter!
After a refreshing walk along the sand, there are a range of cafes and bars for warming though. In summer, I can imagine they'd buzz, with social seating flowing out towards the beach. In winter, overhead heaters and double-glazed windows hold in the heat, while maintaining the view. It has a cool vibe either season, in any event.
Down the end of the beach, there are salt water baths, open October to March. They're run by the local council and are relatively inexpensive. We have yet to try them (the season only just having begun), but the cafe at this end of the beach, remains open through winter. We have often stopped for ice-creams here: it is a lovely little spot for looking back down the beach.
The pool itself is on the water and looks directly down the coast too. Its heated to around 28 degrees Celsius and is a mixture of salt and chlorinated water. Trip Advisor has a lovely picture of the pool and its view. Looks like a fun spot, come summer!
You can reach the beach in about ten minutes by car, from the city centre. Its located in South Dunedin and there are direct buses that run from the centre too: its easily reached.
These are a treasure. Located in the Dunedin city centre, next to Dunedin's iconic railway station and the settlers museum, the Chinese Gardens add something else again. Commemorating the contribution of Chinese people to Dunedin's history and culture, they are a picture-perfect place to wander and re-gather, after some city sight-seeing.
Many Cantonese people settled here during the 1860s, Central Otago Gold Rush, and today, around two percent of Dunedin's population is of Chinese descent. In a city generally marked by its obviously European-descended inhabitants, it is a nice reminder of Dunedin's more diverse beginnings - and of course the continuing contribution of Chinese-descended people to her society today.
We visited the gardens at the end of winter, when the trees were still not yet alive (as I imagine they would be come spring / summer). They were beautiful still. Separated from the city, by a high wall, a hidden oasis has been created. You wander down walkways that border the large pond; over small Chinese bridges; and past waterfalls. You can feel Chinese tradition and heritage in every step.
Our final stop was then for traditional Chinese tea in the tea house, served in lovely china and from a very pretty teapot. We also indulged in dumplings and other tasty nibbles, while soaking in the tranquil atmosphere, that is very much a defining feature of this lovely place.
My recommendation: head to the Settlers museum in the morning (a very cool sight on its own); rest and regather in these lovely gardens over lunch; and then head out for a train-ride in the afternoon, to see Dunedin's picture perfect coasts and rural areas. We're still discovering this lovely city (having moved here just a couple of months ago) and the winter-days can be a little crisp (dress warm between April to September), but these sights already stand out as highlights. Larnach Castle and the Otago Peninsula of course do too! Which I have also written about recently.
If winter is lovely here in Dunedin, summer can only be better still :-)
I first wrote about Larnach Castle just a couple of months back, after a scouting visit to Dunedin, to see about finding us a new home. I can happily advise, that Dunedin is now our home-base! It is (in my very biased view), New Zealand's most beautiful city, and with this wonderful little castle just a few minutes from home, we popped out for another visit when my sister and nephew flew down from Auckland.
Sitting high up on the Otago Peninsula, it was built by one of Dunedin's early European Settlors: William Larnach, in 1871. To get to it back in the day, one would have taken a horse and carriage up and over the old dirt path that led along the peninsula hills. It would have been a much long journey in its early days. Isolated and magnificent in its time too - as it very much still is today. The views from up here are incredible: you can see out and across the long and beautiful, 21km harbour, which stretches to either side of the Castle; back down across to Dunedin city, in one direction, and out to the harbour mouth, in the other.
I posted lots of pictures of the beautiful grounds and gardens last time, so haven't repeated today. It was a perfect day for photographs from the top of the castle turret though!
Inside, the Castle has been returned to her former glory; her custodians having repaired her neglected rooms and filled them with carefully collected / imported colonial period furniture. Its a walk through time, much as you'd expect from a British Castle. Although this one of course, is a little more modern, with a mix of 19th century (and older) styles, and a kiwiana twist too.
Admission prices can be a little pricey, but they go to the upkeep of this lovely castle and her beautiful grounds. There are odd entry specials that can be found throughout the year, so do check out the official Castle page for more information. Opening times are listed there too. Both times we've headed out now, we've found a holiday special, which meant the kids were free.
After walking the garden paths and exploring inside, we parked up outside the ballroom cafe; ordered a bottle of bubbles, and sat lounging in the sun, enjoying the views, while the kids ran about the grounds. Definitely something we'd recommend!!
Tunnel Beach is my new favourite part of New Zealand! Down near the bottom of the world, a little past Dunedin, this East Coast beach has all the drama: cliffs that fall away from the tussock-ed countryside with seas coming up to crash against them; competing picture-perfect blue seas and skies; and an isolated rural feel that provides a timeless feeling. Although of course: pre-European colonisation, native bush might once have graced these cliff-tops, rather than the sheep and farmland now there today.
You park up at the top of a dead-end road (Tunnel Beach Road off Blackhead Road), about ten minutes south of Dunedin central. Do note that the car park is pretty small though, and camper vans are advised that it can be a struggle to turn around, especially when the car park is full. You then follow the fenced track downhill for about a kilometre, with the spectacular scenery and rocky coastline, opening up in front of you. It is breath-taking! At the end of the track, a short tunnel, with steps, also then leads down to a secluded beach. Beautiful, is an under-description of the place: it is truly stunning. We spent about an hour down there, exploring the rocks and beach and simply taking in the wonderful feel of the place.
The walk back up is the hard bit - another kilometre back uphill. Well worth it though, and plenty of stops can be made to look back and admire the dramatic scenery once more. We visited in winter and wold recommend at that time of year, as much as in summer. In some ways, winter is better - despite the cool air, you have the place to yourselves!
While there is something truly special about Tunnel Beach, the nearby Otago Peninsula and other East Coast beaches down this way, offer something similar too, in terms of dramatic coastline and picture-perfect aqua blue waves. Its definitely an area we will be exploring more in the coming months, particularly as the weather warms, so look out for further blogs!
From Dunedin, we explored out into the countryside, north and south: getting a feel for this part of our homeland, which we had not, to-date, explored. As I noted in my earlier blog on Dunedin, our recent return to New Zealand, with no home to come back to, meant we were looking for a new base. Dunedin was one option, and so too, was the pretty coastal countryside we'd heard about to the North.
From Dunedin, heading north means winding out of the city and up the hill, into rural countryside that rises and drops away dramatically on either side of the road, and eventually leads back down towards the coast. Small towns and communities dot up this way. Taking the scenic route off the main highway, the first small community is Warrington (20mins north), with a gorgeous beach and freedom camping spot; playground and toilets too. Seacliff and Karitane, each a few minutes apart, offer stunning views and rural seclusion, before the road joins back up with the main highway, once again. Waikouaiti, half an hour north of Dunedin, is a small town that offers some conveniences. Palmerston, ten minutes further north again, takes you back in time to settlor New Zealand, with an array of old-school shops and buildings that remind of the earlier time. From here, the road forks, with state highway 85 leading in-land to Ranfurly or back around to Middlemarch. State highway one continues north up the coast, which is where we headed initially, for our lunch stop at Moeraki (a full hour north of Dunedin).
Moeraki, pictured above, is known for her beach of boulders - the "Moeraki Boulders" - which are a collection of very large spherical stones on Koekohe Beach. They originally formed around 60 million years ago, with some weighing several tonnes. They are also up to 3 metres in diameter - quite an impressive sight against the Otago coast and waves. We stopped in for lunch at the Moeraki Cafe, overlooking the beach (great food there and a definite recommend!), before heading down to the beach to explore. Our toddler loved climbing the impressively sized stones and there is much to admire simply of the beach and the coast too. Coastal East Coast New Zealand at its best!
Heading back down the state highway and back to Palmerston, we turned off onto highway 85, intending to make the loop back down and around to Dunedin, through Middlemarch (its is another hours drive back to Dunedin, from there, if you're considering distance). The countryside through this region is dramatic and full of contrasts. Almost Scottish Highlands in appearance, with its tussock hills and rocky outcrops: the blues, greens, yellows and browns are a lovely scene to take in. Sheep of course dot the countryside (as they do in much of rural New Zealand!), and there are vast tracks of land without a house or soul in sight.
We stopped in at the Macraes gold mine, to see the extensive open-pit hole in the ground (pictured below) - quite a sight! Then headed off down some real country roads - unsealed and little used by any but the farmers out here. In winter, this part of the world is often covered in snow. In summer, it cooks!
We stopped in at Middlemarch for a beer at the local pub. My father (who was down from Auckland), regaled us with a story of how he'd done a bike trip through this region some years previously, which ended with a night in this pub and locals locking him in until the early hours. He said that one jug of beer after another was placed before him, after (what he described as an amusing mistake), his buying a round for the bar. Having enjoyed the conversation he'd been having, he says this really began the party, and then locals, keen to return the favour, had some fun getting him wobbly drunk. He painted a pretty picture of his less than straight ride back through town to the campsite, well after midnight. A memory he still clearly enjoys today.
Middlemarch is very much a small rural town, with the sleepy atmosphere that comes with its tiny population; often snowed in come winter. Its biking central here come summer though, with the famous Otago rail trail beginning or ending here. It also has a striking backdrop - the Rock and Pillar Range, with impressive giant pillars that featured in the movie, The Hobbit. There is a train that runs out once a week (twice in summer) - timetable here. Or the drive to/from Dunedin can also be made in an hour.
DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - finishing our South Island road-trip: from Nelson, down the wild West Coast; exploring stunning Queenstown and Milford Sound; reaching the end of the world at Southland & Stewart Island, with a final leg up to Dunedin
The title says it all really - a fairly long road-explore, involving more than 1800km of travel through the perfect natural beauty that is New Zealand's South Island. I've done several blogs on the trip, including the Wild West Coast, Milford Sound, Queenstown & Wanaka, Southland and Stewart Island. This ones about the end of our trip: arriving in Dunedin!
Just prior to this trip, we'd landed back in New Zealand, after an extended period overseas (exploring Scotland, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Eastern Europe...). Our family live in Auckland, which is where we stoped in first (naturally). Not ready to settle back into suburbia just yet though, and unsure of where we wanted to settle really anyway, we booked this trip, using our much-accumulated air-points account to pay for a rental car hire.
One of the thoughts was to find our new home on-route: with rising property prices in the North and ever increasing traffic there, the relatively unexplored South Island (for us), was holding some appeal. I know - we don't have a lot to complain about in New Zealand really, but we knew that there were better spots out there than over-populated, under infrastructure-d Auckland!
High on the list, was Dunedin - down near the bottom of the world. Auckland-ers are terrible moaners about the cold down South though, and Dunedin has a particularly bad rep. Probably for that reason, it hadn't been an option before we left. But, we'd just spent the better part of winter in Scotland, so with our minds open, exploring we went. And straight up, Dunedin is simply gorgeous! I'm going to go as far as to say that she is the most beautiful city I have ever been to anywhere in the world.
Scenically, there are hills, valleys, sea-views, native bush, and countryside around every turn. The colonial housing streets are charming, with some beautiful old buildings that clearly mark the Scottish settlers who founded southern "Edinburgh" (Dunedin in Gaelic) in the mid 1800s. Because it is a University city, education is a driving influence on the population and there is as much culture as you'll find anywhere in New Zealand, from the half dozen theatres about the Octagon (Dunedin's centre); to Dunedin's own symphony orchestra; great dining and foodie options; beer-brewing tours; more coffee shops than you can shake a stick at; and of course, vibrant student bars and clubs.
Our first thought, on beginning our explore, was to get up above the city to really understand her layout - as it really doesn't readily reveal itself! So we climbed Mount Cargill (see above): and when I say climbed, I really mean drove; hopped out; and went for a little wander... From up top, you can see down across the harbour, out to the harbour mouth, and then back around to the city. Not unlike her namesake (Edinburgh), Dunedin has a readily identifiable city centre with a handful of suburbs immediately adjacent. Just a few minutes from the city centre, countryside starts creeping in though, with small communities (villages?) that begin popping up - farm-land between. Edinburgh too, feels like a collection of little villages, once you leave the main city centre. Having just come from there, we could immediately see the influence of the colonial Scots on her layout.
The heart of the city sits at the end of a long 21km stretch of harbour. Heading out to the harbour mouth from the city, you either travel down the road to Port Chalmers, on the left (which is a charming little village in itself btw), or take the road out to the Otago Peninsula, on the right (when looking out to sea).
From the top of Mount Cargill, you can see right down this 21km stretch of water, with all of the wonderful undulating, ever changing landscapes in-between. It is a simply stunning city - no question.
The train station in the centre of the city, is an iconic piece of architecture that grabs the eye as you drive through. Built in the very early 1900s, in gives a flavour for where the city began. Next to it is the Otago Settlers museum (which we also stopped in at and highly recommend). The Dunedin Chinese Gardens are also next to the museum, which we've heard good things about. Exploring the train station is definitely a worthy endeavour of itself too though. Graceful and charming and from another time, there is also a worthy gift shop upstairs. The very scenic Taieri Gorge Railway trip, up the gorgeous Otago coast, also runs from here.
Saint Clare beach, a few minutes from the city centre, was high up on our list of places to visit. Described as being a stunner of a surf beach (apparently one of New Zealand's top), with pretty cafe's and bars lining the water front and a gorgeous view of the Southern Ocean: we were sold. Even visiting in winter, we saw surfers out in their wetsuits and locals down walking their dogs. So don't be misled on the cold! We actually found the temperature pretty mild. Although I guess that's simply a contrast from the harsher northern hemisphere winter we'd just come from too. North islanders might still complain!
Down near the end of the beach, theres also salt baths and an ice-cream store. We stopped in for the ice-cream, but the baths we closed for the winter. All of the restaurants and bars remain open through winter though, and theres a clear vibe there regardless of season.
Travelling out to the Otago Peninsula, we picked a perfect blue sky day. There is some stunning countryside out that way, framed by the pristine harbour. The road winds its way in and around the hills and coast and you'll want to stop for plenty of photos. We noted many little cafes and village-stops on-route, before you eventually make it all the way out to the albatross and penguin colonies. The official Dunedin New Zealand website, lists a number of good-looking nature tours out this way too - we didn't take one this time around (something for summer perhaps!), but it definitely looks like the thing to do.
Larnach Castle is also out this way. Built around 1871, it is a fascinating piece of New Zealand's historical past. We had a lovely afternoon wandering through her historical rooms and grounds. The lives of her owners, past and present, are told on the bottom floor, beginning with William Larnach, builder of Larnach Castle, and a story that begins with his birth in Australia and his death in New Zealand's Parliament. From there, you explore upwards, through the carefully restored rooms (that were once a ruin), filled with colonial New Zealand furniture and antiques. There are then gorgeous gardens to explore, and stunning views to admire down the harbour, from both the garden walk and the castle roof-top. The ball-room adjacent to the castle, now houses a fabulous restaurant too, where you can take high-tea from 3pm daily.
Never forgetting, that one of Dunedin's key draws, is that she is a University city, I was particularly keen to check out the campus - it might finally be time to begin the PhD I've been talking about for a long-time! The grounds are as beautiful as they come - littered with cherry trees; a stream running through; and grand old buildings, straight from Edinburgh (we know - we've just come from living there!). It looks an inspiring place to learn.
So, yes! Thinking this might be the city for us to settle in. For those odd time when we're not travelling anyway - study or no... ;-)
We are a family who love to travel - teenager and toddler inclusive! Some of our most recent adventures have included Egypt, Morocco,Spain, Italy, East Europe and New Zealand.