19 September 2011

Dunedin - New Zealand Feb 2011

I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies I think… but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know.
Please Ma’am, is this New Zealand?"
- ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’

Our flight from Rotorua to Dunedin had a brief stopover at Christchurch so as the plane neared Christchurch I peered out of the window to try and catch a glimpse of the damage. But couldn’t really see any major damage...probably the route avoided the areas with the damage. But it also got me wondering...is that what our politicians do and see when they go to access the aerial damage when a natural calamity strikes remote areas in our country!

At Dunedin airport we were greeted by our chauffeur and guide, Stephen. The moment I heard him, with his typical Scottish accent, I went nostalgic about my stint in Aberdeen, Scotland - that sure was my favorite assignment!
10 minutes drive from the airport and we were treated with our first glimpses of the beauty of New Zealand that everyone raves about. The shades of greens in the fields, the mountains, the shades of blues of the ocean in contrast with the bright blue sky…colorful picture postcard!!

And we also got our first taste of Stephen’s knowledge as he told us about and pointed out a few of the different varieties of cows found there. This was followed by his incessant chatter and anecdotes which he assured us were the truth and only the truth and we could verify that by checking out if his nose grew like Pinocchio’s. Which we did - everytime he told us some unbelievable tale.

Like the tale about his pa in-law who was a hunter. In one of his expeditions he found bones of a Moa – an extinct New Zealand flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, in a cave. He came home and told his wife but didn’t bother to tell the authorities…for a good 20 years!!! The Cryptozoologists need to thank a nagging wife otherwise these bones may still be lying undiscovered! They are now in the museum where it seems due credit has been given to him. Though I personally feel that Stephen’s ma-in-law should get all the credit!

Soon we reached Larnach Castle. The Scottish lineage was evident. It was so like many of the castles that I have seen in Scotland. On the ground floor we read it’s exciting, scandalous and tragic history – perfect material for a masala bollywood movie, I say! The castle was quite quaint but I would say it’s worth a visit more for its gardens and the view from there.
There are actually nine different gardens, but the differing gardens seamlessly merge from one to another so that we didn’t even realize it then. It was only later as I read up more about the castle that I came to know about the different gardens. Against a magnificent backdrop of the Otago Peninsula, these gardens had just about everything - rockeries, perennial borders, deciduous azalea beds, forests, succulents, flowering plants especially rhododendrons.

I noticed a "Curious Door" in a tree trunk. Took a snap and thought would check out its significance later. After the Mad Hatters tea party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice discovers a door in a tree. In line with the New Zealand connection the owners thought it would be fun to include the idea of a door in a tree trunk in the garden. The door is actually the original from the Tower and it has tremendous character and really looks the part of the ‘curious door’ of Wonderland".

A drive through the city of Dunedin till Stephen stopped at Baldwin Street, which holds the Guinness Record for being the steepest street in the world. We were to attempt climbing that. I looked up and it seemed impossible with my stamina. With encouragement and weird ideas from each one - better to use the steps on the sides, walk backwards etc – we finally made it to the top.

As we returned to Dunedin Stephen pointed out the city centre with its Octagonal plaza. In the center was a statue of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, with his back to the church in line with him being a disbeliever of the Church. Incidentally Robert Burns turned out to be Stephen’s favorite poet and at one point of our trip he even recited one of his works for us, though I cannot rememeber now which one.

A rainy walk in the city center and eventually we zeroed down to a cosy Indian restaurant for a hot dinner.

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