Dunedin, NZ

Day 2

We had gone a bit out of our way (and fought through its barrier of surrounding hills) to make it to Dunedin, because we understood it to be one of the most-elegant and historic cities in New Zealand. The problem is that after seven straight days of riding (a New Zealand record for us), we were also looking at our 3-night stay in a city as an opportunity to rest and recover (as we generally do when reaching a city), and that goal sits in direct conflict with our goal to explore the city, especially one this hilly.

Thus it felt almost too-good-to-be-true to learn that Amanda’s cousin Ron (when we met up with him and his wife Fay last night) is essentially a professional tour guide for Dunedin. And he generously offered to show us around the city today! We could not have lucked into a more-perfect solution for our conflict! So rather than continuing the drain on our muscles and minds by walking, biking, or figuring out how to use buses/transport to get to places we wanted to see around the city, we could just sit comfortably in Ron’s taxi (he also ran a limousine business for years) and be transported effortlessly not just to the place we knew we wanted to see, but to many places we didn’t know that we wanted to see!

The structural similarity of Dunedin to Wellington was almost deja-vu: the cities are both centered on the southwest corner of U-shaped harbor opening to the north, with a mountainous peninsula running up the east side of the harbor. Here, at the bottom of the U, Wellington had sculptures that harnessed its famous wind, while Dunedin had a line of three of these giant teeth.

First up, both on our pre-Ron list, and on his itinerary, was Larnach Castle. It’s high on a hill out on the Otago Peninsula across the harbor from downtown Dunedin, replicating our trip to Weta Workshop on the Mirarmar peninsula across the harbor from downtown Wellington. Except the Otago Peninsula is at least 5 times longer (and higher) than Miramar, so while we walked back from Weta to Wellington, driving was the only reasonable way to get to and from the Castle.

Larnach Castle. The glass walls look elegant from the outside, but were a more-recent addition, and from inside I think I would have preferred the original open-air atmosphere of the upper-level wrap-around “porch” (obviously “porch” is not a suitable word for a castle!)
Us at Larnach Castle.

Ron is a certified tour guide for the Castle (of course he is!), so we got far more than just transport, we got a personal guided tour! He knew things to delight us (e.g., shouting down a well to hear the longer-than-Pippin-in-Moria echo) that we never would have discovered on our own. It was fun to watch other people listening in to the insights he was sharing with us. The ornately-decorated castle interior still felt surprisingly like a home that a (relatively) normal family could have lived in, rather than a grand stage created to impress outsiders.

The castle is currently owned (and has been since the 1960s) by a family who restored it and actually uses part of it as their residence, and we loved how it keeps a bit of overgrown shabbiness that likely would be cleansed and sanitized under a more-corporate ownership.
Rett exploring a green tunnel of the extensive Larnach Castle Gardens, of which we could only explore a portion due to weather and time constraints (proof that even with infinite time, we would still fail to see everything in this world that we want to see).
Rett meeting Alice in the castle’s bit of Wonderland.
“Professional photographer” is yet another trade that Ron is Jack-of-all, and he borrowed my camera for this shot to help remind me how beautiful my wife is.
One of the greenhouses at Larnach Castle, dripping with both rain and atmosphere.
I clicked the shutter on this one, but I wouldn’t have even noticed the scene if Ron hadn’t recommended it to me.
I think this shot was my own idea, see, I don’t need Ron for everything!!
Alice converses with the Cheshire Cat.
It might have been drizzly, but something about the cloudy light (and the raindrops) made for perfect flower-photography.
Or maybe it’s just that the flowers in the Larnach Gardens are gorgeous under any light?
A glass-domed gazebo in the castle’s front lawn.
These nearly look like origami flowers, made out of colored paper.

On the way to the castle we took the high road out on the peninsula, and Ron took us back on the low road, exactly has we had done in Wellington (except there we walked back along the harbor in not much more time than it took to drive back to Dunedin). Then we looped back up the west side of the harbor to see another fancy mansion and gardens, the Olveston Historic Home. This one was now publicly owned, and we weren’t able to see the inside, but we saw so many colorful and delicate flowers that a trip to the city’s extensive botanic gardens wasn’t even necessary.

Flowers outside the Olveston Historic Home, whose pebble-wall exterior I guess emulates a classic English estate, but struck me as too utilitarian for such a grand building.

Nearby was a more-silly attraction, Baldwin Street. It’s recently reclaimed the Guinness Record as the steepest street in the world, and even if the title is still subject to some dispute, its 35% grade is visually insane, and definitely steeper than the craziest streets in Seattle and most in San Francisco. We park at the base, get some photos (again, Ron is a pro at this), and since it’s a dead-end filled with fellow tourists walking up it and taking photos, it’s de-facto pedestrianized. I figured the next step was to prove to our legs how steep it truly was. But Ron asks “you wanna drive to the top?” Uh, is that legal?

Us on Baldwin Street. This isn’t even its steepest pitch!
Yes, it must be rather disorienting to live in this house!
Us and a bunch of other tourists having fun on the Baldwin Street slope.

We get back in the car, Ron honks the horn, asks the Prius for all the power it can give him, and I expect all of our fellow tourists to be annoyed at having to vacate the street in order to let these assholes in a car go by. But no, it was quite they opposite: everyone was thrilled to actually see a vehicle climb what they had been walking, waving and grinning and filming as the Prius charges straight up, whining and wheezing and nearly dying out just as it reaches the top. We were grinning and laughing and yelping too, as it genuinely had the fun intensity of an amusement park ride. Since the top is a dead-end, we just turned and went back down, which was just as fun (again, for both us and the “spectators”). Even after being shown that it was legal and possible, we didn’t see anyone else attempt the drive. So that’s another great experience we wouldn’t have had without Ron, even if we had come here on our own.

View from the top of Baldwin Street. It seems like the Prius could have caught some good (deadly?) air on that hump partway down.

Then there was Otago University, the oldest university in New Zealand, built in the same black-and-white stone style as the railway station. I’ve always loved the architecture of college campuses, and this was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Seeing the students walking around and into these buildings looking just like college students anywhere else, I wanted to shake them by the shoulders and say “you know this place isn’t normal right?!?”

The central building of Otago University.
Detail on an Otago University building.

Then we got a return to the railway station that we’d only briefly stepped into yesterday. And between all of these stops, Ron was continually pointing out other buildings and places-of-interest around the city.

Dunedin Railway Station, which doesn’t seem to actually serve any transportation use anymore besides some tourist trains that run on an extremely-irregular schedule. I’d considered using one to get us and our bikes out of Dunedin, but the schedule didn’t align, and the train only went half as far out as it did a few years anyway. With Ron’s tour-guide/taxi knowledge, we put two-and-two together and concluded that the schedule aligns with cruise ships docking in Dunedin!

Then it was back to the most-famous site of all in Dunedin: Ron and Fay’s house! We got to see Fay once more (who unfortunately was busy working for the day), and also were there to change transportation modes. The weather had finally cleared up, so we could take a spin on Ron’s insanely awesome three-wheeled, three-passenger motorcycle-trike! It’s something he’ll just park in the center of town and tourists will pay huge sums for a ride, and it was instantly clear why.

Born to be wild?

Ron thankfully doesn’t baby it, and makes it just as much of an amusement park ride as the Prius up and down Baldwin Street (he’ll actually do Baldwin Street on the trike too). Rett was cackling with delight the entire time, as he took us down to the waterfront and then spun us back home. It really confirmed for me how much of the joy of bicycle riding comes from the unobstructed views. Until you’re on a bicycle or a trike like Ron’s (especially since the passengers sit perched high up), you don’t truly realize how much the roof and sides of a car limit what you see and feel.

Ron and Rett having a grand old time on the mean streets of Dunedin.

But as fun as the ride itself was, 50% of the joy came from the excitement that was reflected back to us. Just like the tourists on Baldwin Street, nearly every single person we flew past smiled (at a minimum), waved, pointed, or, if he was a metal-looking dude filling up water from the public spigot at the Speights Brewery (yeah, that’s a thing here), turned, raised his fist, and yelled “fuck yeah!!!” If Ron ever feels down, he can just take a spin on his trike and be uplifted by the rising tide of happiness generated from all who see him. Thank you again Ron and Fay for the above-and-beyond hospitality!

Now Rett wants to trade in our bikes for one of these (Ron “helpfully” informs that they do make a two-seater…)
Oh geez, we’ve created a monster.
Fay, Ron, and us. Dunedin is one of the coolest cities we’ve ever been in, and without their help and friendship, we would have only gotten to know a fraction of what we did.
It seemed that Dunedin had more churches than we have seen in all of the rest of New Zealand combined.

Day 3

With so much activity and sightseeing packed into our first two days in Dunedin, we could finally catch a little bit of rest on our third day. Well, I still had to make a ride down and back up the steep hill for groceries, bike parts, and outdoor gear. On the way back I felt like a badass local passing blocks of backed-up rush-hour traffic, cutting through complex intersections, and powering up 14% hills, the whole time with complete left-side-of-the-road confidence that I definitely did not have a couple months ago.

From Harbor Fish, I picked up green-lipped mussels, a New Zealand specialty had been wanting to try for a long time. But failing to find a good restaurant with easy access, we decided to just cook them up ourselves into a meal at least as good (and far cheaper!) than we could have gotten in any restaurant!


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One response to “Dunedin, NZ”

  1. Amanda Bredlow Avatar

    I love it! Ron & Fay are great, aren’t they?!

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