What’s that I hear you saying? “Sophie, how dare you write about two places in one blog post?” Well, although I am spending 3 nights in Invercargill, I’ve actually only had one day to spend in the town itself. The other 2 nights are bracketing my trip to Stewart Island, which will be getting its own post once I get back. Also, there is really not enough going on in Invercargill on a Sunday to warrant writing a separate installment, so you’re stuck with this one.
In the first of what I feel will be a long line of places, Dunedin is a city that would be great to visit again if only I had a car. Without a car, 3 days was enough… unless you have enough money to spend on some of the many day trips along the Otago peninsula or around Coastal/South Otago and the Catlins. As I’m still in the try-and-make-my-money-last-as-long-as-I-can phase, I didn’t feel that I could justify the day trips. Similarly, Invercargill seems to be one of those places that people stop off at on the way to or from the Catlins. I really hope that at some point I do get to hire/buy a car/camper and do a bit of a coastal road trip, but until then I am stuck with the bus.
I think I’d have liked Dunedin a lot more if I had stayed in a different hostel. The one I stayed in was very central, which is great, but after the newly-refurbished and very clean hostel in Christchurch, this one was just… disappointing. Not the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed in (thanks, Paris), but a reminder that many hostels I’ll be staying in will be a bit smelly with crappy bathrooms. Hostel and lack of car aside, Dunedin is a good city to visit for a few days, and I did get very lucky with the weather. Of the 3 and a half days I spent there, 2 and a half days were gloriously sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky. The other 2 half days (Friday afternoon and Saturday morning) were overcast, but dry. I have been reliably informed that overcast and dry is pretty much the norm in Dunedin, so I am grateful for the sunshine.
As I’ve already said, my opinion of Dunedin was coloured by the fact that I don’t have a car and didn’t want to spend money on day trips. That is my problem, and shouldn’t go against Dunedin as a place to visit. There were lots of things I could have done, I just chose not to do them at this stage. Time to write about some of the things I did do.
I arrived just before 8pm on Tuesday night, after almost 6 hours on the bus from Christchurch. Luckily for me, I got speaking to a couple of other passengers, so the journey passed by very quickly. I’m fairly sure we became “those annoying people who don’t shut up” but we were entertained, at least. The two people I got speaking to were both locals, in a way. One grew up in Dunedin before moving to Sydney, so was returning home for a visit to the parents. The other had been working at the University of Otago for several years, coming back after a holiday. Suffice it to say, I learnt a lot about Dunedin before I even arrived. As we arrived fairly late in the day, Tuesday evening was just dinner, book and bed for me.
On Wednesday, I went for an amble around the city, playing tourist and taking pictures. Dunedin prides itself on its Scottish heritage, which certainly does come across. There’s a Princes Street, a statue of Robert Burns, a Scottish shop (with a Welsh apron in the window. Awkward), and a lot of the houses actually do look similar to those at home. Apparently, the railway station in Dunedin is likely the most photographed heritage building in New Zealand, so of course Marty had to get a picture. I also visited the Otago Settlers’ Museum, which is basically a museum offering a slice of life for the inhabitants of Otago from the first settlers, then the Maori, the Europeans right up to the modern day. Wayyyy more interesting than it sounds, I promise, and well worth a visit if you are ever in Dunedin.
On Thursday, I went over to the beach. There is a stretch of beach around 3km long in the southern suburbs of the city. It’s technically 3 separate beaches, but it’s one uninterrupted stretch of sand. I think I walked about 2km on the sand before giving up and getting the bus back into the city proper (see: owwwwww, who invented quadriceps?!). In the later afternoon, I went to the Otago Museum (not the same as the settlers’museum), which has amongst its exhibitions the Sir Edmund Hillary collection. As you may have guessed, this is a collection of items used during Hillary’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.
Friday was my last full day in the city, so I took the opportunity to make my Dad and brother jealous. Instead of doing Cadbury World or Speight’s Brewery Tour, which didn’t really interest me, I went to the cricket. It just so happened that the first test match in the series between New Zealand and South Africa was happening in Dunedin while I was there. As I didn’t really have any plans for Friday, I decided to go. Apparently I didn’t make it on to the TV though. Shame.
Saturday afternoon brought with it another bus journey, this time to Invercargill. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get talking to any other passengers on this one, but the scenery was pretty spectacular. There were also a lot of sheep 😛
Both bus journeys so far have had a half-hour break around halfway into the journey. These have been at small cafes that presumably cater mostly to people travelling by coach. They appear to also be some sort of time vortex back to the 1970s/1980s. The decor and the menu certainly haven’t been updated since then, at least.
One thing I can’t quite get my head around in New Zealand: chips. In the UK, we have crisps (deep-fried, thin slices of potato served in packets, often with different flavours) and chips (deep-fried, mostly cuboid chunks of potato served hot, often with salt and/or vinegar). In North America, they have chips (deep-fried, thin slices of potato served in packets, often with different flavours) and fries (deep-fried, mostly cuboid chunks of potato served hot, often with salt, but probably not vinegar). In New Zealand, they have chips (deep-fried, thin slices of potato served in packets, you get the picture) and hot chips (deep-fried, mostly cuboid, blah blah blah). Is it just me, or does that seem a little bit ridiculous? As you can see, I think deep thoughts.
So… Invercargill. Odd little place. The population of Invercargill is similar to that of Rimouski, where I spent my year abroad in Canada. Either I’ve just forgotten that Sundays in Rimouski were REALLY dull, or there is way less to do in Invercargill. Jury’s still out on which one of those is the correct answer. I mean, I didn’t come here because it’s the most exciting place on earth, I came for other reasons, but it still somehow surprised me. 50,000+ people, and apparently they don’t exist on a Sunday. At least the museum and Queen’s Park (ha!) were open. I suppose better planning would have been to go to Stewart Island today and spend Tuesday in Invercargill, but… oops?
I’m currently staying at Southern Comfort Backpackers, which is lovely. Not as modern as the one in Christchurch, and the wifi is a bit touch and go (mostly go), but very cosy, clean and friendly. You really can tell when the people running the place actually care about it, and I would definitely stay here again if I was passing through. This hostel, like the one in Christchurch, is essentially a large house that has been converted, so they do still feel largely like a home. Best thing: for the first time since Sydney, I have a bottom bunk. Yay!
Up next: Stewart Island (probably midweek).