Monday, 8 August 2011

Dunedin Highlights 7th August

Dunedin has lots of affordable activities for the interested visitor, we have managed to cram all sorts into our 8 days here and we haven’t been left bored at any point. One of the best highlights for foodies like us is the sheer variety of cheap, good quality cafes and restaurants littered about the centre of the city. This week we have frequented a fair number of them, on occasion eating a 2 course meal for as little as $11 and enjoying triple portions at an all-you-can-eat vegan buffet.

Not much has gone wrong this week, so it’s probably best if we get that sort of stuff out of the way before ploughing on with all the good news. We suffered a bit of a blow 2 days ago on our way back from an amazing trip out to see the Royal Albatross colony at the end of the Otago Peninsula. As we were crossing a road on our bikes my back wheel collapsed as I attempted to ride onto the cycle path from the main road. It has always been a bit of a dodgy back wheel and one which countless bike shop engineers have chuckled to themselves about on seeing it, suggesting that it was a terrible wheel; “…completely inadequate for the type of cycling you are doing, whoever built it is having a bit of a joke, mate.” It seems they were correct. The spokes shattered and I had to carry the 20 kilo frame all the way to the brilliant people at R & R in the town centre, where they built me a brand new back wheel and sorted out my gears for $170 – more than half that which I paid for the bike. The moral of that story being; don’t buy second hand cycle touring gear again. This has slowed our departure down somewhat, so instead of leaving on Friday the 6th of August to head towards the Catlins, we are now leaving tomorrow, which is the 8th, choosing to spend a couple of nights at the YHA for old times sake.

Aside from that bike issue, we have been so happy here. Our hosts, Naomi and Manna, Dave, Rachel and Scott have all made us feel so brilliantly welcome in their homes and we have enjoyed spending time with them. One of the great things about couch surfing with people is the opportunity to enjoy each others music, movies, conversation and food, as well as picking up all the local tips on what to do and where to eat. The slight irony on this occasion is that Mel and I have been in New Zealand longer than our hosts had, as we arrived in September and our friends from the USA & Canada have only been in town for since this year sometime. The view from the two properties we stayed at are million dollar views of the sea and the city respectively, I just hope that their respective landlords learn about this new fangled thing called ‘insulation’ before next winter.

So, to the activities which we have enjoyed most since I last checked in. Well, you will remember the brief talk of the botanic gardens, the Turkish eateries and the art gallery. Well, since then, we have enjoyed lunchtime theatre at the university and that $11 two course meal on the same afternoon. The play was called ‘Norm & Ahmed’; a 45 minute story about racism involving 2 characters, one from Pakistan, the other form Australia. It is set at a bus stop in Sydney at around midnight. It was a good piece of lunchtime theatre with a sadly predictable ending in which Norm beats the crap out of Ahmed and leaves him lying in the gutter. After the show, we made our way to the student union on Albany to enjoy a Hari Krishna lunch. It was amazing; Daal, Samosa, Puree and a nice pudding of crumble with a sweet semolina - halva.

That same day we went for a little look around the shops and bought Mel a new dress. It was form a real treasure trove of a shop (Yaks & Yetis) where they sell anything and everything collectable from Nepal and South East Asia. We probably would have really blown the budget had it not have been for the luggage allowance regulations and to be honest we maybe shouldn’t have spent what we did, but it was worth it because she looks lovely in it!

That was Thursday. On Friday, before the bike died, we had managed to clock up 80 km cycling out onto the Otago Peninsula to see the Albatross and back. I was so excited to see them, but it was Mel who spotted the first adult in flight. We were settling down to a coffee as I waited to go on the guided tour of the nesting sight when Mel jumped up and ran outside, shouting to me that she had seen what she thought was a Royal Albatross. As it turned out, she was right and it was clearly one of the massive birds as it had a wing span much larger than that of the black backed gulls and shags sharing the same air space. Satisfied with that, Mel sat back down with her hot drink and I set off with the tour group to hopefully photograph the maturing chicks up at the nest site, which has been strategically cut off from the rest of the free area, so that people are forced to pay up to get a glimpse of them. The centre gets 130,000 visitors a year, each paying at least $30 to look at the nesting site. I found that it was well worth it though. I have always loved Albatross – their comedy way of taking off and landing, their 9’6’ wingspan and their amazing ability to live life on the wing – spending up to 6 years in the air at a time and flying at speeds in excess of 120 km/ph! There were 5 chicks visible on the nesting sight, big fat blobs, weighing up to 13.5 kilos. They are around 4-5 weeks away from flying for the first time and they consume 4 kilos of fish and squid everyday at the moment. Fatties!!

‘Circadian Rhythm’ is a name to remember for all those of you who enjoy good vegan food. It is on St. Andrews and has the best selection of pies, cakes and hot foods available. The service there is also great. The first time we went in there, we were frantically trying to find Mel’s phone in our bags. We quickly realised that we had dropped it somewhere in town, so they let us use their phone to ring it – turned out some nice guy had picked it up and we were able to get it back, they didn’t have to do that though – it’s the small touches that make a restaurant, you know? Their buffet is great, $9 – $12.50, depending on what day of the week you go in, you can enjoy daal, koftas, rice, spicy veg, purees and more. If that wasn’t enough for you, there is an impressive vegan cafĂ© at the Saturday market, situated next to the beautiful train station. We had breakfast there yesterday which consisted of a ‘chilli dog’ and an ‘Elvis special’. The ‘chilli dog was’ a sausage wrapped in tortilla with delicious spicy sauce. The ‘Elvisl’ was veggie bacon, banana  and peanut butter in a toasted ciabatta, topped with a double choc-chip cookie – all vegan and all home-made.

Something else you can do when visiting this city, if you want to keep costs down, is to visit the very impressive graveyards. Mel and I went for a walk through a small area of the Northern Graveyard, which covers 8 hectares and has some beautiful tombs, as well as stunning trees and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. We saw lots of parrots in the trees there! It is not far from the botanic garden, so you can wander from one to the other easily, which we did. 

We decided to go and visit the aviary again, as we had done earlier in the week. It is always sad to see the birds cooped up in cages. However, they are great fun to be around, especially the Kaka, as they seem to spend their time rolling around on their backs, drunk on something or other. There are some parrots who can talk there too, good for big and little kids alike – one of them kept saying ‘have a cuppa tea’ and ‘what’s up doc?’.

A visit to the Robbie Burns pub is always worth a trip as well, on your way to the aptly named ‘Khmer Friendly Noodle & Satay’ restaurant. We were treated to a fine drop of single malt whiskey and a lovely pint of beer there by the friendly barman, before indulging in yet more brilliant food at the Khmer place.

In conclusion, our time in Dunedin has been much influenced by our love of good food, great company and plenty of free activities to indulge in. The perfect town really and the weather hasn’t been bad either.
Vegan cake - yum!

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