During my stay in Dunedin and at Hare Krishna’s, I took the opportunity to participate in activities taking place in the city and to discover the surroundings. At the end of July the Dunedin Chocolat Festival took place! For a week, the city offers a whole bunch of activities around chocolate, sponsored by Cadbury, one of the two main chocolate and confectionery companies in New Zealand. With Flor and Alejandro, two volunteers at Hare Krishna’s, we went to see the festival opening afternoon. Lots of activities were organized on the Octagon (Dunedin’s main square) but especially for children. A few free chocolate samples nevertheless made us happy. We spent the afternoon watching the kids have fun like crazy. And at the end of the evening, the Octagon lit up with bluish and purple lights and a pretty firework exploded in the sky. We returned to the temple quite happy with our day but a little chilled.
This weekend also took place the famous Jaffa Race taking place on Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world! 2.8 grams of Jaffa (candy coated with a red shell chocolate, produced by Cadbury), are dropped from the top of Baldwin Street. Each Jaffa has a number and the race is therefore a huge draw. The people who bought the numbers of the five jaffas arriving first are the winners. Three races take place one after the other with different Jaffa colors. Three times the chance of winning! Stormie, Flor, Alejandro and I, attracted by the event, take the free shuttle to get to Baldwin Street, located ten minutes by bus from the center of Dunedin. The shuttle is a very nice old bus dating back at least 50 years. The people on Baldwin Street have already started to crowd around the barriers. The atmosphere is joyful. We find a spot quite well located at the bottom of the street and wait for the start of the race by watching different musical groups parading on a podium.
Around 11:30am, the first race finally starts. The little red balls rush down the slope at almost 100 km/h which is very impressive but makes the race very fast. No time to blink that the race is already over! The winners are announced then a cleaning team climbs the slope in order to sweep off the Jaffa remaining trapped in the irregularities of the ground. Cleaning takes more time than the race itself. To make us wait, again, the groups parade on the podium and chocolate bars (jaffa flavor, of course) are distributed free of charge. I do not miss the opportunity to catch one! It is good but it sticks a lot to the teeth. The second race takes place in the same way but with yellow Jaffa, which makes them more visible. Same process for the third and last race but with blue Jaffas this time. The winners leave with their prizes and we return to the town center with our chocolate bars.
One of the pretty places to visit near Dunedin is Tunnel Beach, a small beach accessible by, as the name suggests, a tunnel carved out of sandstone cliffs. After taking the bus for a good half hour to get out of Dunedin, a short forty-minute walk on the cliffs allows us to arrive, Sally and I, at the place in question. Many students have had the same idea as us. We have lunch on a rocky promontory, feet in the air, watching the sea rush into the natural arches. The waves crash on the cliffs with an impressive noise. A small tunnel provides access to a pebble beach where young people have fun testing their ability to stay in cold water for as long as possible.
Another day, it is JMa (the manager of the Hare Krishna center) who takes us Stormie and I, on the East coast about forty kilometers from Dunedin where is Taieri Mouth, a small fishing village located at the mouth of the sea and the Taieri river. This is also where a lovely eight-kilometer hike starts across the Taieri River gorges. Stormie and I are climbing the trail in the last light of the afternoon. The trail runs along the banks of the river then sinks through a rain forest before attacking the ascent of the hills to reach a nice observation point. The Taieri throat spreads out before our eyes illuminated by the warm colors of the sunset. Five minutes later the sun disappeared behind the massifs. We run downhill, which is not a good idea when we are walking in muddy ground. Of course, I end up sliding and land the butt in the mud. Fortunately my camera is safe.
At the end of Dunedin, facing the sea, is the Otago peninsula. Long strip of land, of volcanic origin, the peninsula extends parallel to the mainland for about twenty kilometers. A dozen small villages have grown on it between wild mountains and sparse meadows. My first visit to the peninsula is with Sophie. We go all the way to Taiaroa Head, to get a glimpse of the sea and to the Northern Royal Albatrosses, where a colony is established on the peninsula. Unfortunately the weather is all gray and the birds are absent. We leave in the other direction, in order to reach Portobello, a small village more than three hours’ walk away where the only bus stop to reach Dunedin is located. A band of free roosters crosses our path. The wind is blowing hard and it is very cold but that does not detract me from the beauty of the landscape. Near Portobello the sun finally pierces the clouds and offers us its rays of heat.
My second visit to the peninsula is with Sally to climb Mount Harbor Cone, a hill looking like a mini-Fuji near Portobello. The sun is here this time. The beginning of the path crosses meadows where sheep graze. A very strong wind welcomes us as we begin the climb. The climb in itself is damn rough so in addition with gusts of wind, it is a real challenge! The wind is so strong that I can’t even breathe. I feel like Sam carrying Frodo to the mountain of Destiny at the end of The Return of the King (third film from the Lord of the Rings). Getting to the top is like a victory against the elements, but our appreciation of the landscape is short-lived. It is far too cold to stay very long. Sally and I quickly appreciate the expanse of the peninsula before our eyes and then go back down quickly. A treacherous area (mud covered with a little of grass) sets a trap for us and we both end up with our butts on the floor. Fortunately nobody in the area to attend this not very glorious moment. We then walk the peninsula for several hours enjoying its hilly landscape and its tranquil atmosphere before setting sail for Portobello.
Apart from my visits with my volunteer friends of Hare Krishna, I also went to discover the pretty region of the Catlins, located between Dunedin and Invercargill (further south). Stretching along the coast, The Catlins is a large natural expanse of beaches, rain forests, meadows and tiny rural towns scattered along the Southern Scenic Route. It was in the company of Sophie and her friend Jade, who owned a car (the only real easy way to discover the Catlins) that we left for a day of discovery. Jade is from New Zealand and is also studying in the Department of Biochemistry where Sophie is doing her internship. It was with great kindness that she decided to take us to visit the region. Departure early Saturday in a very cold morning covered with frost. The landscape, barely visible in the light of dawn, is covered with a white layer that makes it magical. I witness a magnificent sunrise from the car windows, transforming the decor into a real gem. First stop at the end of the Catlins, Curio Bay, a pretty beach renowned for being a surf spot. Nothing special, especially since the weather is gray. Next point of interest: McLean Falls. A pretty waterfall accessible by a twenty minute hike through a rain forest. It is really cold and the trail is completely frosted but the walk and the waterfall are very nice. Another waterfall, Purakunui Falls, awaits us a little further but it is less impressive than McLean Falls.
We then stop in a tiny village at the only restaurant open to fill up. The food is very good and apart from us and another family, it is completely empty. Return by car to go see Surat Bay, supposedly the paradise of the Sea Lions. But the weather has darkened again and it even starts to rain. This does not prevent us from going for a walk along the beach but no mammal on the horizon. We fall back on the search for paua shells, the Maori name for a species of gourmet molluscs whose shell is pearly with bluish reflections. But again it is not very fruitful. Apart from Jade who finds a nice piece with beautiful reflections, nothing for Sophie and me.
We then head for the last destination of the day: Nugget Point. Fifteen minutes walk from the parking lot along the cliff and here we are at a lighthouse perched at the end of a rocky outcrop. From there, we can see a surprising landscape with lots of small rocks eroded by the waves resembling small gold nuggets according to local Kiwis. The cliffs around the lighthouse are impressive as is the view from the viewing platform. Better not to be dizzy. Some adventurous or unconscious (whatever you want), step over the safety rails to descend onto the rocky outcrop for a moment of mediation. I do not try. Torrential rain falls on us and as we are about to leave we see gray spots on the rocks below. They are fur seals! A colony lives indeed in the vicinity. They are almost undetectable mixed with the color of the rocks. We return to Dunedin in a gloomy weather and I have the impression of having overflying the surroundings without really taking the time to appreciate it. The Dunedin region is very beautiful and despite my month spent exploring and working here I feel like I have only discovered a tiny part of it.