There aren’t many tourists this far south, this time of year. I mean, sure, there’s us – just passing through and taking photos along the way. But the throngs of people choking tracks and sidewalks are few and far between. Compared to what we’ve seen so far, Dunedin is a fairly remote city that relies on being a place for living as a Kiwi in a very normal way of life. There is a certain reality to this end of the country – it’s not trying to be anything to anyone. Dunedin is a port town on the shore that is popular with the surfers earlier in the season. There are plenty of people on the beach that our balcony looks over. Lots of surf lessons taking place, picnics, long walks with romantic couples.
A surf town with a chill. The autumn is quickly setting in this far south. Everything is about ten degrees cooler than what we were expecting. The near-tropical conditions of Nelson and Abel Tasman are long gone and have been replaced with the cooler, Antarctic chilled winds of the Southern Ocean.
It’s still nice, sure, but jackets are a necessity.
In the morning we make our way out to the Otago Peninsula, a giant wildlife preserve that is home to the extremely rare Yellow-Eyed Penguin. Their existence here is yet another cautionary tale. As the Milford area preserves seals and sandflies, as Sean in Cardrona points out the required restoration of mining sites, or like the rebuilding of Christchurch – everywhere throughout the country Kiwis had to take a hard look at how they lived on their small island nation and ask themselves how can they keep living here for the next hundred generations?
The preserve dedicated to the Penguins is more focused on the animals than they are the tourists that come to visit it. The whole place has a run-down, dirty feeling. The bus that takes us to the observation area is right out of a Cold War movie. But everything technically works, the penguins are watched over and protected, and that’s whats really important.
As New Zealanders took to developing their shorelines with cities and condos, the Penguin neared extinction. Finally coming full circle on the frailty of the ecosystem of the island, organizations moved quick to save and reverse what they could. Today there are a handful of Penguins, they hide out in little hovels that are observed. We can walk right up to the windows and see them – sitting shivering jittery in their nest full of eggs and feces.
We’re from Colorado, so it’s never long before we find the brewery. In Dunedin it’s Speight’s – the label and beers we’ve seen at every bar and cafe since Christchurch. It’s the people’s beer. It’s one of the few and oldest breweries in New Zealand. Beer culture here is similar to what you’d find anywhere else. It accompanies sporting matches, it is the reason to gather at the public house at the end of the long day, it’s the six items that you might have in your fridge at any one time. But getting beer to New Zealand? This isn’t exactly a country that would pay the high dollar for an import. There is no Coors Light here.
Speight’s is right at the center of the bullseye of roads that make up downtown Dunedin. At some point, the city sprouted from this very place. As we tour through the grand halls we learn that Speights, just like Dunedin, just like so much of the country that we’ve seen so far, is somewhere in a transition. We’re led past giant, empty brew kettles that have been dry for years. Giant copper monstrosities that were introduced decades ago but have since been forsaken for the new, stainless steel brewhouse that we’re shown through the windows.
We end the last night in Dunedin, our last night in New Zealand, at a small cafe near our room. The All Blacks are playing a round on the TV. We’re enjoying beers and small plates and an early bedtime. Tomorrow is the last day, a day of travel, a mad dash towards the airport and home.
Read On: Homeward Bound.