Dunedin and Port Chalmers
After a memorable day in the Fjords, the last day of February took us to the first of three consecutive port days, starting with Dunedin, for which we docked at Port Chalmers.
At the risk of committing heresy – because it has a good reputation – we found Dunedin to be dull. It’s rather hyped up by its own publicists as a great city, full of fine architecture and with a vibrant cultural scene. In truth it’s a pleasant but unexceptional small town. Some of the buildings are attractive, but many of them have been damaged by the addition of first floor canopies, giving some of the main roads the look of an outback town. The Railway Station is an attractive Victorian Gothic building with a pretty tiled booking hall. The problem is that the tourist information pressed upon us by invariably kind volunteers describes it as something challenging Grand Central when it’s really a pretty building and without, any longer, any passenger services save for a series of tourist excursion trains.
We sought out Dunedin’s well-regarded second hand bookshop, The Hard To Find But Worth It Bookshop, and it was certainly impressive. But I was irritated by having to handover my rucksack at the door and because it contained my laptop and phone, I was nervous about wandering far from it. It’s a strange business model which includes treating every customer as a potential thief and we didn’t stay long. We had the usual search for a cafe with Wi-Fi and after a series of disappointments we found The Perc, which had both excellent coffee and speedy Wi Fi.
We were much more enthused about Port Chalmers where we docked. It’s very small, not much more than a couple of shopping streets surrounded by lovely houses all, seemingly, with exquisite views of the harbour. We climbed high above the ship and had a sense of somewhere really nice to live. There were a couple of good galleries, a handful of cafes and a good pub with a well stocked bottle shop where we bought some local Rieslings and a selection of local beers. And we found another second hand bookshop. But we didn’t have to leave our bag at the door of this one. Indeed, its knowledgeable owner gave Alistair and Dawn, our new table companions, a lift back to the ship with a set of Victorian Law Books which Alistair, a retired lawyer bought. The owner left the shop open while he was away. Jan bought a vintage Ngaio Marsh and I regretted not buying a first edition of Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence.
We had a perfect sail away on a lovely evening, past the pretty natural harbour of Port Chalmers, passed motorists who parked by the roadside to wave us away and finally into a beautiful moonlit night.
Christchurch (from Akaroa)
Christchurch was wonderful. We booked an excursion to drop us into the city and had four hours there. On the way there and back from Akaroa, the picture postcard harbour in which we anchored, we saw scenery of such beauty, rolling fertile hills with some high peaks and nearer to Akaroa, a series of beautiful sheltered bays.
We knew Akaroa from a visit a few years ago when Christchurch was inaccessible and we liked it so much that we were inclined to stay there again and enjoy again the cafes, bars, churchyards and lighthouse. But we were glad we didn’t. Christchurch lived up to all expectations.
Despite being aware of the two earthquakes it suffered in 2011/12 we were shocked to see continuing evidence of the catastrophe. I soon realised I hadn’t grasped the magnitude of the disaster. The cathedral remains half ruined (and is the subject of a fierce battle between those who want to replace it and those who wish to restore it). Other fine buildings remain boarded up and there are fine clock towers without clocks. And there’s a multi storey car park, still standing but at an angle of about thirty degrees.
But all this does is add to the attraction of the city, which in lots of other places is emerging from the quake. We wandered to Cathedral Square and then had a look in some of the shops (buying something for our daughter and for our older grandson) before walking across town to Hadley Park and from there to the Botanical Gardens where we sat in the sunshine and had lunch. It’s a beautiful city.
We weren’t back at the ship until about six thirty. I did a few laps of the deck and went to the gym, having let both activities lapse a little before joining David in the Champagne Bar for his birthday party which was followed by dinner at the Captain’s Table (with David in the host’s chair) and with the crew singing Happy Birthday to him. We think he loved it.
Two great days and now with Wellington to come…