The drives always take longer than expected, given that I won’t go 60 miles per hour on two lane, unshouldered, winding roads and we have to stop for food regularly. The roads are like we had in the US before the Interstates, passing through the middle of each little town. We can almost always find a reasonable diner-like restaurant in all but the smallest towns. Occasionally with settle for McDonalds, found in the larger ones. Like everywhere, there is usually one or more authentic Chinese restaurants if there is fast food.
Dunedin is the Scottish NZ town, settled originally by a group of Scots in the mid-1800’s. It became prosperous after a brief gold rush in the 1860’s, with a significant number of buildings dating to that period. I can’t think of many comparable US cities – about 120,000 people in a regional hub city, with the University of Otega enrolling over 20,000 of that number. Maybe a cross between Helena, Montana and Madison, Wisconsin. Downtown is the shopping center (no suburban malls if there is a bicycle store downtown). In fact, it doesn’t look like there is a building built in the past 20 years. Our hotel is an old building being updated as I speak. (Unfortunately, the workmen started earlier in the morning than we would have liked). In general, it feels like Minneapolis did when I was growing up, when Foshay Tower was our skyscraper and before the Southdale became an international model.
I have the privilege of visiting with a geriatrician at the local hospital/medical school and attending rounds and journal club. Geriatrics is almost the opposite of the US – it is a hospital based and consultation specialty rather than focusing on primary care/long term care settings as we do in the US. Financing systems determines such differences, I believe.
We visit NZ’s Candbury Candy factory. A little bit hokey tour. I am impressed with the contrast between a very old building and many seemingly labor intensive, inefficient processes while noting very stringent electronic key card security and ubiquitous safety instructions and warnings. It appears they are attentive to their over 800 workers.
We also visit the Otega Peninsula, home to the very rare Albatross and Yellow-Eyed Penguin. We take the 1+ hour drive to the end of the road, where I watch the albatross soar effortlessly, despite their huge size. They are apparently the largest flying birds in the world and can only get aloft with the help of a good breeze. I enjoy most of this alone, while Rebecca calls a friend from home and Joyce and Emily have a snack. I do agree with them that bird watching must be an acquired taste, as I found even a brief glance at a wild echidna more exciting.
We then meet our host, Sam, for a 4 WD tour to see NZ fur seals and penguins. We pack into his Land Rover with another family and a third couple for a most uncomfortable ride along rocky paths (you can’t call them roads) across his vast sheep farm. Sam grew up here and he and several other families have acquired all the farm land on this peninsula, as the returning WW II veterans who were allotted 100 acre plots by the government sold out their unsustainable pasturelands. Mostly, I am awed by the views from the hilltops, which range from the bay and city to the West to the rugged ocean and bird-covered islands in almost all other directions. Like most of NZ, the soil is only good enough for sheep farming, and Sam has thousands, grown mostly for lamb meat. (Wool isn’t worth much anymore, we are informed). We see a few seals and then move on to the penguins. These are very rare and highly protected, with Sam’s property line ending a few hundred feet from the beaches, where we watch the a half dozen penguins march up to their nests, where eggs are due to hatch in a few weeks. They waddle just as I have seen at the zoo, but remarkably far and up hills into the weeds and bushes, to try to protect their offspring from the non-native possums, stoats, and rats.
The energy and enthusiasm (or maybe financial necessity) associated with sheep farming continues to surprise me. Sam and his wife not only manage raising thousands of sheep, he runs this adventure tour every evening and she runs a Bed and Breakfast on their property. It puts my modest attempt to balance my University related jobs and my very part-time software business to shame. Maybe the beauty of the landscapes they enjoys provides the necessary fuel.
Thus we can add another endangered species to our list of wildlife seen on this, our Down Under safari.