Odd question I know but one worth asking after a recent trip down south. Way down south. I’m talking Dunners, or Dunedin if you speak good England. Now it’s not my usual destination of choice but when you’ve scored a couple of $1 flights, then it’s more a case of ‘why not’. Of course I had already spent more than the actual airfares just driving down the street on the way to the airport, so I knew this was another case of ‘false economy’ but as I get older I seem to worry less about this kind of thing.
But getting back to my original question. We arrive early after a pleasant flight down over the patchwork quilt that is the Canterbury plains and touch down at Dunedin airport (which is a misnomer – Dunedin is about 35km north of the airport; nothing says we don’t like visitors than an airport that is a remote outpost). It’s cold and grey but there’s a cheery ‘haere mai’ sign on the side of the terminal that put a smile on my dial. The Super Shuttle ferries us into town and at $40 it’s 40 times the cost of the airfare (no I won’t keep doing this because I know it will get annoying, but you get the idea). Arriving at the Kingsgate Hotel we drop off our bags and head into town for what will prove to be an interesting unguided tour of undisturbed (and left well-alone) New Zealand.
First stop is the famous Farmers Market held at the even more famous Dunedin Railway Station, one of the most photographed landmarks in the South Island, narrowly edging out Mt Cook and even the Wanaka Bra Fence. Mingling with the laid back country folk felt good and being surrounded by produce that had bee tended to by hand and untouched by nasty chemicals was making me feel healthier by the minute. The environmentally-friendly locals were buzzing around the market like contented bees in a honeypot, filling their hemp shopping bags with organic cabbages and happy eggs. We sampled fresh cheese and gooseberries and I was really beginning to feel pretty comfortable with this whole farmers market thing. That was until the incident. It pains me to even write about it now.
Casually standing beside a fruit stall there was a posse of Dunedinites. One in particular, we shall call him Man X (not to be confused with an X-Man who have special powers and could have prevented this disaster from occurring in the first place) was holding a small child. Then it started. A veritable torrent was streaming down one side of Man X and creating a yellow lake of growing proportions at his feet. Now we get back to my original question. So what does one do when one is being weed on by a baby? IMHO an ordinary person would go nuts, throwing the child as far away as possible, preferably away from innocent bystanders. They would then tear their clothes off, throwing them into a strewn heap on the ground and setting them on fire, possibly with a flame-thrower, or even a laser pointer if a stall owner had come prepared. Man X was no ordinary person. Yes friends, he was what we like to call extra-ordinary, or to put it politely a big ol’ freak. He calmly, possibly even happily, stood there and carried on conversing with his circle of friends, who were quietly backing away in barely-hidden disgust, although I did hear one of them yell out ’embrace the wee’ which I found funny at the time. I admire a man who can do that but at the same time the whole incident left me traumatised and after getting home I locked myself in the house hoping Man X and his weak-bladdered offspring hadn’t followed me back to Christchurch.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love hugging trees as much as the next bloke but I don’t find anything appealing about this public display of familial love. Even if you’re surrounded by hippies, it’s just not right. I’m not sure if it is normal practice back at home but I want to make a personal plea to parents that, if you think your child is capable of doing this, carry them around in a bucket as a service to the community. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
The rest of our $1 flight weekend in Dunedin was more civilised, in fact I could be found looking thoughtfully at works of art in the public gallery and admiring the Charles Dickens rogue collection at the library. There was even a spot of scrabble, finding cosy corners in both Starbucks and the Speights Ale House (I love that place!) to past the time trying to think of 3, 4 or possibly 7 letter words. I barely noticed the drunk girls aimlessly wandering the streets outside.
One of the highlights would have to be the Speights Brewery Tour, a 90 minute wander of the factory, a little bit of history and humour and rounded out with a ‘help yourself’ tasting session. Apparently it’s perfectly respectable to drink as much as you can when you’re tasting. Taking in the beer’s delicate bouquet, swirling the malty flavours around in your mouth, is a completely new experience and I left feeling buzzed that I had (a) learned how to pour a beer properly and (b) now had a greater appreciation of the hard work that goes into every beer I casually pull out of the fridge. Of course it could have been that I’d just had one too many samples. Fortunately I wasn’t flying the plane because that’s a definite no-no.
I actually had a really nice time overall, even if I did feel a bit sorry for the town of Dunedin, which not only has to endure dismal weather and the world’s steepest street but now also the shame of a shrinking population (98,000 and dropping) and a ridiculous slogan change campaign, which has brought out Dunedin-bashers in their hundreds (‘Dunedin – Gateway to Milton’, ‘Dunedin – Bring a heater’, ‘Dunedin – Looking forward to global warming’ or ‘Dunedin – It’s a riot’). Apparently their last slogan was ‘I am Dunedin’ so the bar is pretty low and an overpriced Auckland consultant will probably win the contract, adding insult to injury.
Sadly, Dunedin is going the way of the west coast and will soon disappear from the nightly news and weather forecasts but it does have some redeeming features. Like environmentally-conscious citizens who pick up cigarette butts from the footpath and recycle them on the spot, or even parents who love their children so much that they will enjoy a golden shower and keep smiling. Please don’t leave Dunedin – ever.
Speaking of cheap flights, and as a special thank you to anyone who read this far, I have a return flight for two to Auckland with Jetstar that is yours for free (28 Feb – Mar 1) if you’re happy to fly under a pseudonym. Just add a comment below and I’ll be in touch.YQ3YUTTFPRZ8