25 September 2009

dunedin

Dunedin is known as New Zealand's Scottish town, and its buildings remind me of large gingerbread houses.

But first, another bus ride. While I was sleeping, my partner took some photos of reflections that created interesting designs:

We saw remnants of an old stone bridge right next to the (newer) one we drove across:

We saw more rolling hills of sheep...

the perfect screensaver through the bus windshield...

and giant fruits and vegetables:

In Dunedin, we stayed with the sweetest couchsurfer, Timo, an anthropology professor who studies death and evil. Needless to say, conversation was endless and fascinating.

It was so nice to meet another couchsurfer who really felt like an old friend. And it was also really nice to stay in a beautiful home (rather than in a grubby hostel).

We had a lovely room with windows on all sides (and a funky zebra print bed):

Not to mention our sunset view:

(One would be hard-pressed to guess, when seeing Timo feeding ice cream to random cats on the street and playing with his neighbor's dog, that he studies death and evil. Of course, maybe he just couldn't stand being such a sweet and gentle guy, he had to go and study something macho. Heh heh. Kidding, Timo.)

As you may have guessed from our staying with a young, cool professor, Dunedin is a college town, and as such, it's adorable (and colorful), has a wide range of ethnic restaurants (especially yummy Satay noodles) and a bit more diversity:

When we walked by this intersection a little later, we saw two guys climbing out of the window and onto the balcony. If you look closely in front of the green building, you'll see a guy sitting on a couch playing a guitar.

One unique feature about Dunedin that I thought was neat: the center of town is an octagon (map link), with larger octagonal rings around it. Around the octagon were attractive museums, churches, caf├ęs and the like:

As we walked around, we found the train station (which resembled a fancy gingerbread house):

Considering it was winter, the delicate poppy-like flowers in front of the station were amazing:

The University of Otago was another fancy gingerbread building, and there was art everywhere. If you look in the canal in front of the university, you'll see three paintings just hanging there.

This sculpture in front of the university sign is of a gorilla (made of old car parts, I think) dominating an old car:

Even the Dunedin prison was beautiful:

We went to the Otago Settlers Museum, which was free and had neat exhibits on Maori history and culture and the evolution of transportation in New Zealand.

The best part: it was a hands-on, climb-in and climb-on kind of museum:

I was surprised to discover a terrific exhibit about Chinese settlers in New Zealand. A lot of them came for the Gold Rush (right after California's), and while it was mostly men at first who came to work, send money home, and then move back to China, eventually, families began settling here, too.

We also went to the Chinese garden, which was beautiful and tranquil. Like the Peabody Essex in Salem's Chinese House, this garden was put together in China, taken apart and reassembled by Chinese artisans in Dunedin.

I still got a kick out of the more formal English, and seeing signs like "Trundler Park" made me smile. (They're referring to the grocery carts.)

It seems like Kiwis don't like to cook, as there are take-out places everywhere. While many of them are Asian of some kind (Chinese, Thai, Korean, Cambodian, Indian...), lots of them are like this one, with Chinese food, fish 'n' chips and burgers all in one place (with a convenience store to boot):

One night, Timo drove us to the top of a nearby mountain, where we had an incredible view of Dunedin and the water. It was really cool to see the sun set and the city lights come up.

Then, Timo took us to his favorite Italian restaurant (which was excellent). And, finally, before turning in for the night, we stopped for some traditional New Zealand hokey pokey ice cream (vanilla with chunks of sponge toffee) and walked up the world's steepest street, Baldwin Street.

23 September 2009

milford sound

I can see why Milford Sound is both New Zealand's most visited destination and the world's top travel destination (according to Tripadvisor's 2008 Travelers' Choice Destinations Awards). Rudyard Kipling even called it the eighth wonder of the world. But you know that Kippie, always exaggerating.

Just kidding. But he is still the youngest writer to win the Nobel for literature (at age 32), so yeah, I've got nothing.

Anyway, from Te Anau, we took a bus to Milford Sound, and our very cool Maori driver let us stop at some neat places.

First, we went to the Mirror Lakes:

It started raining, but we didn't mind because we were treated to more waterfalls than I'd seen in my entire life:

We started driving up into the mountains, where the waterfalls poured down the rock faces of the mountains and then accumulated in piles of white ice:

There had been an avalanche about ten days before, and we were lucky to be able to go to Milford Sound at all, as the road had been closed for over a week while they cleared the snow from the roads and tunnels. They'd just reopened the road the day we were going (phew).

And then, in typical New Zealand fashion, about ten minutes after seeing these snowplow tractors, we were trekking through jungle (yet again) to reach the Chasm, a powerful waterfall that gushes into this narrow chasm (hence the name) of black rock. And of course, we saw some picturesque streams on our way there.

We learned about treeslides, where entire trees literally slide down a mountain. The trees grow to be quite large, but their roots can't get a great hold in the rock mountain, so too much snow pushing down on them, for example, can cause them to slide right down the mountainside. Here, behind the trees in the foreground, you'll see a stripe of black rock going down what used to be a tree-covered mountain:

When we finally reached Milford Sound, we learned it was actually a fiord (a long, narrow arm of the sea bordered by steep cliffs, usually formed by glacial erosion) and not a sound (a relatively narrow passage of water between larger bodies of water or between the mainland and an island, usually not formed by glacial activity), but it was named by Welsh explorer, John Grono, in 1812, and he wasn't familiar with fjords. So, there you go.

In any case, we boarded the Spirit of Milford and were immediately transported into a real-life Chinese watercolor.

The mist gave it an enchanted feeling, and it was neat to see the layers of mountains:

Our camera lens got wet as we stood on the deck, but we thought the results were interesting (and there was no permanent damage):

The mist cleared a bit as we sailed on, and we saw what felt like millions of waterfalls cascading down the two mountains on either side of the narrow channel:

And as if for a grand finale, we saw seals on our way out:

After a lovely picnic on the boat, we took the bus back to Queenstown, racking up some serious bus hours for the day (about seven, I think), but it helped that the scenery was gorgeous and constantly changing, from snow and mountains...

to our first blue-sky sighting of the day...

to sparkling rivers...

to a sky full of long wispy clouds...

to ominous backlit mountains...

to what looked like a cross between God and Homer Simpson:

When it got dark, we watched "Whale Rider," which I'd seen in the theater and loved-- but it was great to see it in New Zealand, where it was set.