New Zealand Cruise Part 2: The South Island

New Zealand
If you missed it and are interested, part one of the few posts I’m doing on our New Zealand cruise is here
After being on the boat for a few days, we finally got to touch land in Dunedin, South Island. Dunedin was a Scottish settlement, with a name derived from Edinburgh (“eden on the hill”), and still retains strong ties to its heritage. We didn’t plan anything in the way of excursions for Dunedin, so we just had a nice wander around for the afternoon.

One of the more memorable spots in Dunedin is the train station, with its lavish design and art deco architecture. We weren’t going anywhere, but it was fun to look around. A teenager with a bagpipe played outside for coins to complete the Scottish atmosphere.

In town, there was an active “Occupy” movement happening (the first of many we saw in NZ), nestled between ladies selling kiwi bird embroidered tea towels in the open air market on one side and the requisite statue of Robbie Burns on the other.

No self-respecting Scottish town would be without.

We had a wander through a couple of formidable chapels in town, one of which featured a gift shop whose inhabitants included the most frightening steel-eyed replica of a fire-and-brimstone sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God preacher keeping watch over, I suppose, potential pilferers. I let him keep his thimbles and tea cosies, and made a brisk retreat. We found a nicer welcome at the pretty Catholic church on the hill, where we chatted up a grandmotherly volunteer who let us know she was far from a native to Dunedin, having only lived there for 40 years or so. She told us all about the architecture, and offered us a pamphlet in any language we desired. We also took a wander through the hip little art gallery, situated in a former shopping mall.

Had we been more organized, perhaps we would have tried Dunedin’s most famous tourist attraction – the world’s steepest street, which you can walk up and receive a certificate of achievement at the top. I have a stubborn penchant for things that seem hard to do, so it is something I’ll have to put on the list for a return trip.
Just as we were preparing to board the bus that would take us back to the cruise ship, we noticed some ruckus in the distance, which turned out to be a parade for the local university graduation. All of the graduates paraded proudly through town in their gowns, led by a band of bagpipers. It was our lucky day.

Our ship was docked just outside Dunedin at the little town of Port Chalmers. We had a little bit of time for a look around, which turned out to be well worth it. There was a gorgeous church on a hill whose steeple loomed high above all else in town, beckoning tourists to take a look inside. A chatty volunteer, well into his 80s, told us in great detail about life in Port Chalmers, where he had resided his entire life. He still lived on the same plot of land on which he was born. He instructed us to walk further up the hill to the rhododendron garden with an excellent lookout. Indeed, the view was something out of a fairy tale, though I became particularly intrigued by the garden’s namesake – Lady Constance Thorne, who presided over Port Chalmers as mayoress for something on the order of 30 years (if memory serves correctly). “She must have been quite a character,” I suggested to Partner-in-Crime, and my suspicions were further piqued when we entered the tiny, crowded maritime museum whose collection included a throne with a sign that said only the Governor General was allowed to sit in it – with one exception – the mayoress during the dates of Lady Chalmers (benevolent?) reign. I set off to Google her when we returned, but to no avail. Apparently there is one thing Google doesn’t know, and Lady Chalmers continues to loom large as a mystery in my mind.

The next day, we docked at the little French village of Akaroa. Normally, the cruise would stop in Christchurch, but post-earthquake, the city is still too devastated to accept cruise ships. Akaroa is about 75 km south. It revels in its identity as a French settlement, though P-i-C took suspicious note that there were seemingly few French speakers around, and those that were speaking French had the look of a backpacker about them.

The scenery was beautiful, though we arrived on a particularly damp, cold and windy day. If I went back, I would book one of the “swimming with the dolphins” cruises, as there is a particular breed of small dolphins endemic to that area, and I overheard fellow cruise goers raving about the experience.

We stayed (relatively) dry on land, however, just looking around town. There was a strip of tourist shops and restaurants. Some of the buildings were of an interesting old style of architecture, and I did notice that there were a few buildings with signs in the windows that they had been deemed unsafe after the earthquake.
We took a somewhat steep hike up a hill, following the signs for the French cemetery. When we arrived, the “French cemetery” was nothing more than one plaque commemorating all the headstones that had apparently worn away with time. I was a smidge cranky, as I do hate walking up hills for no reason.
More wandering brought us to the town’s pretty lighthouse. 

We decided to brave another hill to see if we’d have more interesting results at the Anglican cemetery. It was much more what I had in mind, with many headstones from almost as early as the town had been settled. Many of the lost were noted to be sailors and fisherman, and too many children, as a reminder of how hard life in those early days must have been. There were some interesting graves covered in the native papua shell, which were quite beautiful.

I saw one of my favorite signs in Akaroa …

… like Australians, New Zealanders clearly have that attitude where you face your tragedies head on with a dry sense of humor. I admire that.
After Akaroa, we were headed to the North Island. We hardly scratched the surface of the picturesque South Island, but the beautiful thing about cruises is that you get a taste of what you’d like to go back to see more of. I am definitely up for seeing a lot more of the South Island.