Dunedin, New Zealand

I always baulk at the idea of long-haul flights. That’s with the exception of the times I’ve managed to score an operational upgrade with BA or used Avios to bump myself up a cabin, and travelled in proper comfort. But the idea of 10+ hours in a cramped seat with people either side of me doesn’t sit well. I had two of these flights coming up to get to New Zealand.

The first leg of the four-flight journey to Dunedin was Glasgow to London Heathrow. This was the most flights I had taken for a single trip since Qaanaaq, and this time started with a Friday evening departure followed by a hotel stay near Heathrow.

“That’s Right Said Fred over there”, I said as we were in the security queue at Glasgow airport.

“Where? No it’s not!” said my other half, confidently.

The writers of those 90s cult classics were indeed just behind us in the security queue, and also sat near us in the Beardmore for a drink, just behind us at the gate, and two rows in front on the flight. I can now add them to my list of Glasgow airport celeb sightings alongside Billy Boyd, Carol Smillie, Michelle Mone, Professor John Curtice, Amy Macdonald (twice), and various footballers and MPs/MSPs.

Generally, when I’ve connected via Heathrow and stayed the night before an early morning connection, I’ve taken the “Hotel Hoppa” buses to get around. They’re fine but can take a frustrating amount of time for what looks like a short journey on the map. This time it was an overnight stay at the Thistle Hotel, and the Thistle has some awesome little self-driving pods which make the connection from Terminal 5 to the hotel in just a few minutes.

On the London to Los Angeles leg the following day, there was an excitable chap in the row in front who could not stop talking. He wasn’t particularly socially conscious (unaware of the volume he was talking as he shouted back at the cabin crew when he had his headphones in, endless questions about anything and everything to the chap next to him who was watching a film, hands over the back of the seat in weird positions which covered my other half’s TV screen). Long flights are trying enough without that kind of thing. Thankfully the seat next to me was free, and having three seats for two people makes a huge difference.

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The Los Angeles to Auckland flight was much easier given I slept for most of it, out for the count within a couple of minutes of sitting down, missing everything from the safety videos through to the meal service before I even stirred a little. Incidentally, the Air New Zealand safety video is dreadful. It follows the trend over the past few years of moving away from a simple, clear safety video and becoming some kind of entertainment clip. The British Airways one is poor, American Airlines is awful, Air New Zealand takes it to another level with a rap that probably leaves many people none the wiser to what they should do in an emergency.

After a few hours waiting for the connection in Auckland, we finally touch down in Dunedin – nearly three days (*night in London, International Date Line) since leaving home. The scenery en-route wasn’t the best. I’d love to have flown over the West Coast of the South Island on a clear day to see the mountains below, but it was cloudly for most of the flight. The best we saw was a view of Mount Taranaki.

Dunedin was a two-night stay mainly to settle in to New Zealand, get over any jet lag and see a bit of this part of the country. It isn’t the most scenic but is a good spot for a stopover and as a base to see parts of the East Coast before heading onwards. Much of our time was spent north of the city between Dunedin and Oamaru.

Waitati was the first stop. It’s a village so small we drove by it without realising at first, but double backed and spent a bit of time at Doctors Point beach. It was a cloudy but dry day, and even with the surrounding cloud and grey was still a beautiful area. A sealion was just a few feet in front of us enjoying a swim and there wasn’t much noise besides this and the sound of the waves.

Various coastal roads took us up to Shag Point next. Given the weather on the day wasn’t great for views, we were happy walking parts of the coastline and keeping an eye out for penguins and sealions. Shag Point had dozens of the latter, often looking like slugs stuck to the rocks. They’re awesome to see playing around in a natural habitat.

Further up the coast is a bit of a tourist draw, relatively speaking. The Moeraki boulders look like giant eggs scattered across the beach… and some of them have hatched. While it is busy, even during light rain on our visit, it’s a fairly cool spot to stop off at. There are some alpacas nearby, plus a cafe and souvenir shop. It’s clearly geared towards visitors.

Moeraki itself, further down the coast, seems like a quiet little place. The Moeraki Tavern was great for coffee and cake, and I’m sure on a pleasant day it’s a picturesque little town.

The final stop along the coast was Oamaru in the hope of seeing some penguins. The Blue Penguin Colony on the edge of the town has a grandstand where people can pay to sit and watch the penguins returning home from their day of work (hunting) to their nests, and I’m sure it provides a far better chance of seeing some than the alternatives. However, a little further along is a beach where some yellow-eyed penguins live. It’s fine to walk on during the day but when it comes to around 3pm, people are encouraged to leave the beach and use the higher-up viewpoints so as not to disturb the penguins.

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It was wonderfully quiet at the time. A couple of sealions were lazing around one corner of the beach with seemingly not a care in the world. Even when I got a little closer, one watched but it didn’t move. And then, further along the beach, two little things appear out of the water and start waddling up the sand towards the bushes…

It was like one was waiting for the other before they moved on. I hadn’t seen them in the water, and they were a good 40m or so away, but it was amazing to see the pair of them walk slowly up the beach, stop just before the bushes for a look around, and then disappear into their home. The sound of the babies from then on was something that couldn’t be missed – they knew how to make some noise.

Despite waiting around for over an hour afterwards, there were no other penguins spotted. Still, it was great to see a couple of them.

Day one in Dunedin was a photography lesson for me. Getting back to the hotel and looking at some pictures, I realised I had been using a high ISO all day and ended up with grainy photos. I remember reading on a forum a few years ago someone who had a sticker on their camera which read “CHECK THE ISO, DUMMY”. Needed, I think.

Dunedin itself felt fairly quiet. The area from the train station (which is a beautiful building), up to the Octagon has plenty of places to drop into – Perc Cafe and Morning Magpie for breakfast/coffee, and plenty of bars around the Octagon itself. My favourite was a bit further away. Emerson’s Brewery is an American-style brewpub with a decent food menu and plenty of fresh beers brewed on site – perfect. The city centre seemed fairly quiet both nights (Emerson’s aside), which might be because it was early in the week, or maybe it’s a quiet town in general.

Despite the long flights, I was surprisingly fine when it came to jetlag for this trip. There was one morning waking up at 4am, another at 5am, then I was fine. Staying awake during the first flight so as to be exhausted for the second flight and grabbing (almost) a full eight hours before landing seemed to do the job.

So that was the start of the trip. Fairly low key in a laid-back part of New Zealand. The weather wasn’t the most welcoming but it didn’t stop us seeing anything we wanted to see.

Next stop: the south coast.

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