Dunedin, August 2015

Only one half of TTTF visited but here are some pics of Katie’s two month work visit to Dunedin, New Zealand. Going from the end of our summer to the end of their winter was a bit of a shock to the system but NZ did everything it possibly could to lessen the blow.

I can’t help but like Dunedin within hours of arriving, even in my bewildered, sleep deprived state then and after a week here that impression hasn’t changed. It’s careless, slightly run-down and unpretentious image can be misinterpreted at first. In America, the fixer-upper cars on some lawns, wire mesh fences and papered up shop fronts downtown might indicate you should keep one eye behind you but in Dunedin I get the feeling it just indicates that the locals have better things to do than keep up with the Jones’. By saying that I don’t mean that Dunedin isn’t easy on the eye though, it is, it’s just not in your face about it. There are some real gems here, one of which is the street art trail…riding through the city on the bus for the first time, I’m delighted when huge and exquisite murals spring out at me in a most unexpected way as the bus rounds corners, it’s charming. The beaches here are pounded by the South Pacific and the ones I’ve seen so far are beautiful in a natural, untouched way that reminds me how small I am in comparison to the forces of nature.

The city welcomes you in but it doesn’t make too much of an effort for you. It’s casual, secure in its sense of identity and I like it. The people here all have that same sense about them. They’re not overtly in your face with fake niceties and imposed friendship but they’re very approachable, and once I engage with them I find them highly personable and pleasant, friendly to just the appropriate level. It’s all very undemanding, especially for someone who goes through bouts of introversion. There’s an air of contentment here that it’s hard not be infected by, everything just feels a little – well – easier.

On the way to work last week a lady started to chatting to me at the bus stop, she’d lived in the UK just over a decade ago, she told me a little of her story. She suffered from epilepsy and had had a seizure there that had caused an accident. The person she’d been driving died in the accident and the woman herself fell into a coma for 3 days. She’d recently lost her job because of another seizure. I asked her how the support and healthcare was here, she said it wasn’t bad. She told me of how she had loved to travel and had been to many places before these problems. She was on her way into town to meet a woman who would help her find another job. As sad as her story was, it was delivered quite matter-of-factly, there was no blame, no denial of what she’d suffered – or was still suffering – through but she seemed to approach with an attitude of ‘it is what it is’, at no point did I see any bitterness or blame. I’ve heard the locals say that this get-on-with-life attitude is typical of New Zealanders.

The backdrops of stunning hillside or powerful ocean, depending on which way you turn no doubt add to the locals’ attitude. The nature is imposing enough to remind you of your place but beautiful enough to give you pleasure every time you discover it anew each day. Certainly, after half an hour spent watching the waves I felt that I, and any problems I had, were considerably less significant in the grand scheme of things. But I think another contributing factor is the sparse population. A colleague told me that Dunedin is called home by a little over 120,000 people. That’s 6 times smaller than Leeds which, in area, is 6 times smaller than Dunedin (according to Google). The first thing that struck me on looking down over the city during rush hour was the absolute dearth of traffic. I can leave the house and if I’m late, it’s because I was late leaving, not because I got snarled up in traffic unexpectedly. I find myself arriving within 5 minutes of my anticipated arrival…what luxury! (Countering that luxury is the new found perspective of just how much of my life I waste sat in traffic…but that’s a different story!). Buses turn up within 5 mins of their expected time and the journey time is easy to estimate. I had forgotten what it was like not to have life dictated by traffic flow. It really does feel like luxury. I’m told Auckland is different on all counts but I shall have to find that out for myself. Extracting details of the country from workmates yesterday I found out that NZ does pretty well on the self-sufficiency scale, they produce most or all of their energy from renewable sources, have a healthy (and rigourously protected) agricultural industry and can produce steel. Not a bad place to be then if the world takes a down turn.

The only downside I can find with this visit is that Mickey isn’t with me. I think we will have to return together if NZ will have us.


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