The Octagon, in central Dunedin. A small (eight-sided, if your imagination is vivid, or if you’ve sampled many brews) central park surrounded by warm and inviting eating and drinking (not in that order) establishments.
The train station in Dunedin, which I’m told is one of (if not the) most photographed buildings in the country. Because I was told this I took many, many pictures of the building today.
A little more than twenty-hours ago, I boarded Air New Zealand flight 7, nonstop from San Francisco to Auckland. If all went according to plan, I was to depart from San Francisco at 10pm Sunday night, and arrive in Auckland at 5:55am Tuesday morning. Then I would clear customs, and rush to catch the 7:20am flight to Dunedin. Here’s the play-by-play.
It was a sad day packing on Sunday. I don’t travel (OK, well, I drive to the hospital) in my normal job, so for me to leave the family was novel….and sad. We did rehearse how to Skype (I was in the living room, Debra was in the kitchen), and ensured that once I arrived in Nz we would still be able to ‘communicate’. There were tears in all four pairs of eyes at the airport Sunday night. I am blessed to have such a caring and understanding family. I had a plan for the 12 hour flight: I bought an air pillow to go around my neck to help me sleep (check), my plane took off on time (check), I watched a couple of movies (check) and took an Ambien to get some sleep (check). Sixty minutes after taking the Ambien, I was still awake (uncheck). I was getting anxious…what happens if I can’t sleep at all? I was restless, tossing from side to side in the dark cabin. Everyone around me appeared to have no trouble sleeping. Then the valve cover for my air pillow came off in my tossing, and the pillow quickly deflated. Now, I’m worried- will I be able to sleep without my trusty air pillow? I can’t find the valve cover anywhere. I’m crawling on the floor around the seats, using my iPhone to illuminate the ground, trying to find the valve cover for my air pillow, and trying not to disturb my sleeping neighbors. After twenty minutes of searching, I give up. I find the most comfortable position possible (sans air pillow), and low and behold, I fall asleep. Five hours later, I am woken up by the announcement that breakfast is served. An hour later, we are on our final approach to Auckland, and I remember I need to fill out the customs declaration. Most the the questions are standard fare- are you carrying an Uzi submachine gun, or similar weapon? That sort of thing, but then I’m thrown off by the following question: “Are you bringing any sports equipment, including shoes?” I did pack my squash racquet and tennis shoes….and my fishing rod. Now, I’m in trouble. I don’t want to lie (they have X ray scanners, and an X ray image of a fishing rod looks very similar to…. a fishing rod). I am keenly aware (look at that, I’m already picking up the word, “keenly”) any delay through customs and I won’t be able to make my flight to Dunedin (which is scheduled to leave Auckland only 90 minutes after I land). When I had my passport and customs declaration to the Customs Official, he asks, “I see you’ve declared some sports equipment, what did you bring?” I say (loudly), “Oh, a squash racquet.” And then quietly “and a fishing rod”. He’s a young man, with good hearing. He then asks, “Would that be a freshwater rod, or a salt water rod?” Clearly, if I guess wrong, he’ll point me over to the body search screening area. “Saltwater.” I say confidently, hoping that it’s freshwater bugs he wants to keep out of New Zealand. “Excellent.” (pronounced Eggs-salad-ent). “Go on ahead”. Gotta know your flora and fauna, I say. I leave the customs areas and enquire how far to the domestic terminal to catch my flight to Dunedin. “Oh,” the helpful woman at the desk answers, “it’s just ten (pronounced ‘TEEN’) minute walk to your right, follow the green line on the ‘SEE-ment’ “. New Zealanders walk fast. It took me twelve minutes. I had no difficulty making the Dunedin flight, but was quite worried as I boarding the plane with TWO carry-on items the flight attendants would tackle me. There were no less than fifteen announcements (in the six minutes I was waiting to board the flight) that we were allowed only one carry-on item of 7.5kg or less. I was carrying my camera backpack (estimated weight, 32 kg), and my leather duffel bag (another 20kg); I used all my strength to make carrying them appear effortless. It worked. A short 90 minute flight and I’d be at my final destination, Dunedin. Luck of the draw, though, I sat next to a very nice couple, who were in dire need of convincing me that: (1) I needed to move to New Zealand…..right now and buy the 40 acres of land next to their house. (2) If you lived anywhere else, the radiation from the Japanese nuclear power plant melt-down was going to poison you. (3) The US government was trying to keep secrets about the health benefits of marijuana from US, even to the point of removing academic papers touting this little known fact from the NIH databank. (Truthfully, there were eighteen more points). It was a long 90 minutes.
I did arrive here in Dunedin on a beautiful, crisp, clear morning. There were people in shorts. I knew I would fit right in. Ninety seconds after leaving the airport I saw my first sheep, and then my second, my third….you get the point. I got settled into my apartment, walked around the city, hired a car for the week (it has a sign, hanging from the rearview mirror, reminding me to drive on the right….yeah, like I’ll need reminding), opened a bank account, walked around the whole city, and then had a lovely outside dinner (seared venision salad with local pale ale) at one of the restaurants on the Octagon. Cheers.