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by Pamela Blalock and John Bayley
As we got closer to Dunedin, we started to notice some things we'd been missing - rolling hills and trees. The whole time we rode around Christchurch, I was struck by the lack of trees. It just seemed to me that it might be a bit less windy if there were some trees around to break things up. The other thing was that the terrain was either pancake flat, or brutally steep. Where were those great tandem rollers? It's not that I mind lots of serious climbing and descending, but sometimes it's nice to have a few rollers, where we can roll up to the top of the next hill at 45 kph without pedalling!
Of course there were also quite a few steep ups and downs too. We kept hearing from folks in Christchurch how hilly it was around Dunedin. And they also told us how cold it was too. But we were still quite open to exploring the city. Otago University is in Dunedin, and would be a potential source of employment. I'd seen a position advertised several months before that matched my experience quite well, and it was still open. We also figured that with such a big university in town, there would be a fair number of businesses to employ those new grads, and other tech types that showed up in town.
But our first order of business when we got into the city was to scope out the bike shops and ask about the local cycling scene. We found a few reasonable shops, but as we asked about cycling clubs, we didn't get much positive information. It seems lots of folks ride with their mates, and club culture isn't so big here. So we figured it might take a bit more scoping out. After looking at a few shops and finding a good cappuccino, we booked a nearby backpackers, and went to check in. We found the architecture in Dunedin much nicer than in Christchurch. Dunedin has lots and lots of old buildings and a variety of classic architecture. Christchurch was much more modern and bland by comparison. We walked all around the city centre, and began picking up real estate fliers to try and get an idea of house prices.
We decided to check out the local restaurant scene and found the bargain of the trip so far in a great little Korean restaurant right in the university district. We had a main dish and glass of wine each for about fifteen New Zealand Dollars - total! And it was fabulous. But we more than made up for the bargain price the next night at a great French restaurant in the centre of the city. When translated back into American dollars,the price was on par with a average meal out in the states. But given kiwi salaries, it must be a big treat for locals. It was fabulous.
Of course before we could justify that meal, we had to earn it, so we planned a bike ride on the Otago Peninsula. Our route would take us out a flattish way to an Albatross Colony, and then back along the ridgeline for some lovely hill top views. We bundled up for the ride in all our woolies, and headed out trying to find our way through the city with the Lonely Planet guide. We eventually found our intended road, and a tailwind. The first part of the ride was indeed quite flat, along the shoreline, and has a screaming tailwind. The cycling was effortless. We hoped that the return trip up in the hills might have a bit of shelter from the wind. Time would tell.
Shortly before reaching the Royal Albatross Colony, we spotted a couple of touring cyclists coming toward us. We stopped for a chat and learned they were Dutch and had just arrived the day before. They were hoping they'd quickly get in shape for riding all the hills and into the wind. They were finding the conditions tough, as were we. They told us there was one lone albatross flying about - it was early in the season for spotting them. They were planning to stop to at Penguin Place on the way back in hopes of spotting some rare yellow-eyed penguins. It was also not the time of year for them either, so it would be a long shot.
John and I continued on to the Albatross centre, and did get to see one albatross gliding around and enjoying himself. We had a nice time wandering around the exhibits, before heading back down the peninsula for some climbing. We passed on the penguins, figuring we'd return when we'd have a better chance of spotting them. We enjoyed a nice cafe stop before tacking the big hills along the ridge. The temperature seemed the drop, and we spotted a few dark clouds, but we continued on with our original plan. The climb was tough and the winds buffeted us about, but the scenery was grand. We started talking about what a nice after work loop this would be, hoping of course that the winds weren't always so strong!
We made it back to our hostel just before a heavy downpour. We chatted a bit with the hostel manager, and she mentioned putting us in touch with her friend who worked at the university. We arranged to meet the friend the next day. We also got in touch with Carol and Stuart. John's cousin, Jean (who lives in Ireland) is married to Andrew, a rugby player, originally from Dunedin. Stuart and Carol are his parents. When visiting John's family in Ireland before coming over, Jean's mom - John's Auntie Rose, as well as Jean and Andrew said we must get in touch with Stuart and Carol. So we phoned and arranged to spend the next night with them.
The next morning we met up with our contact at the university who gave us a great tour, and introduced us to a few other members of the staff. We then headed into town to investigate other possibilities for work. We stopped in the immigration centre to ask recommendations and were referred to a couple of job agencies. We stopped in a nearby one, and if I could remember the name, I'd certainly recommend against it. We spoke with the owner, who all but chased us away with a stick! She told us that we would have a hard time finding work - that aside from the university there was no high the or software type work, and that employers wouldn't consider us unless we had directly applicable experience. She also suggested, we would face prejudice since folks knew we had earned higher salaries, and wouldn't hire us since we would likely head off for higher salaries soon. We tried not to be discouraged, but it was discouraging!
After discovering a great coffee shop with great music, we decided to contact a few Realtors to get a feel for housing. We'd seen some good prices, and wanted to get a feel for what you'd get for the money. We arranged to look at a couple of houses the next day. By this time, it was time to meet Carol and Stuart for dinner. We told them all about our experience at the employment agency, and they said we'd gone to the worst one in town. Carol works for a community trust - she gets to give money away all day, and had lots of contacts with various community and business leaders. She knew various folks had been recruiting both nation-wide and world-wide to bring workers to Dunedin, so there are jobs and there isn't a prejudice against non-natives. Many people come here for the lifestyle.
The next morning, we met with the Realtor to view a couple of houses. I fell in love with the first one. It was an older villa. Now Lonely Planet had warned us that villas aren't fancy homes, and had pretty well suggested against them. But this was a fabulous place, with heaps of space and potential. The next place we saw was a bland contemporary that just had no appeal. John and I were so taken with the first place that we spent the next few hours talking about what we could do to it, what kind of work we might find, and if we could handle the cold...
Before leaving town, we had to check out Baldwin Street, purportedly the world's steepest street. Apparently the town was laid out based on a map of Edinburgh in Scotland, ignoring local topography, so many streets ended up outrageously steep. At some point we will go back so John can cycle it, but for now, we simply chose to walk, gawk and take pictures.
Did I mention that it never really warmed up while we were in Dunedin. We dressed in long woolie clothing the entire time. It rained intermittently - sometimes heavily - and just didn't leave us with the best feel for good weather potential. But we figured we'd come back and give it another shot. In the meantime it had been a while since we'd seen the cats, so we headed back to Christchurch.