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For those who were keeping track, you’re right – we never finished sharing our New Zealand adventures. Some of you know my mom fell just days after we returned from our Down Under Tour. She’s doing great now – many thanks to all who sent well-wishes, strong energy, white light and overall great juju. But between staying with Rose to care for her, and then navigating what masquerades as a healthcare system in the US, much of our work at the CDI, including blogging, was sidetracked.
And for those who are REALLY keeping track, yes I am finishing up this series on New Zealand from a hotel suite in Perth, Australia. Which I guess means Perth is next on the blog to-do list!
So without further ado, here is Part 8 of the Community-Driven Tour 2010 to New Zealand. (To read these posts from the beginning, head here.)
If it weren’t for our friend and colleague, Margy-Jean Malcolm, it is likely we would have skipped Dunedin this trip. But with very little notice, Margy-Jean managed to assemble a dozen community development people to talk with us about their work, so there we were.
And a good thing it is, because no-one told us that Dunedin is AMAZING.
Dunedin is on the east coast of the South Island, towards the southern end. The landscape instantly tells why the Scottish settled here to create New Zealand’s first city – rolling green hills folding into dramatic ocean cliffs. The scenery is breathtakingly achingly calmingly heart-stoppingly beautiful.
We had less than 48 hours to spend in Dunedin. In that time we met with community leaders to talk about what it really means to do community development work.
We slid down soft deep sand dunes to watch a lone yellow-eyed penguin gather food for his/her baby. We experienced scenery we’d only before imagined from calendar photos. We stood surrounded by thousands of terns, guarded by seals (or is it vice versa?).
We had dinner and a long evening of conversation with the quietly intriguing Margy-Jean, learning about her art and her life. We slept in 2 hotels in 2 nights, ate in terrific restaurants (which we came to expect in New Zealand, wherever we were.)
And mostly we vowed to return.
Our community meeting was at 3pm. At 5pm, we quickly changed clothes, and piled into Margy-Jean’s car for the drive to the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Preserve at Sandfly Bay. We were there with the blessing of Sue Murray, General Manager of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust. Sue had warned that we might not see any penguins, as it was molting season when the penguins spend most of their time pining away on their nests, wishing those new feather would grow in already.
According to Wikipedia, “The current status of this penguin is endangered, with an estimated population of 4000. It is considered one of the world’s rarest penguin species. The main threats include habitat degradation and introduced predators. It may be the most ancient of all living penguins.” We have been warned that tourists often unwittingly get between mama and baby at feeding time, and that if we do see penguins, we should stay back and let the feeding proceed unimpeded.
The drive to Sandfly Bay is spectacular, with a view of Dunedin that I might not have believed if I’d simply seen it in a painting – the scene at the top of this post. Idyllic, dramatic – simply perfect. As we head off the main road and up towards the beach, I tell Margy-Jean that if we see no penguins at all, the ride alone will have been thrill enough.
But we do see a penguin. Margy-Jean spotted him swimming almost immediately upon our arrival. We photograph him briefly, getting out of his (her?) way quickly so as not to interfere with baby being fed. Watching him/her waddle towards its nest in the grasses, we are 3 giant smiles-on-legs walking along the beach. Later we see another pair, one laying down and one seemingly standing guard, high on a rock along the cliffs.
The sunset was dramatic against the huge rocks that look as if they had been tossed into the sea just to add “mood” to the scene. (It worked.) We know it’s not fair to compare, but California’s Route 1 doesn’t hold a candle to the seascapes of Dunedin.
An Evening with Margy-Jean
We head to Margy-Jean’s house for dinner prepared by her chef son, Andrew. The house has personality built into every room, each with ceramic-tiled fireplaces and intricate woodwork. We marvel at the textiles Margy-Jean has created by her own hand, learning she has been studying in a masters program that will culminate in certification by a visiting textile master from the UK. A very big deal.
Her textiles are overwhelming. A meter-long piece crafted from bits of ribbon and fabric to recreate the feeling of seaweed, with bits of actual seaweed sewn in – all of it the rich aquamarine color of the waters we have seen all across New Zealand.
A quilted vest made of tiny 3/4″ squares, each and every one embroidered with a different tiny pattern, some with beads, others with fuzzy threads. These tiny squares of wonder were then assembled into a fabric, then quilted, then turned into a vest.
We learn this overpoweringly beautiful work has been her therapy, the thing that gave her life during some tough emotional times. We are in awe of the power the creative arts have to heal, to give us strength, to nurture the spirit. I think of Jeane Vogel’s adamant declaration that Art Saves lives, and I want Jeane to know Margy-Jean.
We talked into the night. Talked about whether social media will mean the death of real conversation. Talked about American politics and how much it hurts our spirts to live there right now.
(Being out of the country for this long has me looking more objectively at what it means to live in America. One question I am pondering is whether living in America is part of a pact – a commitment to perfecting our country’s being. Are the words “to form a more perfect union” an assignment? And does that mean being a citizen of the US will always be an effort? Could that help me reconcile what it means to be an American? Could it help me reconcile what it means to form a more perfect world?)
Arriving at the hotel after midnight, we sleep as if dead.
Thursday morning was spent moving hotels and handling other travel logistics. And so our 2nd official “day off” since our arrival 3 weeks ago started at about 2pm when we drove to Aramoana Beach.
We walked about ½ mile along the beach against fierce wind, the sky changing every minute – sun clouds blue gray wind birds – a moody windy fall sky. The scenery was breathtaking beyond imagination. And we were the only humans around.
That would have been enough to have had this be a most memorable day. But then we walked another ½ mile or so out onto the Mole – a jetty that appears to have been furnished by rail many years ago, now abandoned to the birds and the seals. At the very end of the Mole we found a rookery of White-Fronted Terns, dotted with the occasional seal.
It is hard to explain what it felt like to be surrounded by so much LIFE. There we were, the lone humans among thousands and thousands of beautiful birds, all facing the same direction against the wind, flying about us. Seals lazing, sleeping, waking up to cough, going back to sleep.
It was 6:30pm when we left, heading back along the narrow harbour road. Over dinner we vowed to come back to Dunedin, to take our time to explore.
Fleur’s and the Moeraki Boulders
And that’s all the day-off there was! It’s now Friday and we are driving from Dunedin to Christchurch, normally a 4-5 hour drive, but we make several stops and it takes the whole day.
The drive is the kind of idyllic we have come to expect – rolling green hills meeting other rolling green hills in a patchwork I am looking forward to playing with in fabric and paint when we get home. Sheep everywhere. Bliss.
Our first stop as we head north along Route 1 is Moeraki, where we have a reservation at Fleur’s Restaurant. And at 2pm on a Friday afternoon in the middle of nowhere, we absolutely needed that reservation!
An hour outside Dunedin, in a fishing village so tiny and off-the-track you could easily drive by without knowing you had passed a town, Fleur’s is legendary. (Stars like Gweneth Paltrow make a point of stopping at Fleur’s.) We’ve been told that Fleur has commissioned her own fishing boats, to be sure the catch is fresh.
And wow! Fleur’s is precisely what we have been told it would be. Fleur herself is ever-present, choosing our meal for us after we tell her what we’re looking for. Dimitri doesn’t know fish in this part of the world, so Fleur chooses. I don’t eat animals, so Fleur designs my meal as well. And true to the legend, we had a feast fit for a king, sitting outside watching the boats rock and the gulls gather as the catch-of-the-day arrives at Fleur’s back door. Dimitri’s whole fish is huge and – well – whole. And my vegetarian meal is so artfully composed I became one of “those” tourists, photographing my food.
After such a lunch, we were pleased that the Moeraki Boulders were close by, as we desperately needed a walk. The boulders look like they landed there by meteor shower, but actually they grow out of the cliffs that surround this beach. It is a grand sight, fun to walk around, a place we could stay and photograph all day as the sky changed its mood every few minutes.
But we had barely an hour before it was time to get back in the car to drive the rest of the way to Christchurch. By noon tomorrow we’ll be on a plane to Auckland, and then the next day we fly home.
As happened at every turn during our month in New Zealand, however, even on that very last day in Auckland, we had no idea what was in store for us.
Up Next: Saying Goodbye to New Zealand
Photos and Video: DP and HG