The first 6 months – Part 1.

Wow, well it’s been a long time but it’s passed really quickly!

So, what can I tell you about my first 6 months in Dunedin as an International Student at the University of Otago?

Firstly – if you don’t have a driving license, it is SO cheap to get it here unlike in the UK so I’ve undertaken that task here and expect to have a full driver’s license by the time I get back home at a fraction of the cost!

Keep an ear to the ground for annual festivals. The food festival, the Cadbury chocolate festival and the Victorian heritage festival in Oamaru are worth checking out (the latter especially – but it’s only truly fun if you get into the spirit of the day by hiring a Victorian costume from the Victorian Wardrobe). Oamaru is a lovely little town about 1 hour’s drive North of Dunedin, and very proud of it’s Victorian heritage. It’s not unusual to see people riding Penny Farthing’s or wearing Victorian clothes, even when it’s not the Victorian festival, but the festival just allows the town and it’s visitors to go overboard and have a jolly old good time celebrating this bygone era. Just a few highlights: Punch & Judy. Penny Farthing races. Pipe-smoking competitions. Steam trains. Puppets on strings. Horses & carts. Little girls with ringlets in their hair. Street circus and entertainment. Public heckling.  Gurning contests. World stone sawing championships. Cane-carrying, hat-tipping gentlemen. Curtysing, corseted ladies with parasols, reticules & bustles! So many fabulous tastes, sights & sounds! the dress I hired happened to be the only crinoline dress available and it felt amazing to be wearing such a costume. Ladies – don’t be seen outside without your hand gloves on! The day really brings out good fashioned manners in everyone. This is a really memorable day that will give you a warm fuzzy feeling!

Me in Victorian costume!

The semester was crazy busy and it’s clear why Dunedin depends on students so much. Thursday is student night in the bars but the rest of the weekend is also fairly busy.

This was the last year of Undie-500. The object of the event is for students in Christchurch to buy and decorate a car for under $500, attempt to drive it (if it goes – always a chance it doesn’t at under $500) down to Dunedin, and then party with all the Dunedin students. It started very small with only a few students, but it grew and grew. Now, lots of students + lots of alcohol = destruction and fire in Dunedin. There is a strange tradition of burning things in Dunedin, especially couches. Apparently it’s fun. I think it comes from when you used to be allowed to take your own couch along to watch a game of rugby, and rather than take it home, spectators would set them alight so there was no couch required to be taken back. Officials stepped and and said no more Undie-500 events because they didn’t like the trouble that came with it.

Burning couch on street corner outside my house

Mid semester break is a good opportunity to make a road trip. I hitch-hiked my way around most of the South Island. I’d never done it before but never had any problems, I was with a friend so I wasn’t alone. I think the fact that we were girls worked in our favour too (sad but true). The South Island has so much to offer and is an island of extreme contrasting landscapes. Kaikoura was on of my favourite places to visit – just so picturesque. You didn’t even have to turn your head to see beach/ocean next to pine forest, in front of rolling green hills in the distance with a backdrop of dramatically rugged blue snow-capped mountains. Just breathtaking. So much so that my friend left her bag with $400, her ID and my camera inside. We carried on with the trip regardless, me paying, her taking photos. When we got back to Dunedin, we recieved word that some nice anonymous person had handed it into the police! Kaikoura, by the way, is THE place to eat freshly caught crayfish (more commonly known as lobster in the UK – but don’t worry, it’s very affordable here and not just for the rich and famous!).

If you make it up to Blenheim, do a cycle tour in Renwick – one of New Zealand’s best and most important wine-producing areas (heart of Marlborough wine production), there are so many wineries and vineyards to choose from but I highly recommend Framingham’s, it was the unanimous hands-down winner for my friend and I (their Noble Reesling is to die for – it’s like drinking liquid gold), and what’s more – it’s FREE! There are several other’s that offer free wine tastings so it doesn’t have to cost very much at all. And if you happen to couchsurf with a family that allow you to borrow their bicycles to do it, it doesn’t have to cost you anything! Just be careful cycling! Don’t forget a helmet (it’s illegal to cycle in New Zealand without one, and it’s a law that is strictly enforced – I often see non helmet-wearing cyclists get stopped by unmarked police cars and issued with a ticket outside my house).

In Picton you can go diving or kayaking in the Marlborough  Sounds, watch out for the weather though. It’s very changeable and just because it’s sunny in the morning doesn’t mean there won’t be a storm in the afternoon. I find the weather in Dunedin is more extreme and changeable than the weather in Scotland.

Going westward along the top of the South Island is Nelson, a bit of a hub in the North of the South Island (if it can be called that). It’s striking how few people actually live in New Zealand. You’ll discover that New Zealand’s version of a city is possibly your version of a small town.

The Able Tasman National Park is worth hiking. There are huts that you can stay in overnight for a small fee, and you can also pay to pitch a tent up. We met a cool British dude who is a doctor in the army and he joined us for the journey. My friend and I didn’t realise that you had to pay to put a tent up before we’d set out for the trip, and with her money gone and me paying for the 2 of us, we thought we’d try and find a remote spot away from the designated overnight huts and camping grounds. Two rangers we met along the way asked to see our papers and reciepts to confirm that we had paid to stay in the park. By this time we were deep inside the park, but it was almost 4pm, and of course, we didn’t have papers because we didn’t pay. Our British friend luckily bailed us and said we were with him. Phew! And if you can’t be bothered doing the whole track with enough tins of food on your back for 5 days in the bush – no worries, you can catch a water taxi back to Motueka.


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