DUNEDIN, N.Z. –The pictures of two dozen residents and their New Year’s resolutions fill the entire front page of this morning’s Otago Daily News. It’s not the stuff of expose, but it says a bit about the ’50s-era, family-based quality of life here we saw at last night’s New Year’s eve fest in the town’s main square, the Octagon. The evening — and, yes, it is Jan. 1 here — was topped off with dazzling and noisy fireworks.
There’s nothing all that startling about most of these New Year’s resolutions. These New Zealanders would like a good job, less war and to lose a few pounds. But a few comments caught my eye. Hal Shaw wants to “keep the back room tidy, take the family tramping … sell more jam … read more books and win the World Cup.”
Paul Hodgson wants “… to continute to hold the National Government closely to account.”
And Lynley Hood hopes “to see a campaign launched to make Dunedin a Unesco city of literature, and radically improved services for the visually impaired.”
They are no-nonsense folk, New Zealanders, people who walk around in T-shirts and shorts when the temperature cracks 55 degrees Fahrenheit and tell you up front that more often than not, the weather is bad in these parts. From our experience so far, they’ll always answer politely but only open up if you linger a bit, and they can gauge whether you, as a tourist, really want to see their country or just check it off some list of places visited (even in the visitors bureau, we’d been asking questions for five or 10 minutes before the gal behind the counter pulled out a map of trails).
Yesterday I discovered that like us, Rod McMeeken, our host at the Brothers Hotel, is a francophile. He’s visited France four times in the last six years — one long trip from New Zealand (according to a sign at the exquisite Dunedin train station we are 18,869 kilometers from Edinburgh here). After we chatted for a bit, and I shared a few tips from our own southern France adventures, he began to warm up — something we hadn’t seen on our arrival at this converted Christian Brothers Monastary, occupied for 129 years by up to 300 members of the Catholic order.
Were we foolish, I asked to skip past Fiordland because the weather is looking dicy?
“Would you go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower?” Rod asked.
Not a chance.
“Summer is the rainiest time of the year in the West,” he said. “When it’s dry there are three waterfalls. When it rains there are a thousand.”
It turns out that Rod spent years leading boat trips through the Fiord so I’ll trust his judgment. We’ve rebooted our itinerary and, after hanging out with penguins at Otago Peninsula today, will head to the rugged southwest, rain or shine.