New Zealand / Australia Diary
Saturday 14 April 2012

My home for the MEDANZ Festival

My first night passed remarkably easily, considering the mayhem that the previous 24 hours had put my bodyrhythms through. I dropped off to sleep almost instantly and although I awoke at 4:30am I was able to get back to sleep and stay there (more or less) until 8-ish in the morning proper. Joining my housemates for breakfast I decided that I was feeling pretty good and should go with my plan to see if I could sit in at one of the Festival sessions - a drumming workshop on 'Unusual Rhythms'! All was OK and the presenter was fine with the idea - so fine that within a few minutes of starting I was invited to show the steps of a dance that the students were learning the rhythm for.

It was fun to be there with the drummers as they came to grips with some odd-numbered rhythms and I enjoyed the experience of gently introducing myself to the participants this way. Talking to the teacher afterwards brought up all sorts of evidence that it was a Small World, that we had some friends in common wasn't that startling (they're musicians in the Balkan/Middle Eastern folk music sphere, not an extensive group of people) but that we'd both grown up in South Essex was a little more unexpected. I came away feeling a bit more closely engaged with the Festival, which was nice.

The day had brightened up by the time the workshop was over so I decided to take a stroll along the beach, or at least to see if I could find the beach. I'd been told that being out in the sun was a good way to help your body recover from jet lag so with an increasingly blue sky overhead I set off in search of the surf.

St. Kilda beach

It wasn't hard to find. Following the 'To The Beach' signs from my chalet in Dunedin Holiday Park I crested a small ridge to find a beautiful stretch of pale yellow sand and a bay full of white capped waves. At one end the outskirts of Dunedin rose up the hillside, the other was a bare rocky headland, pounded by the relentless waves. The onshore breeze, although slight, was a reminder that there was nothing between this beach and Antarctica so rather than roll up my socks and paddle I strolled along the ridgetop, taking in the views and soaking up the rays.

After a frugal lunch we had an Expedition planned - a boat trip out beyond Otago Harbour (at the head of which Dunedin sits) and into the open sea, in search of rare & exotic fauna. A 20 minute taxi ride along the waterside took us to a short pier where we joined the crew of the Monarch and set sail (in a metaphorical sense) for the briny.

(Editors note - the following paragraph contains childish humour and should be skipped over by people with refined or delicate sensibilities.)

I've known Kiwis, Aussies and (a few) people from South Africa and the concept of 'vowel creep' has often emerged when talking about the respective accents - how an 'a' sound becomes an 'e', an 'e' becomes an 'i' and so on. This tendency can be very pronounced in the New Zealand accent, I'd already chuckled about being asked to 'walk up the steers' to board an aircraft and someone at the Festival had told about a neighbour who'd invited people to 'come and sit on my dick' (deck, as in decking in a garden). The commentator on the boat had a very strong accent and I wasn't the only person grinning when she encouraged us to 'stand on the dick while we find some shags'. (A shag is sea bird.)

On the Monarch with Catherine

The boat trip was really nice. After a short stop by the entrance to the bay to see some fur seals lounging on the rocks we set out for the open ocean, 'out into the Roaring Forties' as we were reminded several times. There was a bit of a swell as we ventured beyond the sheltering shore but in ocean terms it was calm and placid (maybe even pacific) and with virtually no wind I felt in no danger of losing my lunch (or myself) over the side.

I'd made a point of bringing my camera along but, alas, as soon as I turned it on it said there wasn't enough battery power to take any pictures. Sigh! I've had this problem before with rechargeable batteries but somehow always retain my naive optimism that they will work the next time. So, no pictures of wildlife I'm afraid.

Within minutes we saw albatrosses (four types apparently, although I had to take their word for this) flying overhead - huge, majestic birds slipping through the air with barely a movement of their wings. They weren't so impressive when they landed on the water, where they looked just like oversized gulls, but there was still something imposing about such large birds. And then we were visited by a pod of dolphins who were delightful, swimming around and under the boat before starting to leap out of the water and diving or loudly splashing back in. They were a rare and unusual type of dolphin but I forgot all of the details and just enjoyed seeing them being so playful and at home in their element. A balm for the soul.

Rather than repeat our taxi journey back we took the opportunity to return to Dunedin on the boat, a 90 minute journey through millpond still water following the twists & turns of Otago Harbour. With the sun slowly sinking it was an idyllic way to relax, unwind and watch the world slowly drift by. From the quayside at Dunedin we were driven home and along the way passed a group of statues of individual teeth - very bizarre. Apparently Dunedin has a high reputation for dental training but even so, it was definitely odd.

That evening there was a performance by some of the teachers at the Festival but I decided that as I was teaching myself the next day it would be better for me to have a quiet evening in and an early night. And so it was.

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