Wednesday 15 March 2017

Azamara Journey - Dunedin

Good old Dunedin! Broke the pattern, gave us a warm sunny day to appease all the grumbling Brits on board (who of course are unaccustomed to inclement weather). So we glided into Port Chalmers on a glassy sea under a sky of pink wisps, and after breakfast boarded the Taieri Gorge Railway train, which was conveniently right by the ship.
Sitting in (mostly) 100-year old carriages, and welcomed by the lovely Daphne, one of a crew of enthusiastic volunteers who keep this service running, we rattled through Dunedin, past Wingatui, and away towards Middlemarch (though our trip was only to Pukerangi) through farmland and then into the gorge. It was pretty spectacular. 
People were comparing the route favourably with the Rocky Mountaineer, which was a bit of an overstatement, but the gorge is certainly high, steep and narrow, the river stained dark with tannin foaming over huge rocks that have fallen from the cliffs.
The line was built to service the gold fields, and though it was finished too late for that, was still of much use for agriculture and the Clyde Dam builders. There were tunnels, bridges and viaducts (including the Wingatui Viaduct at 47m high), sheep and wild goats, oaks, larches and native bush. At the turnaround, doughty locals had stalls selling fudge, patchwork, and merino scarves and tops that were very popular, as we’d climbed up into cloud.
Back in sunny Dunedin, after a quick scoot round the Octagon (Robbie Burns’ statue the colourful victim of guerrilla knitters) I took the shuttle to the port again, to mosey round the Maritime Museum. There’s a big Antarctica connection at Port Chalmers, many expeditions having left from here, and they had Shackleton’s typewriter (by the way, his skipper on the Endurance Expedition, Frank Worsley, was born in Akaroa and I walked past his birth place there yesterday) as well as more eclectic items such as a glass tube of cod liver oil, a bomb fragment from the Japanese raid on Darwin in 1942 and a dainty little iron for doing collars. There was also a bold statement that “There is nothing mystical or complicated about a sextant” followed by a dense and impenetrable explanation of its use.
We sailed away in bright sunshine, the royal albatrosses nesting on Taiaroa Head so big that they were easily visible. Having seen the sun rise, I also watched it set as we ate dinner outside on the Pool Deck. Final Azamara observation of the day? People will dive with great enthusiasm into criticisms of shipboard arrangements and certain staff (namely Tony the Invisible Cruise Director), until they learn I’m writing a review of the cruise, at which point they become immediately defensive and energetically praise the ship. Almost half of them are repeat cruisers, one couple on their eighteenth trip with the company. So that tells you plenty.

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