Wednesday 9 May 2018

Freedom! And variety...

Everyone at the conference was looking forward to this afternoon. At last we would get the chance to break out of the Edgar Centre and get some sunshine, fresh air, and a taste of all that natural beauty/wildlife/culture/history that we'd been nattering about non-stop since TRENZ began on Tuesday. My choice was, surprise, the outing titled 'A Walk on the Wild Side' - which, inevitably, had us piling onto a bus for the first 45 minutes. But we had a yummy lunchbox to explore and consume, and an enthusiastic guide to listen to, and some glorious scenery, and weather, to enjoy en route.

This is what everyone who comes to Dunedin should do (even the sainted David Attenborough says so): drive out along the Otago Peninsula to Taiaroa Head at the end. The road is narrow (though they're working on that, tastefully) and curls in and out all of the little bays with their cute boatsheds. Once you're finally at the end, you get a great view of the sandbar at the entrance to the harbour which means cruise ships (80-odd of them this year - 115 coming next season) have to make a 270-degree turn in quite a confined space, and must have their captains hunched nervously over their mini-joysticks.
We, though, just enjoyed the long views down the harbour to the city and Saddle Hill beyond, of the hills all around, and the glossy blue, blue sea - next stop, Chile. Our first activity was to have a very brief taste of what Perry at Nature's Wonders gets very passionate about (he waylaid me in the events centre to do just that, and all I was doing was passing by). His family has farmed there since forever (which in NZ terms means around 1860 or so) and now are returning big sections of the property to its original vegetation totally self-funded (he was very emphatic about that). 
We explored on a sturdy little 8-wheel drive vehicle from Canada called an Argo, which our driver flung through creeks and up and down deeply rutted, steep tracks with what was once called gay abandon. It was lots of fun. We went past gun emplacements from the wars - believe it or not, the first enemy that had them worried here was Russia - and sheep of course, headlands, beaches, lighthouse and cliffs. We stopped at Penguin Beach which Perry's family closed to people 30 years ago because it's where the endangered hoiho or yellow-eyed penguin lives. We saw some at a distance, as well as NZ fur seals with cute pups right up close.
The peninsula is famous in birding circles for being the world's only mainland nesting place for royal albatrosses, so we went next to the Albatross Centre to have a closer look at them - four fluffy white babies at the moment (it's late in the season), one of them with a webcam parked right by its nest. The birds are a pleasure to see, though they annoy the fanatics who polish and oil the 1886 Armstrong Disappearing Gun there that's uniquely in the world still in working condition, but unable to be used because birds. You wind it up out of its hole, aim and fire it, and the recoil slams it back down inside the hill again. Never used in anger, naturally.
It was a lovely afternoon, and we were all thrilled to have scored such perfect weather. Then, after a quick change back at our hotels, we were off again back to the peninsula, but on the top road this time, to go to Larnach Castle for the media function. I've been to the castle before - NZ's only, built in 1871 and painstakingly restored by the current owners - but it was fabulous to see it at night, lit up. There was even a horse-drawn carriage standing outside. Though I felt sorry for Bea, the bay mare between the shafts, being out in the cold and dark, I did go for a spin around the edge of the lawn, and it was comfortable and cosy inside.
The family were all dressed up in Victorian clothes, even to the little boy done up as a chimney sweep, blackened face and all. His sister was being taught amo,amas, amat in the schoolroom and in the study her mother was being dissuaded from taking seriously women's emancipation by old William Larnach, as he sipped his whisky and puffed on a cigar. Up the steep stairs on the turret, a piper was sending Scotland the Brave up past the flag to the southern cross in the sky right overhead. Fun!
Down in the ballroom there were huge and beautiful flower arrangements over a blazing fire, and at the end a suckling pig with perfect crackling waiting for us to get stuck in - as soon as we'd paid due attention to the Haggis Ceremony, that is. It was Ian again, the same kilted Scot who'd done it at the Welcome Function, but in a smaller space he was able to be more dramatic, and funny. There were some speeches, but nothing too long, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I know I did.

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