Now we are home. We tore ourselves away from Fiordland to visit Dunedin – a Scottish town transplanted to the Southern latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere. Indeed, my great grandfather left Dundee in 1890 to take up the position of professor of English at the new Otago University. The following year his family joined him. Thirty years later, Great Grandfather died in the pulpit of Knox Church, Dunedin, while reading the lesson for the university’s jubilee service. In the meantime, his four boys and one girl had grown up, and my grandfather, Colin, became principal of a boys’ school there: John McGlashen College. My mother spent the first 15 years of her life there as ‘the headmaster’s daughter’.
Naturally I was keen to try to relive what Dunedin would have been like 100 or so years ago. I went to the Settlers’ Museum to try to find out the addresses of places where my relatives had lived. I tramped up and down hills and took photographs of houses that may have been the ones – but street numbers have changed. Quite often the address I had been given just didn’t exist anymore. What was unchanged was ‘the Town Belt’ – an area of open space and natural bush set aside under the advice of Edward Gibbon Wakefield (also known for the ‘Wakefield Scheme’ in South Australia) ‘to alleviate slums, disease and crime’. I took a path through the Town Belt and immediately recalled playing there as a child, when my grandparents (Colin and his wife) took me to New Zealand to meet relatives and we stayed with ‘Auntie George’, a kindly yet terrifying woman with thick glasses, who wasn’t used to children, having had none of her own. She called me ‘the Child’ and I was expected to go outside and play, because that’s what children do. So I wandered through the Town Belt – and more than half a century later it seems just the same.
The Dunedin Town Belt
Dunedin is solid and established with old stone buildings that go back to the time of a gold rush, when it was to be ‘the new Edinburgh’. Yet it has a population of only 130,000. You can park your car free at night right in the centre of the city – the Octagon. It seems to have a thriving cultural life and café society. It felt like a university city, but maybe that’s because we were staying near the university.
Knox Church, Dunedin, where my Great Grandfather died reading the lesson
We flew from Dunedin to Wellington then drove, through the Tongariro National Park, to Taupo. Here again is a beautiful, yet completely different landscape.
Near Tongariro National Park
One becomes aware of the volcanic sources of the country – the huge Lake Taupo fills the caldera of a volcano and the country around it abounds in geothermal activity; boiling mud, which we saw at ‘The Craters of the Moon’ and on a well-designed walk at Orakei Korako, where you could safely view geysers spurting serendipitously from brightly coloured rocks and admire the majesty of the bush.
Huka Falls, near Lake Taupo
Sure, there is no Paris, New York or London, but I sometimes asked myself, are New Zealanders smug? Right down south, sheltered from global politics and cultures of extremism, it’s a pretty attractive haven.