It has been awhile since I have had the opportunity to update my blog. Apologies to those who follow it. I haven’t had the time to sit down during the last few months. Too busy enjoying the Swedish summer and preparing for a new job, but now that autumn has arrived and rainy days keep you inside, I now have the time to catch up. On with my winter journey to New Zealand in February & March 2020.
With living on the other side of the world and only having the opportunity to visit home every other year, your trip tends to be a lot of catching up with family and friends in different parts of the country. I have turned these visits to friends into mini trips renewing friendships and reacquainting myself with parts of the country I have not visited in a very long time and trying to discover areas I have never seen before. There was a tourist advert campaign in the 1980s in NZ with the catch phrase “Don’t leave town until you’ve seen the country”, designed to get people to see their own country before heading overseas. I must say I had seen about 65% of the country before I left in 1990 and ever since I have devoted one week of my visit home to go somewhere I have never been before. In 30 years I have probably increased that to about 80%. This trip will added a few more percentage points to that I hope. My goal is eventually to say, I have seen ALL of my home country before the passage of time puts an end to my globetrotting travel around NZ and the world.
Here are a few of the places I revisited in the South Island of NZ:
Queenstown – is a town I have a love hate relationship with. It is only 30 km from Cromwell, one of the towns I grew up in. It has become NZ’s most popular tourist destination over the years. A town of ~15 000 residents but with 3.2 million visitors per year. It is one of the most spectacular beauty spots in NZ on the beautiful Lake Wakatipu in the shadow of the magnificent Remarkable Mountains. The mountains are probably best known as the backdrop to Mordor in the Lord of the Rings & Hobbit trilogies. It is both a summer and winter adventure destination surrounded by ski-fields for the winter and water based adventure activities for the summer. It is often called the Aspen of the South Pacific. Its beauty has attractive overseas million/billionaires looking to invest in residences here and the constant procession of tourists has mean it has almost priced itself out off the market for regular kiwis. The constant hunt for the might dollar by those there and the tourist who comes just to take a pic and tick it off the bucket list, has turned a once beautiful place for me into something very ugly. The only thing that brings me back to this place is the lifelong love of dear friends. I still have to admit it is a beautiful place. I was here this time to visit life long friends. David & Margaret’s house is located in the perfect place with spectacular views. Many an international property speculator would love to get their hands on it.
It was with deep sadness that I visited this time as David was no longer with us having passed away unexpectedly in Australia while on holiday in 2018, shortly after my last visit home. It was great to catch up with his wife Margaret again after his passing. His parents were great friends of my parents and I grew up with David and his brothers Tick & Mervyn enjoying their family holiday home on the spectacular Lake Manapouri that my father built shortly after completing his builder’s apprenticeship in 1955. I last visited the house in 2018 and also had a chance to visit the hunting lodge in the Takitimu Mountains that David’s father built after returning from WWII (to us know as “the Hut”). Still used today by David’s brothers and my brother Alastair.
My connections to Queenstown are not limited to just the present but also the past via a beautiful old steamer, the TSS Earnslaw, which still plies the lake today. It was built 108 years ago and my great grandfather Peter Charles McQueen Connell (whom my father was named after), was a Scottish immigrant and shipwright who worked on building her. He left the shipyards of Glasgow for a better life in New Zealand in the late 1800’s.
My next visit was to the city of Dunedin. An old stopping ground from my illustrious university days and the 9 years I spent at the University of Otago. Dunedin is a city of about 120 000 and located on the south east coast of the South Island. It lies within the crater of a long extinct volcano which provides a natural harbour and surrounds the city with steep hills and the southern ocean. The name Dunedin comes from the Scottish gaelic for the city of Edinburgh, reflecting the city’s forefathers heritage. The city in the late 1800s was the largest city and financial capital of New Zealand due to the gold rush in nearby Central Otago before the north began to grow and take over as the dominant area of NZ. The blue stone basalt architecture of the city reminds me of the typical buildings you would find in Aberdeen, Scotland. Many of the fine stone buildings and magnificent wooden villas from the late 1800s are preserved today giving the city a distinct Victorian look.
The topography of the city means you are either going up or going down keeping your degree of fitness high if you walk. Most homes within the city command magnificent views of the city, harbour, hills & ocean in many different directions and for many miles. The steepest street in the world is here, Baldwin Street, with its horrendous gradient of 1 in 3 over a distance of 350 metres. It is so steep, traffic is forbidden, and the road is concreted as asphalt would run down the hillside.
The city is renowned for its beaches in the heart of the city, for the production of its famous Cadbury’s chocolate (a sore point as it was recently closed down by its Australian head office, who also changed the recipe for the worst), and for the drink that has probably sustained university students through its 125 year brewing history – Speights. Speights beer often referred to as the Pride of the South can always been found hanging around a student party or at a barbie (BBQ) in the homes of the residents of the two most Southern provinces of New Zealand, Otago & Southland. It has been worshiped in a famous ad campaign and immortalised in the song Southern Man.
The visit allowed me to catch with old friends from the hazy university days albeit we are one less with the recently passing of one of the gang – Sam. We are all a little older, rounder and greyer, although a few many not admit it.
I was able to pay a visit to my old alma mater the University of Otago (Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo) currently ranked within the top 1% of universities in the world. Something I am very proud of. In the 30 years since I walk its grounds, the university has developed nearly doubling within that time in both students and size with many new buildings complementing the historical ones. It is quite unique in that most of the university campus is a pedestrian precinct covering some 20 city blocks. The number of faces left on campus that I still know are beginning to be very few as most of old teachers have retired and the ones I do know were fellow contemporaries of mine as students who are now on staff; Phil Professor of Food Science, Louise Head of Oncology at the hospital and in particular Kerry. Kerry’s husband Buck did his PhD around the same time I did and was later on staff at the Department of Microbiology where I studied. Unfortunately, Buck passed away way too early in life and this was the first time being able to catch up with Kerry since then. She is still the whirlwind and the blast of fresh air that she always was and has now joined the university as the Development Manager Health Sciences for the University. Miss you all.
In the quadrangle of the university has appeared the old university bell. It was not there during my time as it had been lost when the university shifted sites in the 1870s and reappeared again in the 1990s. It was placed in the university quadrangle on the university’s 150th anniversary in 2019 (Lund University where I work in Sweden celebrated its 350th in 2016). A new tradition has been inaugurated with the return of the bell, that PhD students when they submit their thesis in the nearby Clock Tower building have the right to ring the bell. As it was not there when I submitted mine, I took the liberty to give it a little pling to celebrate submitting my doctoral thesis back in April 1990 🙂