On the way to Dunedin, I made an overnight stop at Waikouaiti – home to a beautiful little beach where I played my guitar and tried to play my harmonica, much to the delight of the local wildlife – and in the morning I headed south of Oamaru to the Moeraki Boulders.
The Moeraki Boulders are pretty weird. They're big, round balls of rock, which isn't so strange when you've seen the likes of the Devil's Marbles, but they're not in the middle of the Australian outback, they're on a beach, and they're not formed by cooling and contracting rock splitting into cubes which then erode, as the Marbles were. No, the Moeraki Boulders were formed by accretion, a similar process to that which an oyster uses to create a pearl. Nobody knows how or why the Boulders were formed – except for the Maoris, of course, who have their own story of their creation – but they're certainly an odd sight, sitting there in the middle of the beach. It made for a very pleasant stop en route, but I had to get to Dunedin for work.
When I arrived in Dunedin I met up with Mac, the local Acorn dealer, who turned out to be a real find. Mac is an ex-pat Englishman who, along with his delightful wife Gill, has spent his life in all sorts of interesting places, such as the Bahamas (where he was an air traffic controller), Australia and now New Zealand. They live in the countryside – and by the countryside I mean the middle of absolutely nowhere, in a tiny village called Owaka, population about 380, some 120km southwest of Dunedin – in a beautiful house that is mostly self-built. They heat the house via a radiator from a solid fuel range in the kitchen, which also doubles as an Aga-type cooker; they grew everything in their beautiful one-acre garden from seed, from trees to hedges to flowers; they brought up their three children in the country, against the problems of low income, harsh weather and a depressed job market; they're both qualified teachers and are very well educated; and they're wonderful company.
I wax lyrical about Mac and Gill because they really looked after me for my entire stay in Dunedin, putting me up in their idyllic home for all but one night. I spent three days working with Mac, visiting schools throughout the Central Otago region and writing articles about them; this entailed spending hours in the car with him, and the conversation never ran dry. Come Friday night we polished off a number of beers and a fair old amount of Wilson's whisky – distilled in Dunedin, no less – and talked well into the night. What a wonderful couple.
For the only night that Mac and Gill couldn't put me up, I was offered a room in the Cable Court Hotel in Dunedin. As luck would have it, the night I was there coincided with the hotel's Christmas party, to which all residents were, naturally, invited. So there was the marquee in the car park – with a stack of chilled beers as big as an alcoholic's wet dream, and a barbecue on the side – crammed with people from all sorts of places, as well as a large number of locals who knew the proprietors, and to cap it all, it was all free (even the room, as Mac's company was paying for my luxury accommodation).
I drunkenly nattered to all sorts of people, and made friends with a bunch of folk musicians who played round the pubs of Dunedin. Of course, as always seems to happen with folkies, they were heading off to a session later in the night, and they invited me along; with the amount of alcohol I had drunk, I had a rip-roaring time. I eventually got a lift back to the hotel with a guy named Dudley, who, it turned out, was from the same small village in Staffordshire as me. It's a very small planet, this.
So yes, I had a delightful time in Dunedin, with its odd architecture and steep, hilly streets. I had an even more delightful time in Owaka, staying in the countryside with Mac and Gill, and by the time I left them on Saturday afternoon, I drove off down the coastal road, heading west along the south coast of the South Island, with not a cloud in the sky. It felt good to be alive.