December 31, 2008

Bethany from Dunedin. Technically this is the January 1st as I’m writing after midnight.

Today we finished the Otago Central Rail Trail. It has taken Bryan and I a while to adjust to riding a tandem but today was an improvement. It could be due to a predominately downhill cycle but even the uphills were better. Probably it has more to do with Bryan not initially realizing how drained he was from being ill. And it is also likely that I am starting to push harder as I am less and less bothered by the pain in my back. I’m still not fully recovered but the sharp, shooting pains are more infrequent and I have stopped wondering if I will need to concede and go see a doctor and get X-RAYs. I wouldn’t mind knowing more about how health care works in the country, but I prefer not as a patient. (Interesting to note that I have checked out what is available in the pharmacies over-the-counter (OTC). I was told before leaving to take a lot of gravol with me because it wasn’t available OTC. I assumed that it would be similar to the States and lot of meds wouldn’t be then, which is not the case. New Zealand is more liberal with their OTC preparations than Canada. Some of the meds – such as the codeine I picked up – can only be obtained in consultation with the pharmacist but no script is necesary.)

But I degress. This morning we woke in the cottage, had breakfast, and drove into town to return the van and pick up our bike. We needed to make the end of the trail, Middlemarch, in time to take a bus transfer to catch the Taieri Gorge Railway into Dunedin.

Today’s cycle took us from the more arid area of Central Otago into increasing lushness. Sheep were plentiful and pastures became smaller and animal density increased the closer we got to the coast. At one point along the ride I exclaimed to Bryan to look at the “sea of white” that was amassing in a pasture. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that several dogs and two men on 4x4 were herding the sheep from that pasture to another. In fact they were going right across our trail. We watched in amazement as 3000 sheep funnelled pass us. The modern shepherds closed up the gates and then went about gathering the sheep from the second pasture and moving them to a third. I was amazed at the efficiency of the dogs working the herd. The sheep were cleared out of one pasture and into the next in about five minutes. Wow!

Shortly after our sheep entertainment, we arrived in Middlemarch with plenty of time to spare for the bus. We dropped off the tandem and then waited. And waited. The cycle shop worker phoned the bus company who did not realize they had a booking. So the guy at the cycle shop raced off on his motorcycle and came back with the company bus and said he would take us himself. So another wild, careening ride through New Zealand countryside and we arrived just in time for our train.

The Taieri Gorge Railway is now run only for sightseeing. As you can guess it follows a gorge and crosses some impressive railway bridges. Alas it was pouring rain so taking in the views, particularly the bridges, was limited.

When we arrived in Dunedin station, claimed to be the most photographed building in New Zealand, we gathered our bags and headed for our “backpacker” accommodations which turned out to be a simple double room in an interesting hostel-type atmosphere. Very ideally located near the Octagon, the town “square” where the New Year’s Eve festivities were being held. In the Octagon a band was playing in a family-oriented atmosphere. I was surpeised by the number of toddlers running around. It was very hard for Bryan and I to stay awake until midnight as we have lately gone to bed before sunset, but we did. At midnight it was “Auld Lang Syne” followed by fireworks set off from the roof of a ten-storey building bounding one side of the Octagon. It was a firework display unlike any I’ve seen before. As it was viewed from close proximaty, the fireworks were low but dense and colourful. None of the high fireworks typical of Canada Day. But very beautiful.

So Bryan and I bring in 2009 in the midst of summer. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous New Year.