I now find myself in Dunedin (du-nee-dən), New Zealand. Housesitting around the world certainly has its perks, and visiting far off places is just one of them.
This is the farthest south that I have ever traveled, and probably will travel, unless I muster an expedition to Terra Del Fuego or Antarctica (not a bad idea) in the coming years. The refreshingly crisp air and autumn foliage are unexpected gifts after envisioning a year of summer when I left the Northern Hemisphere last November. I may be far from home, but with a Selkirk Rex nestled in my lap and a fresh cup of java at hand, I’m feeling pretty content with where I am.
After a late night arrival in Christchurch one week ago, I lounged in the terminal for six hours while awaiting the morning bus to the CBD. The public transit is far cheaper than a taxi ($6.91 USD for one-way, only $2.16 if you have a metro card), and there wasn’t enough time before my 8am bus south to warrant booking a room. When traveling on a budget, you quickly learn how to prioritize. “Is that too far to walk with a hiking bag?” has become my mantra when detailing my travel itinerary. Loitering in the airport (I’ve gone as long as 14 hours), taking public transit, and deciding where to sleep are part and parcel decisions for the weary traveler. Throw in when and where to eat, wash, and use the bathroom and you have a full “how-to” guide on your hands.
The trip into the city was uneventful, with the driver only stopping to pick up a couple of early commuters on their way to work. The route followed a section of the Christchurch Airport Half Marathon course, giving me a glimpse into what was to transpire in a month’s time. I’d read that it was a fast course, but it’s always nice to see what you’re up against before race day.
I got off at the hospital stop, knowing that the Canterbury Museum–the pick-up point en route to Dunedin–was a short walk away. It was 7am and I had an hour to kill before departure. Walking along the quiet streets, I instantly felt a connection to the place. Reminiscent of an Ivy-League campus, old stone buildings towered over well-kept lawns and cobbled streets. Crunchy leaves swirled across the walkways as cyclists completed their morning rituals. I made my way to the museum, observing the construction booming all around me.
Christchurch is currently rebuilding much of its infrastructure after ravaging earthquakes struck the island in 2010-11, toppling buildings and killing 185 people. A massive spire, once high atop the Christchurch Cathedral, now lay in the churchyard, a testament to the earthquake’s violence.
The Nakedbus departed on time, and though disappointed by the non-functioning (and highly advertised) on-board Wifi, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the Southern Alps in the distance. Six hours later, and 36 hours since I had last slept, the bus mounted one last hill and I stared down at the beautiful seaside city of Dunedin.
My time in Dunedin so far has been more relaxing and inspirational than anything. When deciding to come back to New Zealand, I fully expected extreme sports and big nights out. After all, this city is known for its youthful presence as a university town and nearby Queenstown is considered one of the extreme sports capitals of the world. Why am I not leaping from an airplane right now with some guy strapped to my back? Shouldn’t I be rolling down a mountain in a Zorb like they do in The Rocket Power Movie? Well, maybe I’ll save the adrenaline stunts for after the race on June 1st?
I’ve really enjoyed the quiet life; happy getting to know this town through my running. The hills are intense, but the scenery is fantastic! My favorite route snakes through the suburb of Wakari, down through a forested Robert Burns Park to the Olveston Mansion, and passed the rugby stadium to an outdoor track in Logan Park. The oval is private and secluded, as if built just for me. Quaint brick homes enveloped by firs, billowing woodsmoke from their chimneys, dot the neighboring hills, making this one of the most serene tracks I have had the pleasure to run on.
Of all the great things to do in this city, two stand out as absolute musts. For one, Dunedin is the birthplace of the 1980s indie rock movement that shares its name–The Dunedin Sound. Dunedin was once a hub for musicians, many of whom recorded on the Flying Nun Records label. Bands like The Chills, The Clean, The Verlaines, The Bats, Sneaky Feelings, The Dead C and Straitjacket Fits all had significant followers on the college radio circuit in Europe and the US. While not the indie center it once was, Dunedin still has a vibrant music and theatre scene with acts performing throughout the week. I have made it a “must-do” to attend at least one show.
Dunedin is also home to Baldwin Street, the Guinness World Record approved “STEEPEST RESIDENTIAL STREET IN THE WORLD.” At a crazy grade of 35%, driving up the street is definitely not for the faint of heart. You feel like the car might tip over backwards, ending in a 1500ft plummet and your fiery demise. After completing the climb once in a vehicle, it was clear that I needed to conquer this thing on foot.
So, with the sole objective of adding “ran steepest street in the world” to my resumé, I set off to do just that; and it was tough! Growing up and running in Southern Ohio, racing on “hilly” courses throughout college, and even blasting through mountain races in Colorado did not prepare me for this long climb. I took off with confidence, only focusing on the pavement a few meters ahead of me.
Limbs churning and heart pounding, I chanced an upward glance. Shit! Not even to the steepest part yet. I had to laugh to stop from crying. To my credit, I refused to take breaks or slow down, cresting the hill with burning quads and breaths so heavy they could make the evening weather report. I was dead, but satisfied.
With the Steepest Street in the World conquered, there was only one thing left to do: Make my way down
More photos of Dunedin: