Saturday, September 4, 2010

Southern Adventures: Part 2 - Salmon, seals, chocolate & beer

24 - 26 August 2010: Dunedin

On Tuesday we said goodbye to our smelly hostel and headed south to Dunedin, stopping in several cute coastal towns (Timaru and Oamaru) on the way. We had hoped to see the famous blue penguin colonies in Oamaru, but discovered that these elusive creatures only return to their nests at night, so we missed them by a few hours. Highlights include stopping for a photo shoot with a giant salmon at a roadside rest stop and Sam donning his bright orange Tui beanine, which he deemed his "road trip hat" and insisted on wearing anytime we went adventuring in Sunny (which was quite often).

In Dunedin we stayed in Central Backpackers, which was a Godsend, especially after The Base. Bev, the reception lady, showed us to our room, like it was her own home (it smelled fresh, with a nice kitchen, luscious duvet covers on the bed, and even a hostel cat named Gizmo to keep us company!). We settled in, then walked to the center of town, called the Octagon (for its octagonal shape) and picked Metro Bar & Pizza for dinner, where I enjoyed a delicious Pilsner (from the local Dunedin Organic Green Man brewery) and split a cranberry, brie & chicken pizza with Sam... yumm. Back in the hostel, I ventured to the kitchen for a round of Uno with our roommates (a group of 4 Americans who study in Wellington + their one token Kiwi, haha like Sam, who was tagging along).

The next morning we were up early (aka Sam and Erika are always up early, showered, and ready and they come poke me until I wake up and throw some clothes on, before we shove toast in our faces and hit the town at the hour we designated the night before). After wandering around Dunedin’s town centre once more, including a peek into the art gallery’s very strange exhibit called human “Anatomy” (need I say more), we met two of Sam's friends, who attend Dunedin’s University of Otago, for coffee before going on a tour of the campus. Dunedin is a cute college town, with lots of good eateries, bars, and of course, university students, who make up a little over one-fifth of the total population.

Eventually, our tour guides had to leave us, as this was the last week of class at Otago before their holidays and they still had class, so we explored the free museum for a spell before returning to hostel to regroup.

The pretty facade of the Dunedin train station:
Me in front of a giant stuffed Moa bird at the museum:
Fun facts (from the wildlife section) about three of New Zealanders' most famous feathered friends:

  • The tip of the Otago Peninsula, near Dunedin, is home to the world’s only mainland breeding albatross colony. With no use for land, other than breeding, these endangered birds spend 85% of their lives at sea.
  • The Otago region is also home to the Yellow-eyed and Little-blue penguins. With less than 2,000 breeding pairs, the Yellow-eyed penguins are the rarest in the world.
  • Moa (now extinct) are known as the only birds to have entirely lost their wing bones. As ground-dwellers, feeding off shrubbery and trees, they were easy prey, and driven to extinction when the first humans (Maori tribes) arrived in NZ. The South Island giant moa was one of the largest, standing over 3m (9.85 ft) and weighing as much as 250 kg (550 lbs!!).
Before settlers arrived, this country’s only land mammals were bats, meaning the islands’ most common creatures are insects and birds, such as the Kiwis’ namesake - the kiwi bird. Sadly, with the introduction of previously foreign predators, such as possums, cats, dogs, stoats, ferrets, and rats, many native birds, like the kiwi, are threatened. Still, as I’ve mentioned before, there are no harmful animals here (for humans). This is ironic, seeing as less than 1500 km away (930 miles), neighboring Australia is home to salt water crocodiles, great white sharks, several species of venomous snakes, deadly spiders, the poisonous blue ring octopus, two of the world’s most dangerous creatures – the box jellyfish and 2.5 cm irukandji jellyfish – AND, even the unassuming stonefish, whose venom can kill a human in two hours! Don’t worry, I’m planning to visit Australia in November, so I can tell you all about them... just kidding ;).

Anyway, moving on from the interesting animal facts and back to Sarah, Sam, and Erika in Dunedin… At 2 p.m. we went to a magical factory that makes the most delicious creation known to man. Here’s a hint – it’s not a brewery (we’ll get to that later) - it’s creamy, comes in white, milk, or dark, Oompa Loompa’s love it, and I can’t get enough of it… CHOCOLATE mmm!

Yep, we went on a tour of the NZ Cadbury factory (the U.K.’s affiliate down unda)! Cocoa Joe, our tour guide, led us through the facility, starting with the discovery of chocolate, Cadbury’s history, and then the chocolate-making and packaging process. The air smelled deliciously of chocolate (hello heaven), we left with goodie bags filled with treats, got bite-sized candy bars for answering trivia questions, and even enjoyed a “shot-sized” cup of liquid chocolate. Lauren – I tried to buy some Cadbury cream eggs on the way out, but I guess the U.K. handles egg production… sad! :(

Me, sporting a lovely hair net, while "driving" one of the old Cadbury cars:
Erika and Sam looking fabulous in their hair (and beard) nets (hahaha sorry Sam... had to):
Some more Fun (chocolate) facts:
  • Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes was the first Westerner to discover chocolate, when he arrived in Mexico in 1517 and was greeted by the Aztecs, who mistook him for their God (Quetzalcoatl), and gave him the drink, “chocolatl,” from a golden goblet. Cortes deemed it “the divine drink,” which had the power to build up resistance and fight fatigue, and loaded his galleons with cocoa beans upon his return to Spain in 1528, becoming the first European to recognize chocolate’s value (although Columbus had brought some beans back from Mayan traders).
  • The Aztec ruler Moctezuma used to drink this chocolatl before going to his harem, which led to chocolate’s unfounded reputation as an aphrodisiac.
  • The cocoa bean is very bitter! You roast it, extract the cocoa nibs from inside, then grind and refine them.This “cocoa mass” + milk = crumb (unsweetened). Crumb + sugar + cocoa butter (vegetable oil) = milk chocolate. Straight cocoa mass + cocoa butter = dark chocolate. Straight cocoa butter +milk + sugar = white chocolate.
  • Richard Hudson and his family (if anyone asks, we are SO related) were the first to begin making biscuits and chocolate in Dunedin (in what eventually became the Dunedin Cadbury factory). One of his relatives Arthur Hudson (woo, yea Grandpa Skip! You’re famous!) ran the chocolate department. R. Hudson & Co. Ltd. Was eventually bought by Cadbury.
  • Believe it or not, Cadbury actually trademarked their distinctive purple color (within the chocolate industry). Their colours (purple and gold) were considered those of royalty because, being very expensive to make, only the elite could afford the luxury. After adopting the gold/purple combo on their wrappers to celebrate the new queen at the time (Elizabeth II), sales skyrocketed – now anyone could feel royal by eating Cadbury – so the colours stuck!
Wow… that was a bit long. Oh well, now you won’t have to pay for the tour (you can use all that extra money just to buy more chocolate instead).

Later that night, during another fabulous pasta & sauce dinner, we started chatting to one of the hostel’s “permanent” residents – Nico, an Argentinean, who had been in NZ traveling for some time, and was now earning room and board by cleaning at night. I was nervous, but eventually said that I speak Spanish, and actually ended up hanging out in the kitchen, talking to Nico for over an hour. He was extremely nice and turned out to be a pro rally race car driver in South America (I saw pictures etc. online to prove it!), who had come over here after having won most of the major competitions, but having lost some sponsorship money due to the recession. It was amazing to practice and made me feel better, knowing I can still slip back into the language!

From there, we went to Sam’s friends’ flat for a while, and then trudged back through the rain to the hostel, where I ended up chatting for quite a while in the lounge with 5 girls who study in Wellington and were traveling the same loop as us (2 from Mexico, 1 from Portugal, & 2 from Hawaii!).

The next day, we lounged in the hostel all morning, since it was raining off and on and we had been going non-stop. Finally, at 2:30, we piled back into Sunny and drove all the way out to the Otago Peninsula in search of the infamous penguins! On the way we stopped at Baldwin Street, the Steepest Street in the World (according to the Guinness Book of World Records 1997)!
Be warned: if you and I are ever climbing a very steep street together and you complain, I will probably tell you to suck it up – after all, now I have climbed the steepest in all the world!

Since this seems to be the intense Fun facts post, might as well continue the trend:
  • If this makes sense to you: on its steepest section, Baldwin’s gradient is 1 in 2.86.
  • Each year, during Dunedin’s Festival, they have races up and down, known as the “Baldwin Street Gutbuster.”
  • Cadbury hosts an anual chocolate festival in July, during which they sell thousands of raffle tickets, each corresponding to a giant chocolate jaffa (chocolate balls, coated in orange-tasting candy), which they set rolling down the street. The ball to make it the bottom first (and doesn’t careen off the side, which most do) wins the prize!
After a beautiful, winding drive along the peninsula’s tiny, coastal roads, and south across its hilly paddocks, we reached a remote beach called Sandfly Bay. Excited by the vista below, we rolled up our jeans, pulled off our shoes, and flew with sliding bounds down the cascading sand dune hill, only to turn around and realize we would have to hike back up it later…

We didn’t end up finding any penguins. As the sun started to sink, the sand got extremely cold (I-cannot-feel-my-toes, lets-leave-before-they-fall-off cold). However, we DID get to see some amazing sea lions, who were basking in the late afternoon sun, blocking our path to the penguin hide (from where you catch a glimpse of them returning to their nests).

We raced back to the hostel, rinsed our sandy feet, grabbed some grub at the yummy Velvet Burger, and headed to the Speight’s Brewery tour!

Fun facts (the last for this section, I promise):
  • Beer was first discovered in Mesopotamia/Ancient Egypt, where the women who made bread dough in big stone bowls, drank the water by-product that was left in with the dough and had fermented.
  • Speights, “the pride of the South,” is the brewery that provides the yeast extract used to make marmite (wooo)!
  • The malt storage area used to attract rats, so the brewery brought in cats to kill off the pests. Then the cats had kittens (as cats do), which were adopted by brewery employees, who were surprised to find that these kittens refused to drink milk OR water – that’s right, they would only drink beer!
  • The hops plant (a key beer-making ingredient) has two flowers, one male, one female. Similar to kiwifruit (and humans hahah), only the female flower is useful!
  • Dad, you’ll like this one - NZ scientists were the first to discover a way to "pelletize" hops for easier transport from growers to breweries.
  • Hops are full of estrogen… men drink a lot of beer… do you know what happens when guys have too much estrogen? Hm… watch out boys, a beer belly is the least of your worries.
  • To “skull” a beer dates back to the barbarians who would drink beer out of their opponents’ skulls, as a make-shift cup, to celebrate a victory.
Us, pulling our own, at the Speight's bar tap:

1 comment:

  1. It's so great to read about all your adventures, they are cleverly written, very funny and informative!

    Hope all the people, breweries and chocolate factory of the south island are going to be OK after the earthquake.