Monday, February 28, 2011

Te Anau to Dunedin

After the flurry of activity yesterday, I don't have any great tales of adventure to report upon today; the main event was driving from Te Anau to Dunedin, a trip of almost 300km, which took us about four and a half hours. The highways took us through the rolling hills of the somewhat confusingly-named Northern Southland, past endless pastures of sheep and dairy cows, small homesteads, and tiny townships that one would blink and miss if one didn't have to slow down to the requisite 50km/h whilst passing through them. I passed the time listening to my iPod and enjoying the musical stylings of Tori Amos and Brooke Fraser.

Now, however, we are situated within the city of Dunedin, which with a population of roughly 125 000 is the second-largest city on the South Island (behind Christchurch). Dunedin was actually the largest city by population in all of New Zealand before 1900; it is also one of the oldest, being founded in 1848. The name Dunedin comes from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, Dùn Èideann, and the city was founded by the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland with the intent of reproducing the characteristics of Edinburgh... even today, the Kiwi accent from Dunedin and the surrounding area has a Scottish-brogue flavour to it. Probably one of the more famous features of the city's layout is the Octagon, a octogonally-shaped (no, really?) road and plaza where the main streets of George, Princes, and Stuart meet.

Our hostel is called Hogwartz (I'm assuming the ending "z" keeps J. K. Rowling's people from suing their pants off), and is located in the old Catholic Bishop's residence for St. Joseph's Cathedral on Rattray St. It's a delightful old bluestone building built in the late nineteenth century, and while the rooms are fairly plain, the kitchen is bright and modern, the bathrooms are clean, and our fellow hostel mates are kind and friendly. The Harry Potter touches are all over the grounds; while they don't actually run us through the sorting hat to place us into dorms (why do I have the feeling I'd end up in Ravenclaw?), there is a "Hagrid's Cabin" out back, a laundry facility called "Dobby's Room", and a storage room (vault?) called "Gringott's".

The only downside to being in this grand old building is I find myself unable to relax fully... all I can see when I look at these majestic buildings of stonework and brick is the piles of rubble and clouds of dust that I know now litter Chistchurch's streets. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to enter an old brick building or stone church again without a sense of fear, or at the very least a terrible sadness for the beautiful architecture that was destroyed, and the innocent lives lost as mortar, metal, and glass came crashing down. I find it difficult to follow the news accounts continuing to pour out of Christchurch; I know too many of the locations, can remember all-too-vividly walking through those streets of chaos, surrounded by injury and death. I realise this earthquake is now old news in Canada, and that the rest of the world has moved on, but the harsh reality is even though the camera crews have left, the headlines have stopped screaming their proclamations of disaster, and the perfectly-groomed news anchors now fill the television screens talking about other juicy stories of violence or scandal, the aftermath of the earthquake is still real, still heartbreaking, still terrifying in its aftershocks, and has changed the face of Christchurch forever.

The earthquake also has many unintended consequences, which admittedly compared to collapsed buildings are decidedly minor, but still cause headaches. We ran into one today when we tried to rent a car for the second half of our journey here on the South Island; my dad spent almost an hour on the phone this afternoon, trying to find a rental car here in Dunedin. He was ultimately successful, but the supply of rental cars is incredibly depleted, and the price has been jacked through the ceiling. It reminds me of a line from the documentary The Corporation: "In devastation there is opportunity". Earthquakes are good money if one is a car rental agency.

While my dad was on the phone I spent the afternoon on my computer researching places for us to stay (we were originally supposed to stay in Christchurch Wednesday night, but that's no longer going to be the case, obviously), and generally fighting with the world's worst cell phone internet connection (it must just be my location inside this old stone building; Dunedin itself has decent cell phone reception). In the late afternoon, my mom and dad and I went out and did a little bit of sight-seeing down at the Dunedin train station, where we'll be catching the "Railroad to Gold" train tomorrow morning, and then headed over to the Countdown supermarket, where we bought chicken and vegetables for dinner (my mom got her favourite corn-on-the-cob again). My parents have just watched two Big Bang Theory videos on my computer, and are now in bed, and I should follow them shortly... I am exhausted.

I watched some footage of the recovery efforts in Christchurch this evening, and I'm really in no mood to type anymore. It's all so overwhelming and saddening, and my brain can't understand why I (and my parents) escaped relatively unscathed from all the destruction. Perhaps I have a minor form of survivor's guilt, and while I don't want to forget what I went through, as I know it's important to process things, I do wish I could turn off the images and sensations from that fateful day replaying over and over in my head. To bed I go now, hopefully to dream of happier things. Goodnight.


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