Driving from Te Anau to Invercargill would take us through Tuatapere, which is affectionally called “Land of the last light”. However, the southernmost town is Invercargill, where we stayed for two nights. At 46°25’30? South, 168°18’36? East, this site was definitely the most Southern place we ever have travelled. But this record came at a price when we visited: It was very cold, scattered rains and icy winds blowing through the streets. Even in high summer (January), average temperatures reach 14°C.
Nevertheless, we made most out of our time and strolled – in between the rain showers – through the streets and visited the numerous sites in town. Absolutely underrated by the Lonely Planet guidebook, I definitely enjoyed seeing the Queens Park, Watertower, First Presbyterian Church and other sights along the downtown heritage trail.
Being somewhat a stoic ignorant when it comes to people’s birthplaces, I was greatly surprised to discover that Invercargill is the home town of the “Worlds Fastest Indian“, Burt Munro. At the age of 63, he set the world record speed on a motorbike to 288 km/h. This was in back in 1962, the year I was born. His subsequent record (for an under-1000cc motorbike), established later in 1967, still stands as per today: 295.453 km/h!
Burt is – rightfully – still a local hero in Invercargill, where souvenir stores would have little statues of his bike on sale or small factoids plastered over walls can be found in some pubs. One of the hardware stores in town actually has numerous historical push bikes and motorbikes on display. One of them is the Burt Monroe “Fast Indian“. The movie, which I had seen on board a Greyhound bus back in Australia, isn’t so much a story about breaking speed records as it is about the friendship, kindness among strangers and the ultimate road trip. Needless to say that I enjoyed the story a lot and the film ranks among the better ones I’ve seen lately.
Further up north, we visited the town of Dunedin. Throughout our journey we overheard other travellers mis-pronouncing the city’s name. And sometimes I pushed them purposely down the wrong end of the pronunciation cliff (my preferred one was “Dune-Din”, since most of the people fell for it). Quite a bit warmer than Invercargill, the location is still lower than 45° South. Upon arrival in our hostel, we picked up their city walk brochure. It first looked like one of these “see the town in two hours” leaflets and we casually left, taking time to explore every item on the list.
Most notably, the Railway Station caught our attention, listed as the “most photographed building in New Zealand”. So we had to contribute and take our pictures of it, too. Soon we realized that, after three hours walking, that we weren’t even halfway through the brochure’s list of places to see. Needless to say that Dunedin (why not actually pronounce it as “Done-ay-Din”?) has a lot to offer for tourists. Therefore, we bypassed purposely some museums and sights, since we decided to visit a lot more on the next day.
Among our itinerary was Baldwin Street, a must see for people in architectural design of obliquely buildings. Well, not really – but I just could not resist in looking at the houses siding this officially “steepest street in the world” from a different angle (see photo). There is some controversy, whether Baldwin Street would technically really be the steepest street on the planet. However, this does not impact the fun in walking through this cul-de-sac. Moreover, there are annual competitions (“Baldwin Street Gutbuster”), where hundreds of athletes are running up and down this street.
Dunedin is New Zealand’s oldest city, and is considered being the best preserved Victorian and Edwardian city in the Southern Hemisphere. Since Dunedin also offers a good range of tramping, we started the second day with a short round trip to a lookout. To relax and round our day off, we went visiting the Speight’s brewery. The tour was quite informative, although the advertised possibility to “have the opportunity to bottle, personally label and cap your own Speight’s beer” was nonexistent.
However, we’ve already grew accustomed to the annoying fact that advertisements (and prices quoted on brand new leaflets being handed out at tourist offices) are not considered as binding statements here in New Zealand. Consequently, we learned to take promotions with a grain of salt and did second guess many offers. But hey, so far this is the only let down encountered in this – otherwise great – country. And how could we be upset at a tour guide, since we got to drink as much beer as we could during the beer tasting which concluded the tour. Cheers!