Thus Sang The Jolly Autumn

To Dunedin’s Autumn Song

If we could somehow bring William Thomson back to life, what would surprise him most- apart from being here at all – would be to find the wonderful and delightful area Dunedin’s town belt has grown into.

But, who is William Thomson? Well I didn’t know either until recently, but it transpires he was, above many other things, a lover of trees! He loved trees so much in planted many in the town belt around the area of Olveston. While he wasn’t solely responsible for all the trees in the town belt, he is responsible for many in the area. 

In actual fact the town belt in Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s oldest reserves and is only one of three Victorian town belts in the world. Such is the importance of the town belt to Dunedin, the planning of it started on a map in Scotland that was probably stretched out over an old wooden table before settlers arrived in the 1840’s. As Dunedin grew as a city and the gold rush took hold, there became a need to protect and develop it’s green spaces which is where the Dunedin Amenities Society comes into the picture. By the end of 1888 the Society had 245 members (one of whom was William Thomson) and sought to involve itself in conservation and development of the new city including the town belt. 

Skip forward to the year 2020 and at this time of year the temperature drops, the winds pick up and the town belt starts to take on a splendour of colour as the leaves change and eventually float to the ground forming a crunchy blanket on the ground. It’s one of Dunedin’s glorious (and often forgotten) places. William Thomson would be proud of his trees. 

The Town Belt, Dunedin 

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COVID-19

Coronavirus Information

I recently had what for me is a unique and rare situation. I experienced Wellington on a good day. I’m not for one moment suggesting that Wellington doesn’t have good days, more reflecting on the fact that most of my trips to the capital city have included wind, rain, strong wind or a blended mix of all three with scattered fine spells randomly thrown in. On this particular visit to Wellington, not only was the weather still and clear, but the temperature – according to the metservice – sat at a comfortable 21+ degrees late into the evening. A splendid autumn day all round. 

To make the most of this lovely day, I headed out around Wellington on foot. Feeling slightly overdressed and cursing my choice of clothing, I head out the door to find the waterfront via a breakfast stop. Once having partaken of a bacon buttie at a very trendy place called ‘The Hanger’ on Dixon Street and feeling freshly loaded with caffeine and bacon, I departed out into the sun for the waterfront. 

Walking through the sun drenched streets that zigzag their way between Courtney Place, Cuba and Wakefield Street I turned on to Victoria Street heading for Queens Wharf. At one point, Victoria Street as it is known today didn’t exist. It was once open land that contained a scattering of timber cottages before numerous redevelopment programmes over 150 years has developed it into a busy shopping street that now contains high-end clothes shops, jewellers, cafe and bars, hotels and the central police station. It was when passing the Wellington Central Police Station that a printed A3 sign sellotaped to the window caught my eye. The sign read;
“Should you be in self-isolation? If so, please do not come in.” It then directed readers to call a healthline for information on Coronavirus and provided very helpful advice to visit a website or call 105 for police matters. 

What a truly uniquely (yet typical) kiwi response I thought chuckling to myself while taking in the details of the guidance provided. Before entering do you call the healthline to see if you should indeed be in self-isolation before proceeding with your decision to refrain or enter? Do they assume people automatically know this information? What happens if after arriving at the doors and deciding that yes you should be in isolation, do you self-isolate before calling 105 or call 105 right there and then. Further to this dilemma, what happens if your battery is flat, the internet goes down or you run out of credit? When do you risk entering and do you have to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer? 

As I continued on my way, the sign stayed in my thoughts. Is this the moment when New Zealand’s laid-back, pragmatic and she’ll be right outlook and attitude could be New Zealand’s downfall? Clearly this world wide pandemic is a major problem and it’s spreading. 

I’m not suggesting for one moment that the New Zealand Police or Government aren’t doing enough to stop the spread of this pandemic, far from it but well placed signage is obviously a key strategy we are using to keep people informed so they can make enlightened decisions. 

Based on what we know so far, we are clearly going to need more advisory signage displayed, particularly at our custom checkpoints. I would like to suggest they read: “It would be better for all concerned if you stayed at home. But the choice is yours.”

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College & Westmoreland Street

The Thomas Moore Statue

I know this is hard to believe but there are times when I get over excited when I’m taking photos and then there are occasions when I completely forget where I am and become obsessed with the image I’m taking. Usually this happens when I’m somewhere new, using a new piece of equipment or there’s some cool light happening. When all three of these elements come together I’m a bit useless for anything else. Recently in Dublin My wife and I had just walked back from O’Connell Street and over the River Liffey when I insisted to my wife that we stop by the Thomas Moore Statue as the evening sky was turning a lovely blueish-purple. I grabbed my camera and new mini tripod and excitedly setup position to get a shot where College & Westmoreland Street meet beside the Irish Houses of Parliament.

After a good 5 to 10 minutes, happy with my efforts, I returned to the statue where my return was greeted with an annoyed “where the hell have you been?” It seems that in my excitement and rush to grab my camera, tripod and set up I not only forgot to say where I was going, but also took off with my wife’s wallet and phone in peak rush hour traffic! It didn’t make things better when I pointed out the rather dangerous place I was standing. At this juncture there was only one course of action left open to me, insist we head to the near pub to make amends, she didn’t argue.

College & Westmoreland Street – Order Print

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A Cultural Guardian

The Dunedin Kuri

One of the genuinely pleasant aspects of living in Dunedin is that not only are you never too far from anything, but you’re more than likely to bump into people you know at the same time. Usually these random social meetings are an altogether delightful experience as you exchange details about the wonderful spell of weather, how much the kids have grown up and if you are still working at your previous place of employment. I myself had such an encounter down at the esplanade recently when a voice called out to me, which turned out to be a local car dealer who sold me my Hyundai. After a few moments of conversation, I brought up the fact that the am radio frequency seems to drop dramatically in quality when heading out of town, to which he said he’d ‘look into it and get in touch. At the time, I remember thinking how appropriate it was that I was now asking questions about my vehicle, when at the time of sale, all we seemed to discuss was the fortunes of the Highlanders. It’s random social interactions like these that can be a blessing, if like me, you’ve still got jobs sitting on your ‘todo’ list that have been there since before Christmas, 2018!

What does astound me however is my constant ability to forget that places in Dunedin even exist. If I was living in a city the size of London or New York then this would be explainable. I’m certain that everyday in London people open the bent and heavily leafed pages of their A to Z guide discovering places that they had never heard of like Bollocks Terrance, Ha Ha Road and Hanging Sword Alley before popping into an equally unknown pub that is 400 years old and has the word white, king, royal or crown in its title. In Dunedin however, with a population of just 130, 000 I’m not so sure that’s as forgivable. By comparison, Dunedin’s population is the same size as Tonbridge and Malling in Kent and slightly larger than the English county of Cambridgeshire. Having made these discoveries, my astonishment turned to the realisation that maybe I need to get out more.

Having made the firm decision to get out around Dunedin, I turned my attention to finding one of the many art sculptures that are strategically located around the city that I haven’t visited recently. One that had been sitting on my mind was the Kuri/Dog sculpture. I eventually ended up at a place that I remembered having forgotten about, the Otago Yacht Club. If you’ve never been there it’s tucked behind some industrial buildings near Forsyth Barr Stadium and is home to not only a marina but a number of rowing clubs and a squash court. It also has a lovely running and biking track that in one direction takes you back towards the Harbour basin and the other along the harbour to the suburbs of Ravensbourne and Maia and Port Chambers. Once I arrived and abandoned my car I decided on two facts. The first being that on a fine, still day it would be an extremely tranquil and calm place to walk, bike or read the day away. The second being that if the wind was blowing hard down the harbour, it could be an extremely exposed and cold place to be. I, of course, had chosen the latter of these two days to visit. 

My visit to such a location on such a windy day hadn’t been by choice, more bad judgement. Knowing full well that the sculpture wouldn’t be hard to find I spent some time wandering in and out of the various boat clubs, moorings and rowing sheds. After a good twenty to thirty minutes of curiously wandering I deduced that I know absolutely nothing about sailing and my personal vocabulary of nautical terms is extremely limited. I’m certain I would be of no use on a sailing ship and even less use in a pub quiz team specialising in nautical terminology. Having searched all the places in the immediate surroundings, I headed for my goal. A 3m-high sculpture by Stephen Mulqueen called Kuri/Dog which looks up towards the harbour entrance as a cultural guardian looking after Dunedin and the surroundings. 

Now I don’t know about you, but this sculpture makes me smile for some unexplained reason. It also makes me wonder if Tonbridge and Malling in Kent has a large Dog sculpture looking out for its residents or maybe some other oversized animal artwork? It was at this point that I decided that I definitely need to get out more.


Kuri/Dog Sculpture – Order Print

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The Recap

Shoot, Edit, File and Repeat

Over the last week I’ve spent a lot of time working on images and writing from the Spartan’s charity rugby tournament I shot over the weekend. Here are a few excepts from my Tape, Boots and Beer blog.

* * *

I arrived at around 8:30am and now some 7 hours later I was starting to feel weary. It wasn’t the feeling of weariness that comes as a result of being tired or bored. Like having to listen to another ‘what happened last night’ on the Bachelorette conversation or having to listen to a Simon Bridges interview. This was the all over body weariness you get when you know that if you sit down, you just won’t get up.  

With camera in hand, I sat down (taking the risk and knowing full well that this could been a fatal mistake) behind the goal line and waited for the lineout. It wasn’t that the Women’s final unfolding in front of me wasn’t interesting, very far from it. It was a thoroughly enthralling final, it was just the fact that 7 hours of shooting was now catching up with me.

As players started to gather in front of me, the sunburn on my neck was starting to sting, likewise the tip of my nose. My legs were starting to feel heavy and I was now operating with a definite fatigue in my step. All this and I hadn’t even played a game of rugby! In this instant the thought suddenly crossed my mind that maybe I need to participate in some preseason training instead of shooting it. Realising that this was most definitely a thought to not dwell on, I let it pass and returned my attention to the lineout in front of me and the cold Speight’s that awaited me.

* * *

I quite enjoy shooting in the rain, it makes for interesting results. Plus you have to work harder for your shots so there’s a sense of satisfaction if you grab a quality image. I’ve certainly found a few surprises on the SD card after working in the rain that I’ve been very happy with. But, I’ve also had my share of wet weather days when it all seemed a waste of time! The other dynamic when shooting in the rain is that fact that it is just harder and more fiddly.

Fortunately none of this applied on Saturday. When it’s wet you have to keep everything dry along with yourself as well as try to find locations to shoot from. By happy chance the weather was stunning for the Spartan 10’s meaning no restrictive wet weather gear, no needing to dry off, and no needing to find shelter. Believe me, I really do like the challenge of wet weather however on Saturday all I had to do was shoot, edit, file, eat a Lions Burger and repeat. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday really.

* * *

Lest We Forget – Order Print

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A Belfast Love Story

True Romance

Venturing through a new city while it is raining is a very frustrating exercise due to the fact that knowing where you are requires you to observe your surroundings. This is something that is very difficult to do if you’re trying to duck and weave around rain drops at the same time. This was just the case when I arrived at the former Harland & Wolf shipyard, otherwise known as the Titanic Quarter in Belfast. 

Upon arrival, shaking the rain off like a wet dog and noticing the rather large puddle of water I had created, I was suddenly startled with a cheerful ‘good morning.’ Having moved through the entrance way, I was now aware of the sizable water obstacle I had made right in the doorway of Belfast’s popular ‘Titanic Experience.’ Replying to the ‘good morning’ with a sheepish ‘sorry’ I moved towards the direction of the ticket booths. It was at this point that it struck me how appropriate it seemed to be drenched in rain, visiting a museum about a ship that sunk. It also struck me how empty the place was, this was partially by design and partially by hope.

With my ticket in hand and the clock sitting just before 10am, I made my way through the near deserted foyer. The plan had been to arrive early and thus avoid long lines and lots of slow moving crowds. Adding to this plan was the fact that the school holidays had finished and people had returned to work after the December/January festive season. Pleased with the success of this planning and having paid the entry fee while watching people avoid the water jump I had created, I headed for the escalator with a head full of Titanic excitement. 

I have to admit I fall into the group of people who find the Titanic fascinating. I also have to admit that I agree with James Cameron. I agree that the Titanic is a love story. I’m not sure it’s the epic, romantic disaster tale that James Cameron showed us in 1997, but it is a love story nonetheless. My visit to Belfast showed me that it’s not a romantic story between two people, it’s much more complicated than that. It’s a story of a love affair, about hopes and dreams, death and survival, of passion, of lust, of beauty, greed, wealth, vision and a promise of a golden age yet to come. It’s a tale of love between a ship, the city it was built in, the people that built her and the families that watched it grow into the sky at the Harland & Wolf shipyard. It’s a Belfast love story.

* * *

Speaking of the Titanic, let’s talk about acts of heroism. Let’s talk about John Jacob Astor IV. In the early hours of April 15th, 1912, just after 1:55am on a clear, star light night Astor stood smoking a cigarette. Having just kissed his darling wife and helped her into lifeboat Number 4,  he watched the lifeboat get lowered into the water, having given his own place to two scared and frightened children. You can only imagine what would have been going through his mind as he watched the boat lower without him. Seven days later Astor’s body was found and identified by the initials sewn on the label of his jacket. Found on him was a gold pocket watch which his son Vincent wore for the rest of his life. Some time later, while his wife and unborn child sat in a lifeboat, a survivor claimed to have seen Astor in the water clinging to a raft with supposedly frozen feet. At some point the coldness forced him to release his hold. 

Titanic Belfast – Order Print

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The Octagon Experience

Digesting New Information

It wasn’t until I got off the bus and started for Moray Place that it suddenly hit me. It could have been the Juicy rental car trying to do a u-turn in a very awkward way, it could have been the foot traffic seeming to be walking in the middle of the street or maybe the rather large, bright orange barriers blocking the street but something suddenly reminded me that the Octagon was closed for traffic. This information wasn’t altogether a surprise yet nor had it been at the forefront of my mind. To digest this not quite new information, I knew I would need alcohol, so I headed to the nearest bar. Once inside, I took up a seat where I could view the street from and began pondering what it all meant.

I couldn’t help but think that the Octagon closure might well be doomed before it began. After all, Dunedin doesn’t take to kindly to change. There’s a good list of ‘resistant to change’ examples hidden in Dunedin’s past. Going back to the 1850’s there were squabbles over matters between the Dunedin City Council and the Caversham Borough Council. In more modern times the new urban cycleways project has received much criticism over the last 5 years as did the newly created central bus hub. Not to forget the heated debate between Carisbrook and Forsyth Barr Stadium which seemed to deeply divide the city. 

Watching people happily walk up and down Stuart Street I decided that I needed to find out more about this ‘Octagon Experience’ so I pulled out my phone and headed straight to the Otago Chamber of Commerce website. I discovered ‘The Octagon Experience’ is the brainchild of the Dunedin City Council who want to create/transform the area into a public space within the streetscape of surrounding business by making it pedestrian-friendly and so drawing people together (so they’re closing roads I thought to myself!). Upon further investigation I discovered that the full closure is happening from January 27th till February 16th with partial closures from February 17 until March 23. Maybe it was the beer but it took awhile for the realisation of what this actually meant to sink in. 

Suddenly the impact of these closures hit me and I didn’t know what worried me more. Putting up with all the angry drivers that will inhabit Moray Place, forgetting the Octagon is closed and desperately try to find another route at the last minute, thus blocking traffic at one of the barn-dance intersections. Or, having to scroll past all the angry Facebook and Twitter posts about the chaos that will inevitably fill my streams. Either way, filled with dread and bracing myself, I finished my pint, opened Facebook and headed out the door.

Robbie – Order Print

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15 Spots To Get A Great Coffee in Dunedin

An Appalling State of Affairs

It’s come to my attention that I have no idea where to get a good coffee here in Dunedin. This appalling state of affairs came to my attention when I realised that if I was asked ‘where’s good?’ I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to suggest. Indeed my only advice to someone seeking a decent ‘cup of joe and a meal’ would probably have to be more based on a guess rather than imparting some deep local wisdom built from years of insider experience. In fact, the only establishments I possess knowledge of serve beer, pizza, a plate of chips and screen rugby. Having come to this embarrassing realisation, I decided that this situation needed fixing immediately 

To help fill the void in my coffee culture knowledge, I knew I would need serious help. I decided to turn to the one person I know who spends a decent chunk of their time in the local coffee spots, my daughter Henessey (you might know her from her articles in ‘Critic’ or from Radio One or as ‘That Logan Paul Girl’). So after conducting some personal research and taste testing, with laptop at the ready and no established criteria apart from the question where’s good? We listed 15 places to get great coffee and food in Dunedin.

The Precinct – Buy

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Dunedin’s Favorite Second Beach

Second Beach Escape

Having spent the last five days in Hong Kong with 7.4 million people crammed into a shoe box, it’s easy to see why Hong Kong is listed as the fourth most densely populated place in the world. During my time there, and on one of my trips through the Hotel lobby, I got talking to the concierge. Now there is no doubt that between the two of us, one of us was dressed as if he had just come from the latest fashion show and made careful consideration to ensure that every element of his appearance was just so, and the other had decided he could get another days wear out of his jeans, found the closest t-shirt and walked out the door. After exchanging pleasantries and upon his discovery of finding out I was from New Zealand, his first response was “you have castles and sheep!” Castles and sheep I thought to myself, yes, I guess that’s true. If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong you’ll realise just how crowded the place is and what a lack of open, green space there is in the city. It was in this second of realisation that I decided after arriving home I’d make a make a beeline to the Dunedin coast and visit my favourite beach, Second Beach in St Clair. 

The Dunedin coastline is an amazingly rugged place. I often find myself exploring its many unique features. Unfortunately I’m often busy and short of time, so to get my outdoor fix I have to choose an easily accessible spot most of the time. Since the landscape along some of Dunedin’s coastline is not particularly accessible, or requires some pre-planning, I often stop at St Clair and explore the beauty of Second Beach. Along this stretch of beach, years of consistent wave movement have created great drifts of raggedly oval stones worn to a polished smoothness. They are nearly impossible to walk on since your feet sink with each step while at the same time having to navigate piles of driftwood that have washed up. The coast path above the beach is much easier and doesn’t require clambering up and down a bank to reach. At any one time you’ll meet anyone and everyone from the young to old, those getting their daily fitness quota, surfers and people just enjoying a tranquil escape for 5 minutes. No matter which option you take, if it’s the beach or the path you’ll hear the sea, crashing into the shore creating a seemingly endless musical score of stones clattering on the water’s edge. It’s one of the most glorious places in Dunedin.

Sunset sky – Buy

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Woosung Street in Hong Kong.

Destination: Hong Kong

It’s not till I’m going somewhere that I realise how little I actually know about a place. It’s here, sitting in a departure lounge at Heathrow airport at 9:00am on a Monday morning with a boarding pass in hand, that I suddenly realise that I don’t know much about Hong Kong at all. My thoughts quickly scan back and forth between the notion of this being both a positive a negative, when I’m shaken from my day dream by a very disgruntled traveler who is very clearly not having a good morning. While he quickly makes his way to the boarding line, he pulls behind him one of those oversize suitcases that hasn’t the faintest of chances of fitting in the overhead compartment. As he pushes past me, it’s hard to tell if he is more annoyed by the fact he actually had to wait in line like the rest of us or by the two overly excited children standing directly in front of him. Either way, his complete annoyance is only matched by the children’s delight and the cynic in me now secretly hopes they are all seated together for the next 13 hours. 

Once joining the line myself, my thoughts again turn to my lack of Hong Kong general knowledge. As I scan my thoughts, I find myself brightened somewhat when I realise I know more than I thought I did. As the line inches forward and I’m greeted with a friendly good morning and welcome, I settle on knowing four definite facts about Hong Kong (even if they are somewhat fictitious). 

Firstly, I’m certain that I know parts of it are dangerous for tourists like myself. This comes from recent news coverage (which I no longer watch) and the endless supply of emails I’ve been getting from Safe Travel on my phone. These email warnings have had headings such as ‘Ongoing Protests’ or ‘Ongoing Demonstrations’ from flash mobs dressed in black. To me, it initially looked like a combined game of Tetris and Pac-Man but with a serious undercurrent. This game is played with molotov cocktails, rubber bullets and is driven by youths fighting for their right to freedom. Sounds like serious stuff. While the photographer in me can’t help but be interested, my good sense, what little I have, says it’s best to steer clear. 

The second thing I’m certain about is that Hong Kong was known as a place to get cheap electronic goods.  I can’t help but get a little excited at the prospect of picking up the latest canon lens for a dirt cheap price and getting years of shooting pleasure out of it. This will of course have the effect of catapulting my images into the next stratosphere. Unfortunately, the reality is bound to be nothing like this at all. I fear that prices will not be as cheap as I hope, the bargains will elude me and my best bet will be to keep my pennies in my pocket! 

Thirdly, I’m certain Hong Kong wasn’t, then was, but now isn’t a British territory. I seem to remember it being returned to China in 1997 as part of a one hundred year loan agreement. To me, this sounds very much like wanting the lawn mower back you lent to the neighbors. Which I can understand, particularly if it’s one of those fancy ride-on ones. 

Upon entering the plane and having to hide my disappointment in not being able to sit with the pilots and help push buttons, I discover I’m sitting at the back of the plane. I also suddenly remember that the Hong Kong 7’s we’re an important fixture in the rugby calendar. This iconic event still maintains its place as an event on the global stage but unfortunately due to the now endless supply of rugby coverage it’s lost a little if it’s uniqueness. 

As I relax into my seat and settle in for the next 13 hours, I glance down at my phone to check it’s switched into aeroplane mode. I notice a new email has just popped up from Safe Travel. Pausing for a second, I dismiss it like all the rest when my gaze is drawn to the annoyed gentlemen from the boarding line with the over sized suitcase. He’s trying to get comfortable. Yet, he has two overly excited children bouncing on the seat in front of him. 

Woosung Street, Hong Kong. Buy

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Your weekly dose of Dunedin

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