Friday, July 5, 2013

The Travelling Trio NZ - Part 2 - Dunedin Northern Cemetery, Larnach Castle and Orokonui Eco Sanctuary.

Day 3 - Sunday 23rd June

It's a spectacular sunrise today. The sun rises late and sets early here at this time of year so it’s hard to miss it.
I’ve been busy on the internet making up for my lack of preparation for a visit to Dunedin. The typical tourist things I’m familiar with, but I have discovered that my great great grandfather is buried in the Northern Cemetery and I’ve not come prepared to go looking for him. Luckily the Northern Cemetery has an excellent website that includes a map to show us exactly where he is. With this information we instruct Tommie to take us over there. Easy.
We park by the entrance gate and wander in. We’re not the only ones who’ve decided to walk here today. The cemetery is a lovely place for a walk and is well maintained. It’s impressive. Dunedin was a city founded to be a “new Edinburgh”. It was and is proud of its Scottish roots. The website has explained that many of the immigrants were seeking a more egalitarian society where opportunity was not stifled by a rigid class system. Unfortunately that is not what they found and the cemetery reflects this. There are various grades of real estate in the cemetery. The more affluent folk could afford level grave sites on high ground. Middle class plots were less expensive and the cheapest plots were down in the gully.
We easily find the grave of Matthew Russell, my great great grandfather’s brother. It’s a high level plot and has a fairly standard grave site cover with RUSSELL on it. James Russell was the eldest of three brothers who emigrated from Auchinleck, Scotland, and his grave too is on high level ground. So the family could clearly afford a good cemetery plot. But there is no headstone or name marking James’s plot at all, just a couple of old roses planted in a neatly tended patch of earth.Puzzling. 
James’s widow, Susan, and their children moved to Sydney after his death, leaving the surviving brothers and their families behind. The only record of arrival I have found may suggest that Susan worked her passage to Sydney. I am convinced they were not fond of James Russell or his family. 
My Great Great Grandmother Susan Morton
My great grandmother had six sons all named for family, and in one case named comprehensively after her mother’s second husband. She was very proud to have been born and raised in Dunedin and of being Scottish, but she didn’t remember her own father in her sons names at all. Got to be a reason for that!
My Great Grandmother Jessie Aird Russell
 Who knows, perhaps they helped pay for the memorial that was erected by James’s father in Scotland.
What’s equally puzzling is that James’s brother William and his wife and daughter in law were interred in this plot years later, they also have not been given a memorial on the grave. Perhaps whatever gravestone was erected has since been removed. Son and I pose for photos at our forefather's grave and we do our best to capture the scene with its snatches of views over the water.
Nearby we stop to admire the ornate tomb of the Larnachs and read the interesting information board outside. The sun is at an inconveniently low northern position making photography difficult at this time of year. We walk what the map suggests is a loop back to the car and get a bit confused so end up back tracking. The Northern Cemetery is one of Dunedin’s hidden gems. We’re glad we had reason to stop by. The cemetery website also has a number of self guided trails you can take on various themes. I very much enjoyed learning something about Thomas Bracken, the poet who wrote the lyric to NZ’s beautiful national anthem, God Defend New Zealand. He was also the first to use the term God’s own country, as applied to NZ. He has a memorial just outside the cemetery gates.

Our next stop is Taiaroa Head and the Albatross Centre. Ah. The road has been closed. I guess it is probably due to rock falls or a slip. That puts paid to that idea. We turn up Allens Beach Road and take a quick look at Hoopers Inlet and Papanui Inlet. 

It’s coming on for midday by now. Never mind, Larnach Castle gets promoted up the day’s list. Finding our way to Larnach Castle involves meandering around the high roads with their glorious views down across the water and back to Dunedin and Port Chalmers and the snow.
Let’s be clear, Larnach Castle is NOT a castle! It’s an ornate house with a small castellated roof top tower. It’s well worth the visit but it isn’t a castle. We ring the doorbell as the signage directs and are greeted by a young woman in a tartan pleated skirt. She supplements the garden guides we were provided at the ticket gate and gives us directions as to the route to take to view the house. Downstairs is a small museum room that tells the story of the house and the family which is unexpectedly dramatic with some soap opera features. It would make a good TV miniseries perhaps. Next door is a little video room which presents a short video about the family who fell in love with the neglected property back in the 1960s and who have devoted their lives to restoring and sharing this piece of NZ heritage. I so admire people who do this. I’m glad we’ve come and contributed to its upkeep and improvement. Gradually the new custodians have collected items from the original family. Some pieces have been donated by the original family too. It’s very well done and we enjoy exploring the various rooms but it doesn’t take long. Not quite an hour to have a good look around the house and admire the beautiful craftsmanship of the carved ceilings and Minton tiled floors etc and of course admire the views from the rooftop.
Predictably Hubby goes for the seafood chowder ($14.50). He also pigs out on another serve of lovely battered Blue Cod ($22.50). Blue Cod is SO good. Son has creamy chicken pie, which is quite spicy with beautiful pastry ($12.50).  Both washed down with cappucino. I opted for the Smoked salmon and caper pasta with zesty lemon creamy sauce ($14.50). Too much sauce. Way too much sauce. The pasta is a bit too soft. It’s a bit soupy. Not nice. Apple and feijoa juice an indulgence. A cosy meal.
We make a half hearted attempt at a wander in the garden, but end up giving it a miss and heading over to Orokonui Eco Sanctuary. So much snow!! So Cold. What a view!! They have built a nice big (warm) education centre just outside the predator proof fencing with huge glass walls overlooking the valley. Great spot for a coffee break!! We trudge carefully through the snow down to the entrance. Son's face is a picture as he exclaims "That guy's wearing SHORTS!"
No sooner do we step inside than the weather takes a turn for the worse and rain drives across the landscape. We stall for time by browsing the gift shop. Then noting the rain has stopped, we pay $16 each and wander out into the snow. 
We have been advised by the friendly lady taking our money that it’s about 15 minutes of snow covered ground before we reach the protection of the forest where it should be quite sheltered and pleasant. We trudge through a few inches of snow up past the statue of Tane Mahuta to an open area where we understand the Takahe have tended to hang out. Not easy sign of them. The wind is bitter and we soon lose any inclination to persevere. Hubby and I have seen takahe at Tiri Tiri Matangi, so this is no biggie.
 We head back down along the Kaka track. In the cold the feeder stations have been very active and this is proven when we reach the first of three and find it seems to be empty. Not a bird in sight. The forest is pleasant as predicted. It’s attractive, but not as beautiful as the forest at Purukaunui Falls in the Catlins, or around Lake Matheson in Westland if you’re heading to those areas.
The second feeder station is still well stocked and bellbirds are busily availing themselves of the nectar from the bottles. We watch for a few minutes hoping that the Tuis calling in the trees nearby come down to show themselves. Tuis are my favourite NZ bird….closely followed by Kea.  Sure enough a Tui bullies the smaller bellbirds out of the action. A second Tui joins in briefly and then they are gone. But at least Son has seen these special birds. We know we are very short of time here before closing so we can’t hang about long. Son runs off down the hill and back… there’s a fork in the path. He does a lot of running back and forth during our visit. Along the way I see a lovely little tomtit.. and there’s a few other birds around too, but my companions aren’t really birders and are walking ahead of me, making plenty of noise. I concentrate on the exercise as we climb back up the hill to the visitor centreI slip further behind as I find a lovely little fungus. New Zealand is great for spotting cool varieties of fungi.

Nearing the gate I realize I’ve lost my watch. Too late to do anything about it. Que sera sera. Orokonui is a fairly new sanctuary. Millions have been invested on the fencing alone. Although this time of year presents it’s challenges, we are very glad to have allocated time here today and glad to have supported this important project.

We have one last family errand here and go in search of the address shown on some family documentation. I have no idea whether the house we find is original. It's probably been clad at the very least. Can't say I find it all that enticing, but we see what is currently on that plot of land. I imagine my forebears wandering up and down this street. Spirits drifting in and out.
I've had a real struggle trying to decide where we should eat tonight. We don't really want high end this time. Something a bit more mid-range would be more appropriate. The reviews indicate that most people think the Speight's Ale House is pretty good so in the end we decide to do that. We parked around the corner after circling the block a couple of times before figuring the bit of a walk down a steep hill in the cold was actually our best option. At first when we arrived we puzzled about where the actual door was to be found. It was pretty simple in the end and we felt a bit stupid. It's a nice ambience and cosy warm despite the huge space. I had slow braised prime steak, Porter beer gravy with (far too peppery) mash and peas topped with bacon and carameslised onions . Hubby had  Shearer's Shanks, oven roasted with thyme and garlic, Ale House gravy and mint sauce with mash and vege. I think Son had Chicken Parcels. The bacon used was superb. 

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