I spent most of June in the city of Dunedin, which is in the southeast corner of the South Island in the Otago region. June would be the US's December, and Otago is a rather chilly place, by New Zealand standards. But the weather wasn't so bad, and was fairly sunny all things considered.
I especially wanted to head to Dunedin, because it is the home of Otago University, the largest and oldest in the country. The town itself is about 120,000 people, and is known for art, music, and booze (like all proper college towns). Considering that could easily describe Athens back home, I had to see what the Kiwi equivalent would be like. My trip was poorly timed though, as a week after I got there most of the students were either graduating or going on holiday. I still managed to find some good people and enjoyed the college life again for a little while. Since money was getting tight, I had to take things slow and not spend too much. Fortunately, I could get free Internet access at the Dunedin library, so I was able to work on web design projects to bring in some much needed cash.
During the week of June 22nd, Dunedin also hosted two festivals to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Both were night-time celebrations, and had a particularly neat feel to them since they didn't have Christmas and New Years dominating the winter theme like we have back home. The first was a small 'Burning Man' styled event for crazy college kids, with fire spinners, a giant bon fire, drums and dances, and chill DJs. The second was much more kid-friendly, and was a lantern carnival in the center of the city. The kids and other supporters built huge paper lanterns shaped like fish, sea horses, and other things. They then paraded around the Octagon (like a big central city square) amidst stilt walkers, band members, and other revelers. The carnival was wrapped up with a satisfyingly big fireworks display, which was about a week before July 4th and counted as my obligatory dose of shiny explosives for the season.
In addition to the festivals, I also got to watch the All Blacks play their last game at Dunedin's rugby field before they finish building the new one in anticipation of the Rugby World Cup next year. The game was fun, but awfully quiet since the stadium was much smaller than ones back home. Still, the most amusing part had to be the wave the crowd got into a few times. They sold beer in tiny plastic bottles, which was only 3.5% alcohol to begin with and hardly counts as beer, but I digress. The bottles made excellent projectiles though, which fortunately didn't hurt too much when they fell down. As the wave went around a hundred or more of these little green bottles went airborn in all directions. The announcer even asked people not to throw them, but they did anyway. The All Blacks went on to crush the Welsh Dragons something like 45-9. The game was much closer in the first half, but became a blowout after halftime.
By far the biggest event while I was in Dunedin was getting up early or staying up for the World Cup most days. Due to time difference, the World Cup games were usually at either 2am or 6:30am. Not that something like sleep would get in the way though. It was really fun watching the World Cup while staying at backpackers in Queenstown and Dunedin. Just about everyone was from a different country and were supporting different teams. The two biggest groups of travelers to New Zealand are the English and the Germans. There were also Dutch and Swiss running the backpacker where I was staying, so there was plenty of rivalry going on (especially between the Dutch and Germans, who get along about as well as Dawg fans and Gators). I was pulling for a Dutch vs. Deutch final in the Cup, but sadly Spain crushed Germany's hopes. The most satisfying game though had to be Germany vs. Argentina, where Germany destroyed them 4-0. I had actually been rooting for Argentina to win early in the cup, but they were so arrogant and rude in the press leading up to the Germany game, that I had to support the impressively strong German team.
But Germany's chances were dashed by Spain in the semifinals. It was particularly unfortunate because the morning of that game was my last in Dunedin; I was heading back north through the Southern Alps with two German friends of mine. Fortunately, we kept busy and had an excellent trip up to Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapo, where we saw the nasty final game between the Dutch adn Spanish (14 yellow cards and some very ill tempered Dutch players).
Before we leave Dunedin though, I must talk about the Otago peninsula and all the marine wildlife there. The Otago is less visited by tourists than other parts of the country, but it has some gorgeous coastline and plenty of animals, which are rather scarce elsewhere in the country. There is the only mainland Albatross colony on the tip of the peninsula. They charged $45 to see the birds though, so we just drove to the parking lot and saw them in the air for free. Nearby was a nice large secluded beach called Sandfly Bay which had lots of sea lions as well as the rare yellow-eyed penguin. The penguins are very timid though, and if they see humans they flee, so we had to hide in a bunker (no kidding) about 500 feet up the coast. They were hilarious though, as they apparently live in the bush above the beach at night, and have to hop and waddle over the rocks and sand, followed by an impressively steep climb up to their homes.
It was in Dunedin where I decided not to stay in New Zealand for the entire year, and instead stop by Australia before heading back to the USA. The original plan was to find work in NZ, but the few jobs that were around were very poorly paid and looked pretty rough. Since I could get by on web design, I wouldn't be tied to any specific location and could keep traveling. Dr. Matthew Dalstrom, one of my best friends, is getting married at the end of August, so I was already planning to visit the US around then, and by now I felt satisfied with having seen an awful lot of New Zealand. So I started planning on heading back to the US instead of just visiting and coming back. Fortunately, I was able to pack a ton into my last month in New Zealand, and with any luck my 3 weeks in Australia will be just as memorable.