The Road to Dunedin

Take a second to think back to your childhood.

Oh yes, the good ol’ days.

When life just seemed simpler and trust was given freely, without conscious effort or internal debate.

Those were the same days when we heard it over and over:

Don’t talk to a stranger.

Don’t get into a stranger’s car.

Don’t go to a stranger’s house.

…the list goes on and on.

Remember these?

Well, here’s the story of how I managed to break each one of these don’ts within 48 hours.

And I’m sure glad I did…

The tale of the rebellious road trip begins in Northern Kentucky, months before I ever stepped foot in New Zealand.

rewind time

In those months my mind was fixed on my trip and the logistics of it all.

Ever the planner I started mapping out my first week or two in New Zealand and was happy to learn of several online forums created to help novices just like me.

“Should I hitchhike or take the bus from Queenstown to Christchurch?” was the question of the day.

Thankfully, several active group members offered their valuable advice and one person in particular took it a step further.

This stranger took the time to message me directly and provide useful information which then led to an extensive conversation about travel plans, experience and culture.

Before long my new friend invited me to stay with him and his roommates while in Christchurch.  He even introduced the idea of taking a quick 24 hour road trip down to a fun city he used to live in.

Ever trying to be open-minded and experience something new, I immediately thanked him for his hospitality and said I’ll see him in a few short months.

Don’t talk to a stranger.  Check

Fast forward

Fast forward those few short months and you’ll find me aimlessly wandering the streets of Christchurch, snapping photos and admiring all the city has to offer. (all of which can be found by clicking HERE).

Six or so hours of this meandering and I literally saw all the highlights of the city.

This was the first time on the Stroll that I checked off everything I wanted to do…in one day.

Umm…what now?

My friend was at work for the next few hours so I couldn’t go to his place and I already checked out of my hostel.

Well, I thought, the new Avengers movie is out, why not?

Side note: great movie! Thanks for the good afternoon, Marvel.

Three hours killed in the most entertaining of ways and back on the streets of Christchurch, heading toward the rendezvous with a generous stranger I met on the internet.

Moment of truth.

Relax, it wasn’t like he was going to pull up in a sketchy car or anything…

OH NO, is that him in the station wagon???

You’re really pushing it, Chris.

Needless to say I survived our official intro and was soon in the car heading back to his place.

Don’t get into a stranger’s car.  Check

What a great night! This was my first experience in “couchsurfing” and I could not ask for anything more.  I had the opportunity to chat about daily life in Christchurch, hear about the struggles of obtaining a visa and learn how it was a global group of guys came together under one roof.

This was not another night at the hostel.  This was life outside the backpacker trail and I was very happy I had the chance to live it.

Don’t go into a stranger’s house. Check

We started our journey bright and early the next morning to make sure we had plenty of time to spend down in Dunedin.

A quick fuel and breakfast stop and we were on our way, cruising down the coastal road toward our final destination.

Sunrise in Christchurch

Our route took us past numerous small towns and unique landscapes which helped pass the 5+ hours of driving pretty quickly.

One of those interesting sites was the Moeraki Boulders, a clustering of unusually large, spherical boulders formed on the coastline in the southern Otago region of New Zealand.

Worth a peak for sure.

We made our way out of the car and onto the beach where we, along with plenty of other curious sightseers, ventured down to the beach to spot this natural phenomenon.

What a site for sure.

Moeraki Boulders

A few oohs

A few ahhs

And a 20 photos later we were retracing our steps back to the car to continue on to this journey of not-so-strange strangers.

But this time, it was my turn to drive.

If you remember back to my Milford Sound post you’ll recall that driving down under is a little different from back home in the States.

For one, Kiwis drive on the left side of the road.  Two, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. And three, it’s just plain unusual.

Of course I want to do it again!

First hour passes – no wrecks, no problems.

I got this.

Another 30 minutes breezes by and my new friend remembers there’s a good spot to see seals near the city.  Without hesitation I tell him to point the way as I put my foot to the pedal and push onward.

Before long we were pulling up to one of the known wildlife sighting beaches after navigating the windy, mountainous roads on the outskirts of Dunedin.

We were on a mission to catch a glimpse of these guys before heading to our Airbnb so we set out on the trail down to the shores.

10 minutes of steep, sandy paths led us to the flat shores of the peninsula where we would start our casual stroll in search of sea creatures.

We didn’t have to trek too far before stumbling upon what was easily mistaken as a log from a distance, until it started moving of course.

There’s one!

Seal on the beaches of Dunedin

Mission accomplished.

Back up we went, trudging through the ever-moving sandy ground to finally make it back to the car.

And there we sat, individually recapping our morning:

  • 6am start
  • 5+ hours of driving
  • Moeraki Boulders pictures
  • Spotted a seal
  • Swapped stories
  • Heard a few new tunes
  • Pondered the meaning of life a few times

I think we deserve a nap, don’t you?

So off we went, cruising the streets of town en route to our beautiful abode for the evening.

And beautiful it was.

Perched high up on the hills overlooking Dunedin was our two bedroom Airbnb, complete with laundry, kitchen and queen-size beds.

airbnb room in dunedin

Ok, this is the point of the story where I remind you of my accommodations for the month leading up to this moment.

We are talking hostels, people.

Shared everything – rooms, bathrooms, kitchens.  Places where the definition of privacy is a simple curtain covering the gap in your bunk bed (if you’re lucky).

Don’t take it the wrong way, I was loving the life but the site of four walls with only one bed in it and a bathroom with only one shower made me feel like I was living in luxury only reserved for royalty.

My friend and I agreed to a few hours of r&r before heading down to the city for a night out and went into our respective rooms.

Needless to say I wasted no time making myself at home and enjoying all of the extra amenities that I took for granted just a few short months ago:

Long, hot shower

Free laundry

Bed big enough to swim in

Oh, can’t forget the free WiFi  Netflix time!

And like all times that you are enjoying yourself it was over before I knew it even started.

Knock, knock, knock was the sound coming from outside my door.

My wake-up call was standing in the hallway ready to start making our way to dinner.

I looked back at my big bed and fought back a tear.

Don’t worry big guy, I’ll be back.

Reenergized with the thought of great food, I threw on my fresh-out-the-drier clothes and headed out for a night on the town.

Dunedin’s energy stems from the lively university students that flood its streets and restaurants.  This Friday night was no different.

Although we were a little early for the cool crowd the town was still buzzing with people, everyone excited another week was coming to a close and ready to begin the weekend.

My fellow tripper played the role of tour guide perfectly.  He pointed out all the great sites of the city and explained some of the cooler spots and neighborhoods around the area.

Topping it off he picked out one of his old favorites for dinner – a casual Japanese restaurant in the hip, downtown area known as The Octagon.

We enjoyed a great meal together while continuing our conversations of the day (this time leaving out the meaning of life as to not get too serious).

With a stomach full of sushi we paid our tabs and ventured back out to the lively streets of Dunedin, in search of a nice place to hang out for a while.

It took only three blocks to stumble on a cool Irish pub playing good tunes with a nice vibe.  We made our way in and settled down for a good time while enjoying the atmosphere.

A few pints and one souvenir t-shirt later we were back in the car heading to our palace for a good night sleep followed by another early morning start.

The night was relaxing, fun and filled with great stories.  Success!

City Hall Dunedin

Have you ever experienced one of those moments in life that are so unexpected and rewarding that you know, almost immediately, you’ll remember it forever?

Mine came the next morning after we packed up our things and left the apartment.

We were coasting through the streets of Dunedin one final time before heading back to Christchurch when we came across a traffic jam.

We quickly discovered the cause of the traffic was a stalled car in one of the middle lanes.  Without hesitation my once-stranger-turned-friend pulled up along side the stalled car and asked if they needed help.

The couple and their friend in the other car graciously accepted so we pulled off the main street, parked our car and walked back to them.

As a group we managed to push the car off the main road and into a parking space where they would be able to wait for a tow.

Sure enough the owners thanked us and we were off.

At the end of this quick, maybe 10 minute experience, I felt better than I had throughout the entire road trip.

Such a random act of unsolicited kindness and my friend did not even hesitate.

It was in that second that I knew trust in strangers is not a childhood ignorance, it’s a state of mind. One in which I choose to embrace.

Our journey back to Christchurch went off without a hitch.  We made it back quicker than expected so I took the opportunity to catch a bus to the next town on my list later that afternoon.

Before parting ways my friend and I agreed to stay in touch and hopefully meet again, either in New Zealand, Australia or wherever else our paths cross.  I thanked him once again for the incredible experience, his generosity and most importantly for reminding me that people truly are decent.

A lesson learned by ignoring those don’ts and putting a little trust in a stranger.





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