A quick dash to New Zealand – a diary

So when my itinerary came through for Melbourne, I had a couple of events with fellow Scottish writer Liam McIlvanney. Liam is a Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and he emailed to suggest that, since I was ‘in the area’ (i.e. the same hemisphere), would I like to pop over and do a couple of events at the university. They had a budget, he said. Yes, I said.

It was a fleeting visit, and in the end I only did one event, as it was mid-term break at the university. I wish I could’ve stayed longer and done more tourist shit, but Trish and the wee kids beckoned me homewards. Anyway, here’s what I did in New Zealand.

Tue 27 Aug: Travelling. I cleverly had my first hangover of the trip after the free bar escapades of the previous night, so felt like shite the whole time. Got into Christchurch around mid-afternoon (time difference to UK now 11 hours), then a cheeky wee 50-seater twin-prop down to Dunedin in the south of the South Island. Taxi to the Executive Residence, a university-run hotel in town. Already dark outside. Weird. Phoned home and spoke to the wife and kids (awwww), then wandered out in the dark and found a place that did great steak and beer. Ate steak and beer. Wandered around town some more. Went to bed.

Wed 28 Aug: Up early for the guided tour. Liam showed me round campus, including the view from his office window:

Home from home

Home from home

Took a wander around town, it’s weird, ALL the street names are lifted straight from Edinburgh, and the river is called The Leith. In the central octagon (not square) of town, there’s a massive Robert Burns statue:

Liam and Robbie: two decent Scottish writers

Liam and Robbie: two decent Scottish writers

Joke is, he’s facing the pub with his back to the church. Boom boom. The town was founded by his uncle or something, so fair play to em.

After a nice lunch (no blue cod on the menu, apparently a local speciality), off out to the Otago peninsula. Where we got views like this:

like an IMAX version of Scotland, right?

like an IMAX version of Scotland, right?

…and ended up here:

You can take the boy out of Porty, etc

You can take the boy out of Porty, etc

A beautiful little village set in a gorgeous bay. After that we visited ‘The World’s Steepest Street’, which is apparently not only a real thing, but a tourist attraction:


Doesn’t look that steep, right? Wrong. Puggled.


Then it was time for the event, a lovely audience, very attentive, as I banged on about the drama in the domestic, all that crap, then played a few tunes on a beautiful guitar borrowed from the uni’s music department in front of a MAHOOSIVE pic of myself:

taken by Rogelio Guedea, a Mexican writer working at the uni

taken by Rogelio Guedea, a Mexican writer working at the uni

As you can see, it was some serious shit. No smiles to be had. I read the playground punch-up scene again, which is generating a lot of questions about moral ambiguity in protagonists. Maybe out of context from the rest of the book it seems overly harsh, but I like reading it anyway, so fuck it.

Like I say, loads of great questions during and after the event, then off to Albar, the town’s Scottish pub for a quick pint before dinner at The Scotia, yep, the town’s Scottish restaurant. Also in attendance were some academics and local crime writers and other assorted book people, and Liam’s wife Val. Liam had the Cullen Skink, just to show off. Someone else had the cranachan, which was really just a trifle in a cup and not cranachan at all. But otherwise the food was awesome. Bed after a great day.

Thu 29 Aug: Because of the cancelled student event, I basically had a day to fuck around like a tourist. Spent much of it in Dunedin’s botanic garden, which had a cool aviary and some colossal trees:

You can't tell, but these are very big

You can’t tell, but these are very big

Then went to Otago Museum, which was excellent, and where I met these little Maori dudes:

Like Dick and Dom, yeah?

Like Dick and Dom, yeah?

And these gigantic extinct moas:

You looking at me. pal?

You looking at me, pal?

Then rounded off another great day with dinner and drinks at Liam and Val’s house, where I met their very cool four boys (four boys! Oof!).

Fri 30 – Sat 31 Aug: Travelling. Something like 48 hours, Dunedin to Christchurch to Melbourne to Doha to London to Edinburgh, with shitloads of waiting around and getting hassled by airport security. Worth it to get home, though.

So, as you can see, not exactly working like a dog while I was there, eh? But had an amazing time, and would love, love, love to go back and properly tour round New Zealand. It felt very laid back, very cool, like it really didn’t give a fuck about whether you liked it or not, and that’s the sign of a good country, isn’t it?

MASSIVE thanks to Liam McIlvanney who put the whole thing together, and everyone else at the university and beyond who made me feel so welcome. Great place, great times!

Doug x

About Doug Johnstone

I write things
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