Christchurch to Dunedin

Earthquake, sheep farming, steampunk, big round rocks, and a highlands castle!

From Rotorua on the North Island we flew to Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. On a guided walk around the city we learned about the 2011 earthquake that caused extensive damage and killed 185 people. Over twelve years later the rebuilding is still underway. Christchurch Cathedral, for example, was extremely damaged. Restoration started in 2020 and is not expected to be fully completed until 2027.

Sheep Farming 101

The next day our bus took us west to the Rubicon Valley for a taste of the life of a sheep farmer. We learned that New Zealand’s sheep population has dropped from a peak of 70 million in 1982 to around 26 million today, partly because of the decline in demand for woolen products. However, the country remains the second largest exporter of lamb meat, only slightly behind Australia.

We watched a pair of herding dogs skillfully drive a small flock of sheep from the far corner of the “paddock” into a small holding pen. After photo opportunities with the resident alpacas we enjoyed a sheep-shearing demonstration. Sheep need to be shorn once or twice a year for their health. However, it costs as much to shear a sheep as the fleece is worth on the market, so wool is no longer a profitable commodity. Our visit concluded with a barbecue lunch of local meats and salad.

After returning to the city we spent some of our free time exploring the 52-acre botanic gardens, before wandering through the city back to our hotel.


The next morning we left Christchurch for Dunedin, with stops in Oamaru and Moeraki along the way. The town is best known for two things: the many buildings constructed with the local white limestone known as “Oamaru stone,” and its fascination with “Steampunk.” It was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having hosted the largest gathering of steampunks in the world! Oamaru is also the terminus of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, which starts at Aoraki Mount Cook, more than 300 km (190 miles) away. We were fortunate to meet an Australian retired couple who had just completed bicycling the trail.

Moeraki Boulders

Our next stop was at Koekehoe beach near Moeraki, to see the famous Moeraki Boulders. The huge spherical boulders spread along the beach range up to 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) in diameter. They are concretions created by the cementation of Paleocen mudstone, formed over a period of about 5 million years some 60 million years ago.


In Dunedin our first excursion was to Larnach Castle, 13 km (8 miles) east. Dating from 1876 it is in reality a magnificent three-story mansion. At 800 feet above sea level its tower has panoramic views of the harbor, countryside, and ocean. On our way back to the city we stopped at St. Claire beach where an approaching storm made for spectacular scenery and good waves for several brave surfers. The main feature of a walking tour of Dunedin was the impressive 1906 railway station, now a tourist attraction with its 750-thousand-tile mosaic floor and Renaissance Revival architecture.

Next: Milton Sound & Queenstown


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