Who We Are: Living in New Zealand in 2016
David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Who we are: Intimate living in an overlooked wonder

David Fisher and videographer Mark Mitchell spent almost a month driving round New Zealand in a campervan. Their mission: to find out what it means to be a New Zealander. Find out more about the series below.

Day 2: Dunedin to Hokitika

Surely Dunedin is the most excellent of New Zealand cities? There are people, but not too many. There is traffic, but not too much. There are houses, but they are affordable. There are beaches, which have surf.

True, it's very cold surf, and apparently stays so during summer. I tried to get a straight answer from people there about summer swimming - wetsuit or not? If you know, please email me.

Sally Upsher, 33, of Mosgiel, in Dunedin with her chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sally Upsher, 33, of Mosgiel, in Dunedin with her chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Dunedin is a southern balm to a tortured Auckland soul. Beautiful, starkly elegant, it is an overlooked wonder. And friendly? Try this. When we turned up at the Dunedin Holiday Park in the campervan, owner (and man-mountain) Daniel Grubb came barrelling out of the office and embraced me in a bear hug. Most places you just shake hands.

It's a more intimate style of living. People take the time to stop and chat. Also, and I don't know if this is related, you notice down here that a lot of people wear their pyjamas outdoors. I don't have anything to add beyond that but I'd never seen so many pyjamas worn in public. Very nice they were too.

When we left Dunedin, taking the road to Middlemarch, Otago was working its way into my being. I prattled for weeks afterwards about moving to Dunedin. If only the sea was warm.

We drove up, hills winding between river and rock, to Middlemarch where we met Callum and Kate Wilson at the Kissing Gate Cafe in Middlemarch. They didn't mention but I later found they own it, which suggests a southern modesty. If anyone north of the Bombay Hills had a hand in making cheese scones that were so good, everybody would hear about it.

Callum farms sheep. Has done for 35 years or so. He gets that dreamer's faraway look in his eyes when you ask why he does it, given the nation's growing obsession with dairy.
"At the end of the day you're an optimist," he says.

You think every season will come without drought, that grass will be plentiful and the lambs will be off to the works early.

"You're always thinking, next year will be like that. In truth, it's once every 10 years."

He does it because his office is the land below the Rock and Pillar Range and he loves this land. His connection goes back to his grandfather, a surgeon, who had a holiday house here.

His father farmed and Callum and Kate's son Michael also farms here.

It was hard to go from somewhere so decently wholesome to Queenstown, where every square metre of land is eyed with a view to extracting value. It's a tourist destination and a winter drawcard - I understand this - but its housing issues are almost crazier than in Auckland.

The Middlemarch Rugby Ground and stockyards, Otago. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
The Middlemarch Rugby Ground and stockyards, Otago. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

If you want to see how crazy it is, talk to the tourists on the street about how much they pay for their accommodation then walk around the back of businesses and ask the workers. They drive 50 minutes to work, they hot-bed, they sleep four-to-a-room.

Enough said, but it stayed in my mind through Haast and up the coast to Hokitika where I thought Fat Pipi Pizza put it best with its own wine label - Far Canal.

• Next: Hokitika to Rai Valley (near Nelson)

David Fisher's video blog:

Video

About the series

The current flag got a tick from the people of New Zealand, but the referendum triggered an unprecedented debate about our sense of national identity and how we're seen on the world stage.

What better time to hit the road and visit every corner of our amazing country. We wanted to know how we feel about ourselves. What are our hopes? Our fears? Do we like our national character? What could we do better? What should we celebrate?

The Municipal Chambers on the Octagon, in Dunedin. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Municipal Chambers on the Octagon, in Dunedin. Photo / Mark Mitchell

We met dozens of Kiwis. This week and next, we're telling their stories, showcasing the places where they live and investigating the themes that unite - and sometimes divide - us.

We're publishing daily travelogues and video blogs by two-time reporter of the year David Fisher. His words are illustrated with stills and video by award-winning Mark Mitchell.

We're also publishing animated graphics featuring everyday New Zealanders and the word (or words) that best sum up, to them, being Kiwi in 2016. Here's today's:

Video

Next week we'll go into even more depth, publishing a series of mini-documentaries about those themes. The series will conclude with an interactive presentation showcasing our conclusions.

We want you to be part of this special project. On social media, share the word (or words) that sum up being Kiwi to you. Use the hashtag #NZin1word and we'll add the best submissions to our #NZin1word hub which will run throughout the series.

At the end we'll analyse the answers to create the Land of the Long White Word Cloud - a visual representation of how we perceive ourselves.

Part 1:Bluff to Dunedin

- NZ Herald

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