Your first thought reading the title of this post might be “what is Dunedin?” Or, more aptly, “where is Dunedin?”
Dunedin is a small city (I’d almost call it a town but that would probably cause a riot) near the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s known for it’s university and being the place my old roommate first saw snow.
So why did I spend a small fortune to visit this little city?
Because I would gladly bankrupt myself to see a wild penguin. And the best chance to see a wild blue penguin (the smallest and nearly rarest in the world!) in New Zealand is at the Otago peninsula. Dunedin is the only airport even vaguely nearby.
So I went to Dunedin. In search of penguins.
I’d actually been to Dunedin before, back in November when I was on my Kiwi Experience tour around the country. We spent a night in the city, with enough time to climb the world’s steepest street and visit the supermarket before bed.
There wasn’t a way to fit penguins into that visit.
Now I regret not extending my stay for the extra two nights. Instead, I waited 6 months to spend over $300 on flights and over $150 on an Airbnb for a long weekend visit.
But those weren’t the costs that made me cry actual tears.
No, that was the taxi fares in Dunedin.
$400 Too Much
$400 may not seem like much at first. But this was a three day trip. It was a total of 4 taxi rides. 4!
That’s right: each taxi ride cost about $100.
Admittedly, these were decently long cab rides. The 2 trips to the airport (because apparently Dunedin’s airport bus is a lie google maps tells visitors to lull them into false complacency) took about 35 minutes. For some reason Dunedin built their airport as far as humanely possible from the city. Perhaps with the hopes of charging crazy taxi fees?
The other 2 trips were to see wild penguins on the peninsula. The 45 minute drive somehow cost less than the trip to the airport even though it was to the middle of nowhere.
Rental Car Remorse
This all could have been avoided if I rented a car, right?
Wrong. …well, partially.
Since I’m under 25, cars are crazy expensive to rent. So I never even consider the option. I get by walking and taking public transport. It’s rare that I ever need an Uber or wish I could drive around cities.
The moment I saw the taxi meter tick up above $100, I really wished I’d thought to rent a car at the airport.
(Not) Working for the Weekend
Like I said, Dunedin isn’t a big place. It’s not exactly a tourist hot spot in autumn. And everything seems to close on the weekend.
Coffee shops, restaurants, tour sites, clothing stores and car rental agencies.
The agencies that were open were back at the airport, a $110 taxi ride away.
I was starting to believe Dunedin had it out for me. Or, at least, for my bank account.
If Only I Could Drive (on the Other Side)
Finally, after nearly 2 hours of googling, I found 2 car rental agencies in the city. A car would cost around $150 for 2 days.
But a new problem arose: I have no idea how to drive on the other side of the road.
I grew up in Canada, where we drive on the right side. I’d never figured out how to drive on the left. There had never been a need to.
When I lived in Glasgow, everything I did was within walking distance. In London, I always take the tube. In Australia, my parents drove.
Was I prepared to learn how to drive on the left side of the road in a new city, along a gravelly ocean-side road to see penguins after dark?
Desire to Survive Dunedin
Short answer: I wasn’t.
It felt like a recipe for disaster. I could see myself accidentally sliding off into the ocean or getting stuck in an endless loop in a roundabout.
I’d need a full set of lessons before I’d be ready to do that. I could barely wrap my head around the straight line to the airport through farmland – where the worst I could do was break a fence and set a bunch of sheep free to wreak havoc.
If I actually wanted to make it to see the penguins, my only goal for this entire nightmare of a trip, then I needed to suck it up and shell out far too much money.
Penguins are Worth More than Taxis
I did end up taking a taxi in the end. The sweet driver waited for an hour and a half while I watched over 50 little blue penguins waddle up the beach and into their homes. He wouldn’t even take a tip for waiting. He just wanted to see my video of them scurrying up the final hill to their nests.
But my mom helped re-frame it. The $400 wasn’t for cab fare. It was to see wild penguins.
I would happily have spent $500 or more to see the silver glow of the birds in the moonlight.
I haven’t regretted the $400 taxi rides since.
But I definitely need to learn how to drive on the other side of the road (just in case it lets me see wild penguins again).
What are you willing to splurge for when you travel?