Comedian Janaye Henry is on a theatre tour of Aotearoa teaching teens about sex, and is writing us a non-Tourism NZ-approved diary of her travels. This week she’s in Ōtepoti Dunedin.
I arrived in Ōtepoti Dunedin wide-eyed and itching to explore. My roommate was itchy too, although it wasn’t until the third night in our accommodation that she identified it as bedbugs.
I had no bites, but after taking my mattress off the bed frame and running a card down the cracks, I created a little flea rave. I’ve never been so grateful to see fleas, bedbugs seem like more admin. The motel tried to gaslight us into thinking we brought the fleas and bedbugs with us. Our tour manager moved us to a new accommodation.
It was also O-Week and I had to constantly ask myself if I was like that during my first year in Wellington. The answer is no, I don’t think anywhere else in New Zealand has the same loose, smashed glass, porch-like-a-garage-sale culture that Dunedin does. Wellington’s O-Week also went hard, but it was more about getting trapped by a chain-smoking boy in corduroy pants explaining why The Breakfast Club is the world’s best movie. He’s wrong, it’s Shark Tale.
It may be shocking to some that a city that looks like ye olde Victorian times also contains ye olde racism. Racism exists literally everywhere in New Zealand but the brand of racism here felt old school; the old ladies clutching their handbags kind. People stared. People crossed roads to avoid us. Nobody is coming for your Strandbags purse, Moira.
When I wasn’t battling bed bugs or racists, I could be found at the Moana Pool. A hydroslide, a lazy river, a wave pool and an 18+ spa? Yes please! My team and I were the oldest on the hydroslide and probably the least responsible. Nothing gets rid of the stresses of the working week like slamming into the walls of a hydroslide while trying desperately to stop yourself from colliding with the small child in front of you.
The lazy river is the perfect place to float around with your pals, discussing the merits of dating apps while on tour. The wave pool offered a number of experiences: flirty water fights, a place to leave kids if you wanted a little break and a great chance to meet new friends as the waves send you over to them. Last, but certainly not least, we have the 18+ spa. I never entered without my friends, because it was predominantly bald men with gold chains. We are a travelling theatre group so we are loud, touchy and give off a bizarre energy. Often once we entered the spa, others would leave. I even got a whistle blown at me and told to sit down because I was standing in front of my friend and I guess giving off horny spa energy? I spent most of my hours in the spa staring wistfully at the lazy river or hydroslide.
After my days at the pool, my favourite spot to go was Woof! This is the most queer-friendly spot I found in Dunedin. Expect berets, mullets, incredible colour-blocked outfits, cocktails and a delicious snack menu. They have Kiwi onion dip on their snack menu. I love the contrast of $18 cocktails and onion dip – sure it’s a bit pretentious, but it’s self aware! Whenever we ventured out to see what else Dunedin nightlife had to offer, we’d always end up back at Woof! because nowhere in that city is as good as Woof! It’s a place where the bar staff are like, “oooh hello, back again!” I love that shtick! Validate me by remembering I’ve been here five times before! Customer service so good I feel like we’re friends.
I’d come back to Dunedin. It’s a fun city to walk around in, the op shops slap and I need to have a cocktail at Woof! after a big day at the Moana Pool again. I don’t fully get the hype – I have friends who are HYPE for Dunedin. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe they don’t experience racism, maybe I’m automatically a bit wary of Victorian architecture. I’ll be back eventually, but for now onwards.
Next stop: Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa, East Coast baby!