An inviting university town
Besides good stories, one of the resources journalists treasure most is time. Theoretically, the more of it they have, the better their pieces will be, with the additional hours going into crafting sentences to read as smoothly as a flowing river and quadruple-checking each fact. Realistically, more time seldom has that outcome. Either way, time in all its great, small, endless or finite quantities is something every scribe understands. Sort of.
Time blurred somewhere between Johannesburg on Friday evening and Dunedin before mid-day on Sunday. Approximate mathematics told me I had journeyed for almost two days which should equate to 48 hours but somehow ten of them were lost in the haze of back-to-the-future-like travel.
New Zealand is the furthest place a South African will travel for Test cricket. It requires crossing 11 time-zones and literally turns life upside down. Morning in New Zealand is the previous evening in South Africa, it is light when it should be dark and breakfast is served when dinner is expected. There's something novel yet confusing about being somewhere between the beginning and the end but knowing that it's not the middle. Yes, even in New Zealand, it's not the middle.
Everything you have seen in The Lord of the Rings or been told about the postcard-like scenery is not true. What greets the eye is far, far better than that. From an airplane window seat, green hills dot the landscape, neatly stacked like piles of upside down cupcakes iced with cotton-wool white clouds while sunlight drips through, like a stream of honey.
In Dunedin, it's a deceptive sun which it offers only a watery glow to counter the biting cold. I refuse to describe the frozen air and knifing wind as summer - everything about it screams Johannesburg in July - and even locals admitted it had been a bad season.
A quainter town probably exists, with more charming cafes and fewer frayed edges. Dunedin is a picture book, but not perfect town. Its corners have dog-ears that give it character. The Cadbury's factory does not gleam of Willy Wonka's gold wrapping but has an obscene purple pipe poking out of it. Staying right next door to it will require supreme powers of self-restraint, which is why the first thing, after a long sleep, was to hit the streets for a morning run.
In a university town, the experience is usually pleasant. The recommended route started at the new Forsythe Barr Stadium - the home of the Highlanders rugby team. The old stadium, which is further from the center of town, is one that many South Africans are happy to see being destroyed. Known as the House of Pain, Carisbrook was a venue where the Springboks were often made to look like helpless deer, until 2008 when they won a historic Tri-Nations match there.
Forsythe Barr is a modern structure, which looks somewhat out of place with its surrounds that are in keeping with the student vibes. The University Oval, where the first Test will be played, has the feel of a club ground. With a pavilion and one stand, it's no theatre but cricket will certainly be more at home there. The road winds up a hill, opposite the Logan Park High School and it seems people don't have too far to travel when they head to university, because student houses are around the corner.
With faded paintings and old couches standing on the porches, these houses reminded me of a laundry basket: slightly crumpled and creased with that worn-in but loved feel. I imagine many a student has passed through this street and emerged educated, in all of life, from it.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent