I woke fairly early and went for a wander down to the edge of the harbour and slipway near where we were staying to enjoy the dawning morning rose-tinted light and peaceful setting, sharing it only with a gull or two for company.
After another excellent breakfast with Robyn and Peter at the local French bistro, they departed back towards Christchurch.
We set off too, but decided to detour a bit in Jucy by taking the spectacular and indirect Summit Drive across some of the mountain tops surrounding us. Wow.
Even now looking back with the objectivity of hindsight, this has to be one of the most spectacular drives I have ever been on. The photos just do not do it justice.
There were a variety of routes we could take, many of them with steep drop offs on one side or another and we saw several interesting looking diversions that we must return to another time. It’s hard to exaggerate how spectacular it is and a photographers paradise.
We had all planned to meet at the Waipara Springs Vineyard for lunch, where we had a really excellent meal, including a fine wine tasting with the owner of the vineyard. He was a social and very interesting host, and his wife maitress d’ed the lunch side of the business with consummate ease. Understandably the place was full.
Lunch went all too quickly and we said our farewells to Robyn and Peter, who headed off to Christchurch. It had been so lovely to see them.
Luckily we still had a few days company ahead with Faye and Martin to look forward to, and we all set off after lunch to Kaikoura, our next destination.
We arrived at Kaikoura and our apartment was quite well located, although a little set back off the road, so not affording the finest of views, although with only one night there, it was perfectly comfortable.
Martin and I headed off into the town, Kaikoura being long and thin, with most of the buildings taking up sensible positions along the sea front, or up on the hills behind.
Having visited the station and much of the town walkway, we set off across the beach to head back to our apartment, only to discover we would need to cross the fast flowing stream separating us from our spouses. Sensible stifled silly and we stayed dry by retracing our steps.
Martin and I headed off to the seafood BBQ kiosk where we sampled the delights of the fresh shellfish available – the first of three visits in 36 hours in Kaikoura…
We dined well in the apartment that evening and went to bed fairly early after a few glasses of wine.
We woke early and Martin and I went out to find a suitable venue to meet Robyn and Peter who were driving down to meet us today from Christchurch. There were a number of choices and we decided to stay close to our accommodation and the nearest French style cafe “The Brasserie” close by had outside tables which suited us well in the early morning sunshine. We ate well.
After breakfast Robyn and Peter were able to check in and I was relieved to see that their apartment was very pleasant – open and light and with a good view of the natural harbour.
Robyn had wanted to see the Giant’s House – a garden of international significance featuring hundreds of artworks by the house’s owner, artist Josie Martin.
Described as the “Happiest Garden on Earth” we spent a very happy few hours there and we took so many photos that it is best that we show them as a short-ish video.
We stopped in a studio of another more conventional oil and watercolour painting artist on the way back to the Waterfront Apartments, but despite some interest shown we didn’t buy anything between us.
I can’t remember what if anything we had for lunch as I know we were saving ourselves for a blow out meal at Ma Maison later. Robyn wanted a rest and Heather and Faye wanted some reading time, so the boys took themselves off in the afternoon to walk the length of the Akaroa front, ending up by the lighthouse, which had been moved to it’s current location at Cemetery Point back in 1979, 100 years after it was built.
It is a six sided, wooden construction and still attracts a lot of visitors, including us and the French girl that we kept bumping into just about everywhere we went. We had another chat to her.
Walking back, it seemed rude not to stop in one of the hostelries for a small libation and so that’s what we did.
The meal at Ma Maison was very pleasant if slightly expensive and not massively memorable. I’m not sure how we ended up sitting as we did, with Robyn and Peter next to Faye and Martin who they had only just met, but it all worked out well as it was a small table so we could all chat together as one group anyhow.
It was a very enjoyable evening and it was great to see Peter and Robyn and to introduce them to Martin and Faye. I think we went back to our apartment for drinks but the events have become somewhat hazy several months later writing this.
Akaroa has a wonderful atmosphere and has a hint of garlic and lavender in the air to celebrate its French connections. We were blessed with great weather again and enjoyed the cafe life in a relaxed ambience. A place to return to methinks.
We had a fair bit of driving to do today, so we set off quite promptly, with Faye and Martin taking the key to the house back to the letting agents, and we made our way directly out of town. I was intrigued by “Dog Kennel Corner” on our route but when we got there we found no sign of dogs or kennels, so we drove on.
With hindsight we should have stopped at Burkes Pass, which looked like a quaint heritage town celebrating the enterprising early settlers, but we sped through on our way to Fairlie.
Here we had coffee at the Fairlie Bakehouse, it being pleasantly warm enough to sit outside, and Martin took the opportunity not being a coffee drinker to have a stroll along the town high street.
Just outside the bakehouse is a memorial to James MacKenzie, the sheep rustling criminal they have named the whole area after. I like the story, so please indulge me while I repeat verbatim what is on the sign explaining his background. If you want to skip this, read on beyond the apostrophes.
“In 1855 James MacKenzie became the first known white man to enter the MacKenzie Basin and experience the grandeur of this outstanding scenic environment, with its harsh climate, towering snow capped peaks, golden waving tussocks, clean air and alpine rivers.
James MacKenzie had come to New Zealand as a Scottish Immigrant seeking a better life. After working as an itinerant shepherd, he took a lease for land near Edendale. That lease required him to stock the land with sheep. The enterprising MacKenzie soon discovered from the local Maori community an inland route through the mountains from Otago, unknown to the coastal pioneers. This route took him to the high alpine basin which now bears his name.
Mackenzie use his talents and knowledge to acquire in the dead of night, 1000 sheep from the Rhodes brothers of the Levels Station near Timaru. Some days later on the 4th March 1855 MacKenzie was apprehended in a mountain pass by the Levels Station Overseer John Sidebottom and two Maori workers Taiko and Seventeen.
MacKenzie escaped that night as the party camped in the pass that now bears his name, beside a small mountain stream now called the MacKenzie Stream.
The search for MacKenzie spread across Canterbury and his theft took on a degree of notoriety becusase he had stolen from one of the wealthiest settler families in Canterbury. The newspapers of the day prominently recorded the events including his eventual capture in Lyttleton and his appearance in court.
Convicted of the theft, MacKenzie was sentenced to 5 years if hard labour serving on prison working gangs manually constructing roads and ditches. A troublesome inmate, he escaped on many occasions, twice being shot while “on the run” and once being captured and returned by the local Maori community lashed to a pole, for a bounty. Eventually he was recommended for a pardon by the prison authorities following the visit of the colony Governor. He sailed from New Zealand shores and out of our history in 1856. This district was named after James MacKenzie when in 1855 pioneers on the coast referred to the land over the mountains as “MacKenzie’s country” after his arrest for sheep stealing.”
I love that story. And that a whole area has been named after a criminal. And a not very successful one.
Ignoring the bloke keeping an eagle eye on us from the balcony across the street, we jumped back in the cars and sped off to Geraldine.
We were planning a short stop here to have a browse in Barkers, famous for their jams and pickles. I struggled a bit to find it as they had just moved into a new premises across the road and after a few distractions in other local shops like buying some deer cheese (not sure it’s worth the fuss) I did eventually catch up with Faye and Martin who had already experienced the delights of Barkers but stayed on while we tried a selection of their cordials.
I was a little under-researched today and we knew that we wanted to stop in Ashburton, both to fuel the cars and ourselves. I used TripAdvisor to look for the best place to eat and the Panther Rock was returned as its recommended option. What I didn’t realise until later was that it was actually in Mayfield, some distance from Ashburton itself. So instead of taking the direct route to Ashburton, we did a significant dogleg to Mayfield only to discover that the Panther Rock was pretty pants.
By this time fuel was becoming an issue for Martin and to some extent for us in Jucy, but we went diagonally back on ourselves across country with tanks and stomachs almost on empty and soon filled up wit very reasonable fuel in the rather unglamorous town of Ashburton. Here we found a so called gastro pub – Cleavers Corner, which took the edge off the appetites and we were soon back on SH1. I was pleased that we had decided not to stay overnight in Ashburton.
We didn’t go right into the outskirts of Christchurch but we headed south just before the Selwyn river, on the Selwyn Lake road, towards our final destination that day, Akaroa. It was a lovely drive, although it did take us nearly 2 hrs, making this one of the longest driving days of our trip, especially when factoring in the unnecessary detour to Mayfield earlier. But lovely scenery all around us made us forget the mileage and we pulled up at the Akaroa Waterfront Motels.
Well they were at the waterfront, which was their most redeeming feature, as the accommodation was basic at best, grubby at worst. Shame because Robyn and Peter were coming down from Martinborough to join us and we could have done with finding a better spot (although their apartment was quite a lot newer and better than ours).
Luckily they only had one night here although the four of us had two. Sorry about the choice of accommodation guys!
Still we will make the most of it and there was always plenty of gin. Akaroa itself looked a charming place and we were soon out wandering around and exploring the environs. Akaroa is a town of two halves, with a 15 minute walk to the other main area from where we were staying. Both areas were well endowed with places to eat and drink and Martin and I rewarded ourselves with a beer and a G&T in the very welcoming Wharf hostel and a good chat to the local barman, who used to run a crystal shop in the town, before wending our way back to the motel.
I can’t remember what we ate that evening but knowing we had planned a good night out on Saturday evening, we probably kept our powder dry-ish. I expect Faye came to our culinary rescue again.
We had sensibly decided to spend two nights here in Tekapo, in the lovely house (did I mention the log burner?) with special views across the lake.
After breakfast we walked into town along the shoreline, stopping to admire the Church of the Good Shepherd, an iconic landmark, before going over the footbridge into the main part of town.
I was a bit worried about having to cross SH8 in order to get to the path that ran alongside the lake, but I needn’t have been – it was very quiet.
The previous evening we had decided to book for the four of us to go out with the Dark Sky Project, a local company who would take us up to the St John observatory, and talk us through the night sky, with a chance of seeing the Southern Lights if we were lucky. This area is famous for being one of only eight dark sky reserves in the world, having been declared so in 2012, and is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.
Unfortunately, when we moved into Level 2 restrictions, which we had just done, the numbers allowed to attend became restricted and so Faye received a call saying that they could only take 2 of us now – no good therefore. We did think about perhaps going, but the forecast was for snow and cloudy skies, so we would have been likely to be inside watching a simulation, and anyway splitting the group would have been very antisocial. Another good reason to come back another time.
We enjoyed our snuffle around the outside of the church, although we were now not allowed in, and Martin was surprised how close it was to the town, with all the photos he had seen previously showing it appearing to be in a very remote spot, through the trickery of the camera lens.
We carried on walking across the footbridge into the main part of town, keeping along the shoreline after we crossed the estuary.
We then got somewhat distracted by the chance to play on a tire wire canopy thingy – something we used to call a foefie-slide back in the day. This one is more sophisticated however, with a tyre to sit on, and a bouncy tire at the other end that returns the ones with more momentum back again along reverse of the downward trajectory.
And there were two. So we didn’t need to push the other children out of the way to get our turn. Much.
Free entertainment over, we went to the local supermarket where those that imbibed got a coffee and those that didn’t bought mega superduper-draw huge jackpot lottery tickets. I bought some too, but had to ask Martin to pay for mine as they don’t accept purchases from foreigners. I did pay him back in full, before the draw, just in case. Although I wonder now writing this, whether the terms of the lottery preclude me from winning. I didn’t check the small print, but as I didn’t even as little as $10, it is somewhat academic.
We watched a man stretch out what we thought was tape cordoning off the children’s playground, but what turned out to be a tightrope kit, which he and another then practiced their skills on, one foot above the ground.
We returned to our digs along the main road. A small town this, largely for tourism, although many facilities were closed. Level two seems to have spooked the south island a little, or maybe they were being just extra cautious.
While our partners were happy to chill and read, Martin and I got restless and drove over to look at the Tekapo hot springs which were open. They looked quite big and well attended, but Thinking that we would have quite a hot spring bonanza in Hanmer Springs, we went instead to the St John observatory area on the mountain peak of the same name just outside the town.
Martin wound the hire car up the slopes of the peak and we parked at the top, where fine views surrounded us. Some had walked up, a bit of a hike, some were walking a circuit of the peak at the high altitude and some like us were taking in the various vantage points and in my case, clicking the camera.
I don’t remember ever being in a place where there is a curtain of mountains all around on the horizon in every direction. Quite extraordinary.
We circled back down to the town and still had time for some more exploring. So we drove down to a small park area on the shore near the house we were staying in to have a nose about. We drove a little way along increasingly rural roads and then turned back and got out for a walk.
This was serendipitous as we stumbled across a frisbee golf course. I’d never seen one before, but Martin had, and indeed had played one.
The only thing we were missing was a frisbee. I suppose we should have invested in such, to go with the boogie board. We will know for next time to put one on our essential kit list.
All explored out, we returned to find our better halves enjoying some peace and quiet and immersed in books with the fire blazing.
We didn’t see any of the forecast snow appear, but it was instead a lovely clear and crisp night. The weather is a fickle mistress. So we shared an excellent bottle of Pinot Noir of the same name and that led us to our own version of the Dark Sky project.
With hindsight, we should have stayed another day. Or maybe two. But we would have had to sacrifice some other days, and then which? We will just have to come back to experience more of the beauty of the area and take in a few more of the walks available.
As it was, with just half a day available, we agreed to get going early, which meant we beat the crowds. And the sun, which didn’t have a chance to thaw the path of the Hooker Valley Track, our challenge for the morning. At only 10 km return in length, gaining no more than 100 metres in altitude, it should be a doddle. We allowed 2.5 hours and we were just about spot on, taking perhaps half an hour extra to admire the views at the end point. And what views. My word, this is just a stunning short walk, one of the best we did on our trip.
I’m going to let the pictures do the talking now – worth 1000 words.
We got back to the carpark, which had filled up considerably, and then decided we would head for the information centre in the “village”, which I thought Faye had visited the previous day, but it turned out not. Sadly it was closed – another reason to return.
Having checked out of our motel earlier we set off for Lake Tekapo, planning to stop at Mt Cook Alpine Salmon on the way through, to top up our salmon supplies. The whole journey wasn’t far today – just over 100km, so I hoped to stop from time to time to photograph the both Lakes and to try and do them justice. Martin and Faye had offered to go to the holiday rental office to pick the keys up for the house Faye had found for us, and so we would meet them at the house later.
I never really did justice to the beauty of the lakes, as these photos will confirm to those readers who have been there in person.
I can’t remember what we ate for dinner but I’m sure it was great. Faye’s cooking always is. And did I mention we had a log burner? Bliss!
We had been told a few times that we should visit the Riverstone restaurant and castle and it was only a short detour off the route to Aoraki, so we went there for breakfast. And very worthwhile a detour it was.
Owner Dot Smith, now seventy, was inspired by her two years as a 19 year old nanny in Kent during her many visits to Hever Castle. She and husband Neil scrimped and saved the proceeds of their successful farming endeavours until at the age sixty six her dream came true and the castle she had always wanted was complete.
Her son Bevan is the well known chef at the restaurant which continues to build a first class fine dining reputation. We only tried the breakfast, apart from Martin who had something from the all day menu, and we all agreed the food was delicious. One can inspect the homegrown lovingly tended varieties of vegetable raw materials in the substantial kitchen gardens out the back.
The shops were something else too. A wide choice of all the kitchenware you could dream of in one, nik-naks and collectables in another, and in a third cavernous space a huge selection of Christmas decorations and paraphernalia. All the shop fronts were pretending to be from a small town in the wild west of the USA.
We managed to avoid buying anything and with full tummies we set off again towards Duntroon. Our (or rather my, with somewhat reluctant agreement from the others) chose stop was the Vanished World – a centre for fossils in the centre of Duntroon. Actually the fossil centre although closed, was almost the entire centre of Duntroon as it is a very small town. Calling itself the “Biggest little town in the Waitaki valley” it has a forge, a hotel and a metal sculpture of a giant moa. Blink and you might miss them all.
Sadly peering through the window at the trays where young and old children can sit and break rocks to find fossils, I was able to spot the giant penguin fossil (standing 1.4 metres tall) and the bones of the giant moa which were all part of their collection.
Luckily the Vanishing World road trail was still open. Hard to close it of course. We set off for the loop, stopping first at a short steep walk at the Earthquakes Site off the road of the same name to see some fossilised remains of a baleen whale.
Next a cloud of dust as tar turned to gravel and for the first time dusty gravel that was running down the back of Jucy in rivulets. Faye and Martin kept a respectful and less dusty distance and we were soon at Tokarahi, which made Duntroon look like a metropolis.
We wandered around at the Aratini Fossil site, eventually spotting the perspex case housing the bones of another whale.
This was where scenes from Narnia had been filmed, with Aswan’s camp being the setting easily imagineered in and amongst the structural rocks.
Next stop Elephant Rocks, where we enjoyed a very interesting setting and the number one attraction in the area.
There is a limit to the ways one can photograph rocks, however impressive, and I found it fairly quickly.
We rejoined the main road, our trail completed and went through Duntroon again to see if we had missed anything the first time. No.
We skipped past two sites with Maori rock art, almost failed to register the large Richie McCaw photo poster in his home town of Kurow, and stopped instead at the large manmade Waitaki Dam. It was started in 1928 and competed in 1934 using old fashioned pick and shovel, deliberately chosen to create hazardous but additional employment opportunities for 1200 men.
Our next stop, very briefly, was at Sailors Cutting. Just for the view.
I had a hankering to see Clay Cliffs, but before we did a lengthy side trip, we did a short detour along SH8 towards Cromwell, just 5 minutes or so, to a viewpoint where we could see them at a distance.
Deciding it was just too far to take the whole excursion, we could see a number of cars and people there, it was quite similar looking to the Pinnacles at Cape Palliser and so we gave it a rain check.
We pressed on hungrily for our lunch stop which was at High Country Salmon. My previous attempts to catch the beasts had been laughable, and I wasn’t prepared to humiliate myself again. Luckily I didn’t have to, as all the produce was already caught and neatly packaged and in freezers/fridges awaiting our attention.
We fed on sashimi, and then fed the live salmon some pellets, which they clearly enjoyed.
We bought some hot smoked salmon to take away with us and pressed on into Twizel where we stopped and got some essential supplies – wine. We had a quick look around – quite a big town but we weren’t disappointed not to be staying overnight.
Lake Pukaki didn’t look real. To such an extent that Faye didn’t take any photos of it, as the blue was just so artificial looking.
We struggled on arrival at Mt Cook village, the hotel we pulled up outside, which thought we were staying in was closed. A sign directed us up to the Hermitage to check in. They didn’t have our booking. Not surprising as I had completely the wrong hotel. Once we established that we were staying in the Mt Cook Lodge, not the Mt Cook Alpine Lodge, we drove around a bit and eventually found it, despite the paucity of signage.
Although Faye and Martin’s room had a small kitchenette, it was fun to prepare the evening meal in the communal kitchen adjoining the lounge and as we did so, which Faye did mostly, it gradually filled up with other guests. We had thought we might eat out, but the only restaurant nearby was closed and we didn’t fancy the expensive Hermitage. So we had our picnic, indoors, with that lovely view.
The returning guests included a young friendly British couple who had been for a long tough trek to the top of the ridge behind us – thousands of steps up and the same again down, they wearily described it as. We had obviously nicked their preferred sofas as they told us they had been here a few days already, but despite that they chatted about their decision to immigrate to NZ from London, which they had done 4 and a half years ago.
We enjoyed a smorgasbord of tasty bites including some lovely salmon from the farm visited earlier and discussed walking options for the following day. We definitely ruled out the one to the top of the ridge. Hooker Valley seemed favourite.
We weren’t late to bed, as we were tired from a long but good day driving and exploring. And being fresh for the walk tomorrow seemed a good idea.
This will be one of the days I will always remember from our extended trip. We started quite early and enjoyed the benefit of the spectacular sunrise. We saw some penguins, frightened a seal, and met a French solo traveller who we then kept bumping into. If days are measured by the amount of photos taken, then this one is right up there…..
I walked down the peninsular towards the point and woke a seal sleeping under a bush next to the path. It erupted into action and rushed off down the path both frightened and frightening at the same time. Heart racing, I tried to capture its fleeing form without success. It stopped when it felt it was a safe distance and that was my chance to grab the photo.
Back at the motel we packed, paid and departed. Not far, just down the road to the boulders.
I got unnecessarily spoofed by the signage into donating $5 for the maintenance of the path down to the beach, but hey.
The boulders were impressive, but Martin and I agreed that the ones in Koutu in the Hokianga near Opononi were more impressive still. I haven’t written that blog up yet, so for your comparison….
After a little while we were all bouldered out, and we didn’t have very far at all to go to Oamaru, our next stop, only 40km or so, one of our shortest day’s driving, and nothing to detain us en route.
We were there in plenty time for a mid morning coffee for some and a slice of cake for others.
We took a wander past the shops, looking in some that were open, some were closed.
We had a happy time in the HQ and afterwards went up to the Fantail Cottage to check in, only fooled slightly by the back door being unexpectedly unlocked for self check-in at the back centre of this trustworthy small town.
Martin and Faye had checked in to a nearby motel and we had time off for good behaviour until 5 or so, when I picked them up. Faye set about her excellent cooking in the brightly painted slightly-over-the-top decor of the artist owner, who we had met earlier when she had cycled over to say hello. She explained what a major overhaul they had given the place and they had done a splendid job, creating a place with both cosy warmth and colourful uniqueness. She was slightly disparaging about the HQs attempts to represent steampunk and there are obviously rival factions in the town who interpret the brief differently.
We had a lovely meal with some good accompanying wine after which our hosts, who were also our guests, walked back to their motel They had used the onsite machine for a small load of washing which wasn’t quite dry and which we would safeguard until the following day.
What to make of Oamaru? I found it an interesting, unusual place, which had a very welcoming feel, and makes a good weekend destination, a long one if you are a steampunk fan. It was very untypical of everything we had seen so far. And that was grand.
An early start for Martin and I when we went out on a circular one hour walk at about 7.30am to explore Dunedin before the wives got underway. I was keen to get a photo of the railway station and maybe look around inside, and we saw a sign indicating that if we came back a bit later, it should be open after 8am.
We trundled on around the outside of the centre, passing the Chinese gardens that Faye and Martin had visited the day of their arrival.
The city is supposed to be reminiscent of Edinburgh and it was certainly the most colonial city architecture we had seen so far. It lacks the distinctive topography and there is no Castle Rock, but the layout and the inclines of the city did have a familiar feel.
We started off following a circuit described in one of the guide books, but soon varied our route to take in a few more hills. I like a hill, although wasn’t specifically seeking them out, despite Martin’s protestations. We arrived at the brewery (up and then downhill) and had a distant sighting of the boys school (too far uphill) that we later discovered Peter McKeown had attended as a boy.
We circumnavigated the Octagon and went back down Stuart Street to try the station again, but it was still closed.
The Cadbury chocolate story Martin told me sounded like an excellent MBA case study, with a series of bad decisions leading to the closure of the public tour of the facility after the the factory also closed. Moving the production to Australia, changing the taste due to the milk used, and changing the size of the bars all played into rival Whittaker’s hands, and you hardly see a bar of Cadburys in NZ retail now, with Whittakers the clear and very tasty market leader.
Back at the hotel, we packed the cars and checked out, and our next stop was the Signal Hill Lookout for panoramic views of the city and surrounds. But wait! As they say in the adverts here. One other attraction beckoned – the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street was en route.
Contentious this, with a welsh person in the navigating street as for 10 years Baldwin street had held the title until Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech claimed the record by measuring the gradient of the side of their road. On appeal it was decided by the Guiness Book of Records that the proper measure should be the middle or central line of the road, which in Baldwin’s case is steeper. So the title was restored.
Of more importance was a) could we find it and b) could Jucy get to the top of it? The answer to a) was no despite the large brown signs, and to b) would have been probably not. We turned a road early and went instead up Primrose Bank and incredibly steep Dalmeny Street. Jucy clawed her way up to the top, just. Faye and Martin were behind us, so this was no time to stall and give her a testing hill start. With all 91hp of the tiny engine revving furiously we leaned forward in our seats and lurched over the crest of the rise into Evans Street. Luckily there was no oncoming traffic to lurch into or frighten.
Deciding that was enough of a rallying challenge for the time being, we pressed on to the summit of Signal Hill, the smell of hot engine announcing our arrival.
Next stop Martin’s chosen destination of Port Chalmers passing a clearly marked sign for Baldwin Street but deciding discretion was the better part of valour. Wee found a circuit around Port Chalmers recreation reserve which took a few walkers by surprise but gave us a fine sea side view on the way around.
We got up to Flagstaff Lookout and Hotere Gardens where the four statues were on offer.
We tried to find the Lady Thorn Dell, but ended up stopping at the Centenary Lookout instead.
Martin and Faye found an alternate route and we stopped in Carey’s Bay, just to photograph the sign for our friend in Strangford.
We tried to drive along the spine of the nearby Heyward Point on our way out of Port Chalmers, to see if we could get good views like we had enjoyed from the Otago Peninsula, but we were soon deterred by a gravel road, so we went half way to Purakanui before turning back to the main road. The local entertainment seemed to be driving an old car round and round in high speed muddy circles in a field with cows in the middle of it, who were obviously used to it as they showed no sign of fear or even interest.
After rejoining SH1 we soon detoured on to the coast road, passing through Warrington ( a brewery but no coffee), Seacliff (no coffee that we could see) and then stopped briefly overlooking the bay at Karitane. For no other reason than to admire the scenery.
We rejoined the SH1 in Hawksbury. crossing the Waikouaiti river before speeding through the town of the same name. It has a golf course, like many small towns, although we didn’t see this one, as unusually it wasn’t next to the main road. Golfers obviously hit the ball straight in NZ, or have good insurance.
Goodwood, Palmerston, Bushey and Shag Point came and went. We went straight to the Moeraki Tavern, where loads of people were enjoying sitting outside on a warm sunny afternoon. We looked at them through the glass window, all tables being occupied, enjoying a drink and before long Martin and Faye joined us too. We decided to save ourselves for our dinner which was at Fleurs that evening and didn’t want to spoil our appetite with a large lunch.
We checked in to the Moeraki Beach Motel, where we had adjoining rooms and could share the balcony, with sun and some views of the sea. A quiet relaxing afternoon beckoned and it was so warm that Martin and I got our shorts on, mine being seen for the first time in a few weeks – sadly they had shrunk.
We walled down to Fleurs for our 6pm table and enjoyed a very special meal in this iconic NZ restaurant. Fresh fish was obligatory and we had a sampler plate of four different types, all of them delicious. We didn’t get to talk to the owner as she was in demand, and we were lucky we had booked as the place was rammed.
Strangely, one is not allowed to buy fish straight from the fishermen locally, all catches having to be send to the central producers instead. To get around this rule Fleur bought a boat and with it a licence or quota so she was able to take advantage of purchasing local fish directly herself. I’m not sure whether she ever used the boat.
Rick Stein apparently says that the two essential things to do in NZ are to go to Fleurs and to have Bluff Oysters. Well we had managed the first…
Not far back to the motel and I remember the stars being brightly out in force. We bypassed the tavern on the way back, partly because it was either closed or closing, and had a nightcap back at the motel to unnecessarily aid our digestion.
We were up early for a big day of albatrosses, castles and pizza. On the Otago Peninsula, just east of Dunedin. If you haven’t been, when in the area, do go. It’s a stunner.
And we had lovely weather, again. We seized the opportunity to test out Martin’s knee with a short walk down a steep hill towards Tunnel Beach. This involved a short detour out of the city and Martin and Faye kindly offered to drive us for the day, so we left Jucy parked up at the Victoria Hotel and headed south west for 8km.
We didn’t intend going all the way to the beach, but just to take a short walk down the steep path (and it was steep) to a viewpoint to see a hole in the rock. Local legend is that the beach was tunnelled to by local politician John Cargill in the 1870s and that either one of two of his daughters drowned using the beach to swim once it was opened. This is an urban legend with no foundation in truth happily.
We didn’t get as far as the hand-hewn tunnel, deterred by the out-of-puffness of the young couple who appeared red-faced at the top of the walk, and with the wrong state of tide (our excuse). We did however get to a view of the sea cave, carved more naturally out of the cliff and providing a photo opportunity which I took before the steep return back to the car.
A further westerly diversion along this beautiful bit of coastline brought us through Waldronwood, Westville and Ocean View to Brighton Beach. Not the Graham Greene one, but even more lovely.
Back in Dunedin we were keen to revisit St Clair and have a coffee, which we did at the same café we had been in the previous day which I think is called the Esplanade. Faye managed to secure us an ever better table inside by the window. Martin had found parking a little distance away and joined us inside after a phone shouting exchange with his dad.
The drive round the peninsula was a very splendid one, with views in all directions as we navigated the central ridge, eventually dropping down to the coast side road near the albatross reserve.
There was some debate about why the centre was called the Royal Albatross Centre and indeed in 1989 Princess Anne opened it, which was one theory, although the better one was that the Northern Royal Albatross nest there, hence the name. This is the only mainland breeding centre for Royal Albatross in the world and we were lucky to see three chicks.
8 months after hatching, these 3 metre wingspan marvels, now considerably heavier than their parents, will take off to spend between 3 and 5 years flying over the sea, sometimes racking up as much as 190,000 km of flight in a year, whilst never touching the ground.
Understandably one of them was practicing its flying technique before the big take off, which looked fairly imminent. There is a competition to name the largest of these chicks, and indeed the voting as I write this is still open to name this RoyalCam chick, hatched on the 31st January 2020.
It looks like it is down to the last 5 names, disappointingly not including “Albatrossy -McAlbatross-face”, instead a choice of:
Atawhai, Kōtuitui, Manaaki, Marama and Waimarie
If you’d like to visit the webcam and see the chick, you can do that here. Be quick though, as I reckon she is off soon.
The 12.30 group was fully booked, so we opted for the 1.30 one instead and took a time filling walk down to the cove nearby, where we saw nesting boxes for out-at-sea penguins. And in the distance near the fence, somnambulant seals.
We joined the tour party of 18 and walked up to the crest of the hill, past the rough-and-ready jail cell, to a purpose built hide and lookout centre, where we had binoculars a-plenty and an enthusiastic talk from the petite Chinese Janice.
Janice stopped on the day up after our 20 minutes film and shouted “Albatross!” as one flew overhead. I missed it.
I was better at spotting the ones on the ground. The camera was soon clicking.
I make no apologies for the number of albatross photos. They are magnificent creatures. I was enchanted, but missed the next two times that Janice shouted “Albatross!” although the others saw them in flight, and I saw the tip of a long white wing as it went overhead.
We opted not to extend the tour to see the disappearing gun, but took our leave and went along the coast road to Larnach Castle.
Building started in 1871 on this unusual piece of Victoriana Githic Revival commissioned by the Australian born politician and businessman William Larnach. He and his wife Eliza moved in in 1874 and enjoyed both amazing views and a collection of fine craftsmanship inside an eclectic building made of materials from around the world, including yellow brick, Glasgow brick, Oamaru stone, Port Chalmers basalt, Cornwall blackstone, Italian marble, Marseilles cobbles, Catlins timber, North Island Kauri and local Caversham sandstone.
It works. We enjoyed the house, called “the camp” by the original owner, but now referred to as the only castle in New Zealand.
In 1880, William’s wife, Eliza died prematurely from a stroke. The Deceased Wife’s Sister Marriage Act was passed in the same year which then allowed a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister. Two years after Eliza’s death, William married her allegedly more attractive half-sister Mary Alleyne. In a move to protect his interests in the event of bankruptcy, William transferred his properties on Otago Peninsula into Mary’s name via a pre-nuptial agreement. Smart move.
William’s children weren’t keen on Mary, and worried she would inherit William’s estate. She was also unpopular with the staff at Larnach Castle and was known for drinking too much whilst William was away on business. Mary died from blood poisoning following an operation after just two years of marriage.
William Larnach committed suicide in 1898 following either financial traumas not caused by the house, or receiving the news in a letter that his third and much younger wife Constance was having an affair with his youngest son Douglas. He died intestate and his eldest son Douglas also committed suicide in 1910. I’m not able to establish why.
Understandably the detailed history boards in the castle skip over these rather gloomy histories and concentrates on the craftsmanship and qualities of the house instead.
The house remains a treasure. We walked it inside and out and marvelled at the gardens. And the views. The Barkers, who bought it in 1967 as a ruin, have done a brilliant job restoring it to former glories, even with the addition of the occasional RSJ to keep it all propped up. It’s well worth a visit today, as 300,000 annually will testament.
We had enjoyed a busy and amazing day. Could we keep up the pace?
Back at the hotel we rested for a nano-second and went out to the city centre to see if we could find a lower cost but good restaurant for the evening. We chanced upon the small Pizza de Francesca, right next door to the Two Chefs Bistro.
Martin tried unsuccessfully to talk the young Italian waitress into getting her injured partner the pizza pirouetting chef to make him one with no cheese but pineapple instead to make it moist.
She didn’t budge. Even threatening at one point to go back to her apartment to get her t-shirt with “No pineapple on pizza” emblazoned on it to prove her commitment. It made for a fun evening and the pizzas were great even without pineapple. A large dose of wine made the bill not a million miles off of the fine dining the previous evening. Anyhow all worth it for the experience and the banter. And the pizza, pineapple free. The young couple also gave us a courtesy limoncello.
A good evening. And a very good action packed day.
Up early this morning to walk down to the Nugget Point lighthouse and hopefully see some blue penguins returning to the water. I drove cautiously hunched over the wheel at 7.30am after coaxing Jucy into life – her central locking doesn’t work first thing in the morning, I’m not sure she is an early bird. It was the early penguins I was driving so slowly to avoid running over in the darkness, in case they were returning to the water from nests across the road. I didn’t see any.
I didn’t see any from the hide either as although it was nicely set up, a ten minute walk from a car park on the side of the hill overlooking the stony beach below, I think that any penguins had already made their way into the sea before I arrived. And even if not, they would be difficult to spot against the grey background and impossible to photograph as my blurry photos of penguin shaped rocks later established.
Deciding not to spend any more time on this lost cause, I went back to the car and drove up to the top car park and walked along the cliff side path to the lighthouse. All of which was spectacular as the sun rose.
Too many photos later I was back at the car.
And back at the apartment.
We set off for Dunedin, stopping in Balclutha unnecessarily paying more than we could have done for petrol, but with peace of mind.
We passed Sod Cottage. Thinking that the locals had run out of inspiration for touristy sights. There wasn’t much to Sod Cottage, poor old chap – just a small cottage on the side of the main road. We didn’t stop.
Once we arrived in Dunedin, we decided to have a bite to eat on the coast as it was such splendid weather. We went to St Clair, a well heeled suburb of the larger than expected city right on the coast.
Our first choice of venue was full and being a Friday afternoon the whole place was busy, so parking was at a premium, which gave us a chance to walk down the promenade from the salt water pools to the cafes. We enjoyed a lovely 40 minutes lunch in warm sunshine, outside, watching the world go by.
We decided that Jucy deserved a bath and found a car wash place although it was an epic fail to get the coins in the right slot. Eventually we managed with help to get it working and after a good soft brush sluicing Jucy gleamed with pride. However the smell of decomposing brie from deep within her spoiled the moment somewhat. We vacuumed her inner cavities and in so doing discovered samples of dust that some palaeontologists would have been proud of.
Our hotel, the Victoria, was central and we arrived shortly after Faye and Martin. It was really lovely to see them and we were delighted they had decided to come down. They had flown down the night before and were downshifting it a bit in our chosen hotel, which was acceptable but was clearly a little basic compared to their previous night’s accommodation.
No time to waste we dashed out early to celebrate the reunion with cocktails at a cosy place called Pequeno, which Faye had researched and was handily close the Octagon. We sat near the fire having a gin and tonic or Whisky Sour or two before the hordes arrived.
We then tried several places to eat without success. Friday night is the busiest night in town. And what a town it was – much bigger than I had expected and nothing like the grim and cold stark stone clad city that the name suggested, A little but not too much like Edinburgh although with a close association emotionally and understably so. Lovely Victorian architecture surrounded us and gave us the most British feeling place we had been to so far.
Architecture doesn’t slake the appetite in the same way it stimulates the eyesight, so we were still in the market for dinner. We ended up in Stuart Street which was the epicentre of eating out in the city and after Vault21 was ruled unsuitable due to its ambient noise we settled on the Two Chefs Bistro. Very French and as well heeled as St Clair, if not more so.
Well fed and watered we went back to the Victoria and a happy collapse. We like this city. Were we mistaken in cutting our time here back to two nights? We will see.