Christchurch, Oamaru, Dunedin
Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
17Trip End Oct 28, 2006
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Margaret kindly volunteered to drive, while I gave directions. Getting out of the city was a breeze, thanks to my expert navigation, and we soon found ourselves in the rather nondescript town of Ashburton, where we stopped for Big Macs. Margaret drove with uncharacteristic care, her awareness of the dangers of careless driving heightened by the explicit road signs which included such sobering observations as "the faster you drive, the bigger the mess" and the mystifying "Grip, not lip".
In Oamaru we claimed our room at the Best Western motel, deposited our bags and drove into town. Oamaru is the only Victorian town in New Zealand and boasted a precinct devoted to early commercial buildings including an organ restoration business (musical, not human). This was more interesting than I had expected and we spent several pleasurable minutes watching the organ restorers at work. I like to think that I brought some degree of pleasure and pride to the workers in the wool warehouse when I gazed at the scores of wool bales with an expression of curiosity and wonderment. In reality they probably thought I was a silly old geezer who was easily impressed. Worse, a silly old geezer tourist who was easily impressed.
In the evening we drove to the penguin viewing area (not the one where you had to pay, of course) and saw a single, large, yellow-eyed bird staring balefully at us as though we were the attraction and he the tourist. A rather large old local informed us that the best time to see the penguins waddle up the beach was at six in the morning, however if we waited another two hours we might see eight penguins stagger from the surf. Margaret seemed to be genuinely considering rising at five in the morning or at least hanging around for another couple of hours, which worried Tim and myself who had no desire to get up early or stare into space for ages just on the off-chance that we might see a few birds. Much to our relief she was only being nice to the old penguin fanatic.
We dined for the first time in New Zealand at a very nice pub/restaurant down the road that didn't have a beer garden. I was dismayed to find that the country's fascist anti-smoking laws meant that I would miss out on my customary pre-dinner beer. No pipe, no beer.
DAY 2 THU The drive to Dunedin took us just over an hour. So far the countryside was very much like that of New South Wales, the main difference being the bright green of the grass and trees. The windbreaks between fields fascinated us. Rows of tall trees had been shaved and shaped so that they resembled square green walls. I always meant to ask somebody what sort of machine they used to do such precise trimming but I left it too late.
Some way out of Oamaru we visited the Moeraki Boulders.
These boulders are classed as septarian concretions, and were formed in ancient sea floor sediments. They were created by a process similar to the formation of oyster pearls, where layers of material cover a central nucleus or core. I deposited two dollars in the donation box (unlike most of the other tourists who pretended not to notice the sign) and we descended to the beach. The rocks were interesting enough but we didn't think them so fascinating as to warrant a café and large souvenir shop, much less a hefty donation. Thanks to Margaret we spent more time in said shop than we did admiring the rocks!
A sign in the main street announced proudly that Dunedin is the fifth largest city in the world in terms of area. I think that they might have cheated a bit because we spotted the first City of Dunedin sign many kilometres before we reached the built up area. Even so, it was pretty big and it was fortunate that my brain seems to act as if directed by satellite and led us to our backpackers' without getting us lost even once.
Finding the Manor House Hostel may have been easy, but reaching its parking area wasn't. Tim and I had to stand on the footpath and give Margaret directions as she attempted to enter the steep and narrow driveway at a very sharp angle while at the same time avoiding a telegraph pole planted in a very inconvenient position. The hostel itself was not of the five star variety and Margaret was less than impressed. Tim and I thought it OK but would have preferred to have the shared bathroom on our floor rather than downstairs.
We walked a long way to the city centre (known as the Octagon) but didn't find it terribly interesting. Margaret became rather despondent; she found one city the same as another and didn't want to wander aimlessly amongst the endless boring shops. I suggested that we take a bus to the Public Gardens and then to Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. First we would walk a couple of blocks to Dunedin Railway Station; a Victorian edifice constructed in the Florentine Renaissance style and known to locals the Gingerbread Station.
The inside of the station was as impressive as the outside, though I was disappointed to find that the lavatories had been modernized into the bland, characterless, purely functional convenience common to most railway stations. A toilet restored to its original Florentine Renaissance magnificence would have been an obvious tourist drawcard. Margaret noticed people buying tickets at the counter, apparently lured by the sign promoting the Taieri Gorge railway journey. Did I want to do it? She enquired at the counter and found that tickets were $67 each. That seemed like an awful lot of money but rather than say no I threw the question to Tim who, unhelpful as ever, was willing to do whatever we wanted to do. In an uncharacteristic burst of spontaneity I quietly exclaimed "let's do it!" At the same time I took a few steps backward. Margaret was not fooled by my feeble attempt to avoid paying for the tickets and we each bought our own.
The train was due to leave at 2.30pm. With only twenty minutes to wait I discovered that I had used my last few snaps and didn't have a fresh roll. It says much for the swiftness of my gait (despite my advanced age) that I was able to walk a few blocks to a supermarket, buy a film and still have time for a quick cappuccino before boarding the train. Once on board we found to our displeasure that a small family had settled themselves in the seats allocated to us. We performed a one-act play in which we scrutinized our tickets, checked out the numbers on the seats, scratched our heads, scrutinized our tickets again and feigned confusion. The guilty family gathered their belongings and slunk off to their legitimate though less desirable seats at the back of the carriage.
The diesel and its four carriages slowly drew out of the platform and clickety-clacked its way through the suburbs of Dunedin. The train had its own guide who proceeded to point out the more interesting of the sights we passed. Amongst the highlights the suburbs had to offer were Wangatui Racecourse, the Taieri Aerodrome and Dunedin's industrial estate. He devoted special attention to the Fisher and Paykel factory, probably earning a substantial commission while doing so.
At Salisbury we passed through the aptly named Salisbury Tunnel, four hundred and thirty seven metres long (or, according to our guide, nearly a mile!) then across the Wangatui Viaduct and onward to Pukerangi, the end of the line. The track ran through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge, stopping every so often so that we could take pictures of the most photogenic views. All three of us were glad that we had succumbed to spontaneity and taken the train rather than spending the afternoon looking at a steep street and rambling through a botanical garden.
In the evening we dined at the trendy Nova Restaurant before trudging wearily all the way back to Manor House.
Where I stayed
Best Western Omaru