Along the Away

a traveler's tales

Archive for April, 2015

Yes here I am, still continuing on with my New Zealand travel posts. From last year. From August. Oh well!

So there I was in Christchurch, with a week left before my flight to Sydney.

It’d been on my heart list for awhile to embark on a solo road trip. I’ve done this a couple of times in the past (my favourite to Byron Bay in 2007) and a couple of duo road trips (my faves were a week around the Irish coastline with my friend Anna when I was 21, and an almost-week meander around Tasmania with my friend Anette when I was 28).

After a while I start to feel a yearning to hit the road again.

For my last week in New Zealand I knew I wanted to hire a car and road trip. I studied the map and decided to take a mosey down the south east coast of the South Island.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I booked a budget (but not bomb) option on a website called Economy Car Rental. I had a bit of trouble finding the pick-up location because the receipt named one local business pick-up but it actually operates out of another one – it wasn’t really made that clear on their website or booking process but other than that the hire experience was really positive. The guy at the local Scotties Rent a Car pick-up location was very helpful, setting up the navigation console and giving me multiple contact numbers in case I ran into any trouble.

I set my sights on driving south to stay the night in Oamaru. It took about three hours, and I ended up driving pretty much straight through as I left at 3pm and it fell dark before 6pm. It suited me to get into the swing of a long stretch in the driver seat listening to Jack Johnson on shuffle and sinking into the blissful nowhere-to-be, no-one-to-see state of mind after three weeks of jam-packed activity.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

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I stayed at the Empire Backpackers which I found online and booked that morning. I had a lovely stay there, appreciating the homely vibe and the main street location. I was welcomed by the hosts, given a tour around the common areas and accompanied up to my room whilst generously being offered suggestions for my short visit.

I stayed in a private room which was just perfect – a big comfy bed, heater, lamps – simple but clean and very ‘guest room’ like, it felt like staying with friends. I highly recommend a stay there if you end up in that part of the world.

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I walked the main street looking for somewhere to have a hearty meal; the neighbourhood was quiet and cold, but really beautiful – I knew it would look completely different in the daylight.

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I had a delicious bowl of soup at the Star and Garter Restaurant and then had an early night – there was not too much happening in Oamaru on a Saturday night!

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I was up early in the morning and took a stroll around the corner towards the Victorian Precinct. As is always my morning priority I looked for the perfect cosy cafe to enjoy breakfast and coffee, my absolute favourite meal of the day. There were a couple of contenders, I loved this sign at Steam Cafe, this sums it up ;-)

Roadtrip to Oamaru

But I kept on walking as the crisp morning beckoned and I wanted to explore a bit more.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The Victorian Precinct is quaint! Such beautiful architecture; the European kind; the we’ve-been-around-for-ages historical kind; the kind we don’t see too often in the relatively young Down Under territory.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

There is a fascinating building called Steampunk HQ right in the heart of the precinct. On the website they explain:

Steampunk is a quirky and fun genre of science fiction that features steam-powered technology. It is often set in an alternate, futuristic version of 19th century Victorian England.

The Steampunk future is driven by unusual steam powered devices – the ‘world gone mad’ as Victorian people may have imagined it. Examples are machines like those in the writing of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, and in tv shows such as Dr. Who.

Oamaru is an ideal setting for Steampunk art and activities, given the wonderfully preserved and thriving Victorian buildings.

It was closed up when I walked by so early, I would have liked to go into the museum but settled for watching the interactive train/art piece out the front.

Steampunk HQ, Oamaru

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The Victorian Precinct feels like a step onto a movie set, the 19th century buildings are mostly made from the local limestone. The community has cultivated the olden day atmosphere of the buildings into the local businesses. Cafes, book stores, art galleries, gift stores. A stroll through feels quite magical.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I stopped in for breakfast at the Woolstore Cafe, in the old Woolstore Complex, a grandly restored storehouse built in 1881, 100 years before I was born. I sat by the window and watched the early morning foot traffic made up mostly of people setting up for the weekend market.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The precinct is located right on a small harbour so I walked around the back of the buildings towards the water.

It was eerily quiet, just me strolling around, the wind cool on my cheeks and my breath puffing out in little clouds in front of me. The texture of the buildings on this side was even more gorgeous, weathered away by the seafront. Old railway machinery rusted away.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

When one travels alone, occasionally they must use rusted railway machinery as a makeshift camera stand…

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I snapped, snapped, snapped away. Every turn I fell in love with the grungy-ness, the weathered beaten sturdiness of the buildings.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The aching lonliness of the disused, once vital, infrastructure.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

It reminded me a lot of parts of England, like Cornwall maybe?

Roadtrip to Oamaru

The local tourism authority has done a good job of historical preservation balanced with just the right amount of visitor infrastructure and information. Too much and it ruins the atmosphere; but here, it is just enough.

Roadtrip to Oamaru

Roadtrip to Oamaru

Roadtrip to Oamaru

I stayed for half a day before feeling like it was time to get in the car. If I had all the time in the world I would have been happy to linger. I could have gone to the Steampunk HQ museum, visited the little penguin colony, explored more of the local cafes, but as it was I think it was enough.

I hopped in the car and headed toward Dunedin with my heart set on stopping to see the Moeraki Boulders on the way.

Somewhere before I came to them I followed a signpost to a lookout – I can’t even recall the name of it now, it was one of those whims you take while on the open road. Anyhoo, wherever this place was, I met a lovely sheep.

Roadtrip to Dunedin

Check out the view he has, just beautiful!

Roadtrip to Dunedin

About half an hour down the road I followed the turn-off signs and parked near the Moeraki Boulders Cafe & Gift shop. There is a direct access staircase to the beach directly next to the boulders which is signposted for patrons of the cafe only. I headed down to take a look at these marvelous mega-pebbles (I made that term up).

Roadtrip to Moeraki Boulders

Aren’t they spectacular?

The boulders started forming over 60 million years ago on the bottom of the ocean, and over the course of time ended up on shore. The biggest ones are 3 metres in diameter and weigh over a tonne. No wonder they aren’t floating off into the ocean!

Roadtrip to Moeraki Boulders

It was cool to spend some time walking along the beach watching – and dodging – the waves as they crash over the boulders, keeping them smooth and rounded.

Roadtrip to Moeraki Boulders

It started to rain after I had taken about a hundred photos so I climbed back up the stairs and took shelter in the cafe, had lunch and watched the ocean from the window. I wrote out some postcards as I lingered over a coffee.

Solo road trip at it’s best.

In my own time, in my own way.

I only spent one morning in Christchurch as on the way back here I made plans to move on to explore the south east of the island.

While I was there I stayed one night in a very cool hostel called the Jailhouse – located, you guessed it, in an old jail. It was an actual working prison from 1874 to 1999, when the last inmate left. The ‘cells’ have been converted into rooms including multi-bed dorms, but you can also stay on your own in a one bed cell (if you dare!). There is a cell preserved, with artwork from a former prisoner still on the walls – quite a cool thing to check out! I stayed in the dorm and it was a good experience; clean, quiet, friendly reception staff and great barista coffee from the reception desk (YES!)

But I didn’t spend a lot of time at the hostel, just enough to sleep and get caffeinated. I spent my morning taking a walk around town. The hostel was a bit of a walk into the CBD, maybe 15 minutes? But the path takes you along a pretty tree lined park and it’s pretty easy to find the way.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I found the CBD suprisingly/not-suprisingly still looking quite battered post-earthquakes (Christchurch was tragically and dramatically altered by large earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. I have read 80% of the CBD has been demolished).

Christchurch, NZ

I knew the city had been hit hard, I knew there was a long road to recovery… But 5 years later I assumed it would be further along that path that I found it to be. There is scaffolding everywhere. Everything looks like it’s being supported and braced so it won’t get worse, but not a lot looked like it was getting rebuilt.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

The Christchurch Cathedral is smack bang in the middle of Christchurch and was built between 1864 and 1904. It’s been damaged over the years by a number of earthquakes, but none so much as the 2011 earthquake which measured 6.2 magnitude and brought down the west wall, the spire and part of the tower. The remainder is now held up with various steel structures, a stark visual in the city centre. The Anglican church has decided to demolish the structure and rebuild which has been considered a controversial decision – the cathedral being such an icon of the city’s identity. What will take it’s place? And what will it say about Christchurch?

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Because the rebuild will take a long time, the Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square, more popularly known as The Cardboard Cathedral, was built as the first significant rebuild project after the earthquake. I went there and had a tour by a lovely old chap, a lifetime Christchurch resident who shared with me the impact of the earthquakes on the city, which went further than the physical damage and the emotional grief. The logistics of getting everything repaired put a big strain on resources. The priority was getting all the residential damage fixed up so that people had somewhere to live; this is why the city itself, and major icons like Christchurch Cathedral are still a long way from repaired. They had to bring in Tradies from out of the city and country, but meanwhile there was a residential shortage due to the damage. People were crammed into share houses, which made it more difficult to attract workers in to help. It opened my eyes to the complexity of a recovery effort.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

The Cathedral is the only church in the world built mostly out of cardboard, and is a sight of beauty. Clean lines, with a colour neutral palette that let’s the stained glass windows pop!

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

Downtown, the re:start precinct is a ‘shipping container mall’. It’s really quite funky, particularly the two-storey cafés and restaurants with upstairs balconies – really cool to see how inventive the creators have been. The concept brought the retail and tourism trade back into the CBD years before it would have been if business owners waited for new building developments.

Christchurch, NZ

It was such a different vibe there than walking the main streets where there is so much scaffolding and, though I’m not sure if it’s because it was a weekend, but just a general pervading sense of desolateness. Of course, maybe the weekdays or weekend afternoons are full of hustle and bustle, I don’t know, I only have my experience walking around on an early winter Sunday morning.

Christchurch, NZ

The Shipping Container Precinct was bright and colourful and full of business, it was refreshing.

Re:Start, Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I had breakfast with some fellow travellers and then parted ways as I headed back to the Jailhouse to get my stuff. Along the way, there were signs of revival amongst the empty spaces and cleared lots.

Christchurch, NZ

Art and design; creativity seeping up through the cracks into the city.

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch, NZ

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning stroll in Christchurch, it took me by surprise, the vibe, the street-scape and the innovation across the city.

Next, I headed to pick up my car rental ready for my next adventure :-0

The drive from Omarama towards Lake Tekapo was really beautiful – some of my fave photos from the trip were taken then, either standing on the side of the road by the bus, or from my prime position for the drive – in the front seat!

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Early mornings sure are my fave.

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We approached Lake Tekapo and saw it shining a beautiful blue turquoise colour! Even on a cloudy day the colour was so vibrant, it comes from the sediment of fine rock ground up by the glaciers.

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Sitting pretty by the lake is another of New Zealand’s most well known sites – the Church of the Good Shepherd. What a sweet building in an amazing location! It’s a shame there are so many people around (haha, darn tourists) as it’s hard to get a clear shot, but even the crowds don’t detract from the calm and peaceful vibe.

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The water is stunning, something right off the front of a postcard – oh wait, this spot is definitely on a postcard!

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Across the lake we could see rain clouds teeming with a downpour… ahhh nature! You are really something!!

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The lakeside reminded me of places I’ve been in England, such as around the Cornwall area. With the cloudy sky, the chilly bite in the air, and the wind whipping my hair and causing my eyes to stream (look how bloodshot they are, I’m squinting to keep them open!) So different to beaches at home in Sydney, but beautiful in its own way.

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It was a great spot to work my photographer magic (haha, well I try). My friend Susie got a shot of me in concentration trying to get a level shot of the lake.

A short walk along the lake away from the church is a bronze statue of a Border Collie dog, it was erected in the 60s in honour of the working dogs in the sheep industry in the area.

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Seeing as we were in the heart of New Zealand’s sheep farming land (yeah I thought that was all of NZ too!) we then went to visit a sheep farm.

It was a wonderful opportunity to see a working farm – the sheep are cute, but so are the Border Collie dogs who totally run the show. The farmer gave the dog an order and off he went to round up the sheep, who came trotting home from behind the hill.

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And into the corner just as they were told to.

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I love them, they’re so docile and sweet.

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The farmer rewarded them with some milk, this guy was trying hard to get every last little drip.

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And then off he trotted, back to graze in paradise.

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From here we continued on the last leg of the bus trip, crossing the Canterbury Plains back to Christchurch.

After a day spent mostly in the coach and on a boat looking, looking, looking at the untouchable rugged beauty of Fiordland, it was rather refreshing to find ourselves the next day in Arrowtown, in the Otago region. This lovely little town has a wonderful village-vibe going on with some great cafés and stores to wander around. It’s also a good place for a bike ride, with a great cycle path along the willow-lined Arrow River.

Arrowtown Adventures -

The point of the bike trip we went on was to head towards the Kawarau Bridge, traversing over river crossings, country lanes and apparently a pretty amazing suspension bridge.

Arrowtown Adventures -

Apparently. Hmm. Due to some bizarre navigational instincts, myself and Gabriela, a girl I was riding with, somehow took a turn about halfway that took us back to the starting point….

Arrowtown Adventures -

Yeah. Not sure what happened. We were having a merry old ride. We even stopped for pictures.

Arrowtown Adventures -

The owner of the cycle hire place was quite surprised, especially as we hadn’t even taken the same route back. Sure we saw signs, but we thought it all looked OK.

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And we were rather preoccupied with the scenery.

Arrowtown Adventures -

But anyhoo, we were kindly given a lift in the car to the Kawarau Bridge where the others were. Bit embarrassing, but mostly disappointing as we missed out seeing the suspension bridge, but sometimes things just don’t work out, and that’s OK.

Arrowtown Adventures -

We had fun on our bike adventure, and seeing as we didn’t even realise we were on the wrong track til the very end… well – no harm done lol.

Arrowtown Adventures -