Steampunked Oamaru with Dunedin beer and birds!

Hey everyone, welcome back!

So with a new windscreen we drove out of Christchurch heading south with no real plan of where our next stop would be. That’s the beauty of having your own wheels, you can drop into any city, town or site and if you don’t like it, you can move on straight away. Well on this very hot day we did exactly that, drove through the Canterbury Plains (a long straight road for miles with not much to see out the window), through Ashburton where we stopped for lunch and onto Timaru. After stopping by the coast for a while, we decided it wasn’t for us and drove on again through the hot parched land. We’d read a lot about a strange little place called Oamaru, famous for being a Victorian town which was abandoned after the depression of the 1880’s and preserved, leaving awesome buildings intact and tons of machinery such as steam trains etc – hence the Steampunk headquarters being based here. If you don’t know what Steampunk is, check this out.

We stayed a couple of nights in a nearby camp which was a 10 minute walk away from town through botanical gardens. They were just beautiful. Full of flowers, trees, ponds and streams, with the odd green house dotted around – all managed by volunteers and so the entrance was free! First impressions of this place was good so far but then we entered the Victorian precinct and were instantly transported back a hundred years or so. Old style buildings that looked like they were just finished yesterday, cafes and shops all in Victorian style, some with attendants actually dressed up in old attire. Amazing! Then I saw it. A rather wacky dilapidated old building with a Back to the Future 3-like steam engine out the front with a skeleton driving it. Mental. The striking logo of a skull inside a cog sat on the side with the Steampunk Headquarters sign underneath. Inside was pitch black with a maze of crazy art pieces and smoking installations all in the style of Steampunk – blending old, new and futuristic ideas together. I loved it and felt thoroughly inspired to start making crazy stuff of my own when I got home, like I used to do at University. I just need to take a welding course first 🙂

We spent the rest of our time here visiting more Steampunk art galleries, wandering around the many art shops and craft stalls, stopping by one or two cafes for a good old NZ cappuccino too. One night we drove to the beach and waited to see the Yellow eyed and Blue penguins come in and nest for the night. Apparently they come in in their hundreds, sleeping in the nooks and crannies of rocks, under houses and even by cars! It got dark and we hadn’t spotted any swimming in. However when we looked down at the rocks and bushes lining the beach, we saw loads snuggling up with each other and falling asleep. They were like Ninja penguins and had snuck up without us knowing! OMG they were so cute, I think the Blue penguin is my favourite 🙂

After our Victorian fun at Oamaru we now headed towards Dunedin but couldn’t resist a quick stop at the Whitestone cheesery (famous all over the world). After a free tasting of brie, blue and goats cheese, we bought a slab and went for a walk around the factory viewing the staff separating the curds and whey. Andy wasn’t a fan of cheese before going travelling but that’s thankfully changed since visiting NZ. For me, I guess I now drink dark beers like stout thanks to our visit to Dunedin’s Speight’s brewery, but all that’s to come later in the blog 🙂 We got back on the road and noticed a sign saying it was 32 degrees Celsius and it was only 12pm! I thought it felt hot! We drove into a grassy landscape passing gorges formed by earthquakes thousands of years ago, some exposing fossils of whales and ancient fauna. We stopped off at a few but my favourite was Elephant Rocks where we had acres of land all to ourselves (well there were sheep there too) and the breeze cooled us down. We climbed around on the strange rounded rocks and boulders with views of mountains off in the distance, it was really serene here. Another cool place we happened upon that day was the Moeraki Boulders. Stopping for a drink in a cafe perched on the side of a beach, we realised it homed these strange round stones and so spent an hour walking round them. Only found at a certain point of the beach, some creeping out of the eroding cliffs, the rest of the coast is normal. These alien looking boulders are sometimes encrusted in a outer shell-like layer making them look even stranger. Awesome eh!

After a night at a secluded DOC campsite consuming cheese and local red wine by a beautiful stream like Hobbits, we woke feeling, well, let’s just say not our best. To remedy that we stopped off in Palmerston at a bakery for a pie. Wey hey! NZ is famous for their pies, actually so was Australia but I can’t decide who bakes them better. NZ’s are cheaper so they win! Bosh! Instead of driving straight into the city of Dunedin, we drove out to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. This centre was incredible! Set amongst forest with a huge pest-impenetrable fence surrounding it, this haven homes many threatened species including Kaka (giant native parrots) and Kiwi. We spent 4 hours getting lost amongst the trees watching Tui and Bell birds feed, seeing the tiny Rifleman patrol his tree and the friendly NZ Robin following our path. At one point 3-4 Kaka flew over our heads and opened up the peanut pot left out for them right in front of us (one of the fondest memories of traveling I’ll treasure forever). A rather drab brown looking bird but when in flight, a shocking burst of flaming red can be seen under their wings. We even got to see the nearly extinct Tuatara lizard sunning himself happily on a rock. Such a special place and one of many pest-free sanctuaries set up in NZ trying to return the land back to how it used to be. We loved it.

The drive from the sanctuary into the city was sensational, with windy roads along the coast with views of Pohutukawa trees and the crystal clear sea. This part of the country is truly beautiful. Once entering the concrete jungle however it all changed, but in a crazy-cool way. We drove past THE steepest street in the world (check out my photos, it’s insane!) and past the Cadbury’s factory. As tempting as it was to go in, I knew the stuff didn’t taste as good as it does back home, I would know, I am a little partial to the Crunchies here (taste is different but size is old school – HUGE!). We checked into a camp nearby and spent a few days knocking around the Edinburgh-like city of Dunedin and the surrounding coastline of the Otago Peninsula.

We booked straight onto a tour of the Speight’s Brewery, and was amazed how different it was to the Tui one we’d been on. More serious yet highly informative, it was beer brewing on a bigger scale with an older feel. We enjoyed pouring our own tasters and deciding on our favourites – mine was 5 Malt Old Dark and Andy’s was the London Porter which he drank next door in the Speight’s restaurant where we gorged ourselves on sausages and mash with beer bread (OMG the bread was amazing!!!). Thanks for the Xmas money Mum, we enjoyed spending it here on one of the best meals ever! Xxx

On our last morning here we drove to the end of the Otago Peninsula to visit Royal Albatross nesting sights. When I was about 7 I’d watched an episode of David Attenborough here by the lighthouse, sat next to the famous big birds. One in particular was called Grandma, the oldest recorded Royal Albatross at a staggering 72 years old! I’d always wanted to come here and see them for myself. However we were not part of a BBC program so couldn’t just go walking round the headland to spot them. They are protected. So it’s quite an expensive tour you have to book on, but definitely worth it I’d say. We got to view them sat on their nests from a far away hide using binoculars. One got up to stretch its legs at one point, revealing a fluffy chick underneath. Cute! Albatross have 1 chick every 2 years, it takes 3 months to hatch so that’s a lot of incubating and once hatched it stays on the island for a whole year getting fat and learning to fly. Once the bird fledges it goes out to sea and isn’t seen/doesn’t go back on land for 5 years! Now that’s what I call a Captain Jack Albatross! When they do finally want to settle down, they find a mate for life (ahhh) and start having a family at 8 years old. Amazing creatures and absolutely gigantic! Check out the photos in the gallery, that’s a big wingspan!

We had loved our stay here in bonny Dunedin and said our goodbyes by having a swift stroll around the gardens and aviaries in the park, followed up with a tasting tray of Emerson’s craft beer from the Inch Bar. Loooooovly 🙂

Tune in next time to find out what a cruise on the gorgeous Doubtful Sound is like. Laters people,

Emmy xxx


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