MONDAY, 14th November

Guess which bus driver took me to Oamaru? Graham! But it wasn’t that time yet when we became friends. More to come.

I arrived quite early in Oamaru, at about 10 am, and checked in at the Empire Hotel backpackers in the town centre; a little bit of a walk from the bus stop, though.

I had a coffee and went along the street to the iSite to check out what were my options for going to Moeraki.

I could go by a shuttle, but it would cost me $70, unless I’d find one more person to share the cost with or I could rent a car for half a day, which was 4 hours for $25 and go by myself. I thought it was a better option and went to the rental to ask about the conditions. The rental was across the street behind the building with a clock, which is Waitaki District Council building.

It was called Smash Palace and it was also a garage. A guy at the rental suggested renting a car for 24 hours for $45 and I’d have it long enough to see more than just the boulders. There were Elephant Rocks at the Waitaki Valley and other beautiful views along the river. It was tempting, but I hadn’t explored Oamaru yet to decide that I needed the car for that long.

Oamaru is famous for its whitestone and the buildings you see in the photos are made of it and look very monumental and intimidating. It’s not a typical New Zealand town sight. In a park near Aquatic Centre, there were workshops. Different artists were carving modern and more traditional sculptures. Whitestone is very soft and easy to work in.

Walking along the streets and passing by second hand shops and cafes, I was getting this feeling that time slowed down in Oamaru if not stopped at the end of the 19th century.

At one of the cafes the waiters wear clothes from the Victorian era. There is also a photo studio where you can dress up in the period clothes and be photographed ($30 per photo).

The buildings between Tyne and Harbour Streets are art galleries and workshops of local artists and you can go and admire their works, which are very interesting. I couldn’t take any pictures of the art work, but I could take a photo of the view outside the windows.

Friendly Bay

By 3 pm I saw everything what I wanted in town. I had read in my guidebook that Elephant Rocks was the place where Aslan’s Camp was filmed for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, so it was the reason good enough to go and see them. I rented the car, automatic Nissan Bluebird, and off I went again on the road. It was great to sit behind the wheel once more!

Going out of town I tried to find Janet Frame’s home on Eden St where she spent her childhood. Janet Frame was an Oamaru born novelist. I had seen Jane Campion’s (yep, the one’s who directed The Piano later on) film version of Frame’s autobiographical An Angel At My Table and got a bit excited that I was in the writer’s hometown. I wasn’t successful in my searching. I probably passed the house driving my car up the street and it was getting late. I had read the house was open till 4 pm, so I gave up and went to Whitestone cheese factory, tasted some delicious cheese in a shop by the factory, bought some brie and finally left the town.

Those cows were very friendly and came up to me to say hello.

I thought that these were Elephant Rocks, but I was wrong, when I saw more on the next day.

The Waitaki Valley

I wanted to see Maori rock paintings, but…

It was very disappointing.

I had been driving for quite a while, so I crossed the river in Kurow and went back to Oamaru. It was about 8 pm when I was back in town and went to the Blue Penguin Colony. I thought it would be for free, but the ticket was $25 ($20 for YHA/BBH etc. members). I’m not that big penguin fan, I had already spent some money for the yellow-eyed penguin, so I passed on that and went to the look out. So easy with a car!

And back to the hostel, which was almost empty. I guessed everyone went to see the penguins. Later in the evening when some people came back, they said that they had waited on the car park and saw some blue penguins walking between the cars. So if you’re going to Oamaru and don’t want to spend money, wait on the car park in the evening.

I had another unexpected meeting at the hostel. One Austrian girl I had met in Dunedin came to Oamaru on the next bus after mine. I asked her if she wanted to go with me to Moeraki the next day and she said yes. There was also a couple from Malaysia and they were interested in going with us, so I was glad I would have the company and someone I could share the cost with!

The Otago Peninsula

THURSDAY, 10th November

So, another big jump from city to city, but before I started exploring Dunedin, first I took a chance to visit the Otago Peninsula.

I had to take two buses from Invercargill to Dunedin with the change at Gore. The weather was sunny and hot again and it was hard to believe that just a couple days before the streets and hills by the road were white from either hail or snow. I had a great bus driver from Gore to Dunedin. His name was Graham and all the way he was talking about local history of the towns we were passing by. 44 km from Gore there is a town called Clinton. Graham explained that locals had named it Presidential Highway hoping that Gore would win the elections, but as we know, the results went not according to New Zealanders’ hopes, but they are stubborn and still call it that way.

I arrived in Dunedin before 1 pm. I had booked a hostel close to the bus depot, which was not far from the Octagon, the city centre. The hostel was even closer to it and it was a great location, because I didn’t have to climb any steep streets, which Dunedin is famous for. I enjoyed staying at Central Backpackers that much that I spent there four nights instead of two as I had planned (partly because of free WiFi; mind you, free WiFi; there were no computers, so you had to have your own one).

After checking-in, the receptionist said that there was a tour to the peninsula to see albatrosses, penguins and other wild life living there. The tour was leaving at 3 pm from the backpackers. It cost $95, a bit expensive, but the weather was nice, there was no guarantee it was going to keep that up and I didn’t know at that time how long I was going to stay there, so I decided to go. There were two Austrian and one English joining me. Our driver’s name was Russell and he knew all the birds we saw during the tour.

Harbour with whitestone sculpture

View on one side of the city, the glass building is the renovated Otago Stadium

I was actually surprised how big Dunedin is! Another side of the city. If you started swimming in the Ocean on the left, you’d end up on Arctic.

Pukeko with its chicks

Hawk flying in front of our car

Black swans

Paradise Shelducks

Royal Albatross Centre was on a cliff and this is just a lighthouse

We didn’t buy any tour, just watched the birds gliding. Albatross and a gull flying next to each other. You can tell the difference in their sizes!

Shags nesting on the cliffs

Blue penguin in a man-made nest

Pest, but cute

At the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Reserve, Penguin Place

Penguin hospital

If you want to support the reserve, go and pay for your visit. But if you just want to see penguins, don’t bother and waste your money, because you can see them in the Catlins for free at the same distance. But you have to keep the distance, because they’re very timid birds.

We watched the penguins from trenches. In some houses (those triangle boxes on the left), there were penguins nesting. It all reminded me Hobbiton movie set.

Then we watched some penguins coming out of the water

Fur seals lying on the rocks or grass

More penguins

Royal Spoonbill

While we were going through the hill to the albatross centre, on the way back we went along the coast. We passed Aramoana and Russell mentioned a film I hadn’t seen one yet. It was Out of the Blue (2006) by Robert Sarkies telling a story about Aramoana massacre. When I got back to the backpackers in the evening and had an Angus Burgh, I finally watched the movie. So sad story and very moving film. It’s hard to believe that something like that happened in such a beautiful and peaceful place.