3/13 – 3/15
We had 3 days to take in a massive amount of coastline before we needed to get the rental car back to Christchurch. There were several small walks in the Catlins Nature Reserve. First we took a short walk to McLean waterfall then enjoyed some really tasty sandwiches at Whistling Frogs (McKayla had a nice French dip and I went with a chicken bacon sandwich that was outta this world). Unfortunately, coastal attractions are usually time sensitive. Low and high tides determine whether or not you can access a cave or view a blowhole in all its splendor. Cathedral Cave was closed after lunch and Jack’s blowhole wasn’t as ‘active’ as we would’ve liked but it was the penguins that seemed to be the most time sensitive.
Curio Bay was apparently where a lot of wildlife came together and enjoyed peaceful harmony with the opportunity to see sea lions, watch whales, swim with dolphins and try to catch a glimpse of the rare yellow-eyed penguins. We didn’t see any dolphins, whales, seals or sea lions. After a few walks and a sunset, the following evening we’d only spotted one single yellow eyed penguin from a distance that made its yellow face indistinguishable. Curio Bay was kind of a bust for us but I suppose they can’t all be winners.
Dunedin was a hip little town filled with nice looking restaurants, an old railroad station and an unusual but cool downtown center that focused around 2 octagon centers, one outside the other. We were only there a couple hours before moving on and checking out the Moeraki boulders. These were nearly perfectly round boulders strewn on a beach near Dunedin. We took a walk on the beach to enjoy these oddities. I convinced McKayla she could time the waves right and climb on one of the bigger ones further out in the surf; she didn’t make it. She’d timed it right but the waves got to her after she missed her first attempt to hop up on the giant boulder. Her pants only got wet to the knee but I had a pretty good laugh. After a few playful pictures, McKayla went back to the car to get on some dry pants; after all, it has been getting much cooler here in New Zealand the past week. I think we may have timed our trip just right.
Oamaru had been a stop on our list since before we’d gotten to NZ, not for its famous blue penguins but for the brother of a family friend. The Balsinks have lived in my parents neighborhood at least 20 years. I grew up playing tennis with Bruce and his parents. Mike and Carla, continue to be good friends to my parents. Mike’s brother, Ed, owns a bakery in Oamaru so we decided to drop in and see if we could find the other Mr. Balsink. It didn’t take much, he was smack in the middle of the old district, one of the coolest parts of any town we’ve visited so far. Ed and Mike don’t look much alike but he was easy to spot by the laugh – that full, heavy Dutch laugh. As soon as I mentioned growing up with Bruce, we were instant friends. We took some time getting to know each other in between a regular stream of customers. His old style bakery was the real deal; he insisted on treating us each to a pie and we went with his recommendations of steak & mushroom and mince & cheese. They were easily the best of what is a very common NZ dish. After touring around, we came back later in the afternoon and bought a couple pastries and a loaf of sourdough, all were very tasty.
Oamaru had the bulk share of blue penguins. Unfortunately, they were only active at night and the main viewing area was fenced off and required a hefty fee. Instead, we randomly ran into the Steampunk Headquarters. It’s a crazy museum/art gallery of metal creatures, unique time warps and twisted trains, tractors and other vehicles enhanced with skulls, gears and the occasional flame thrower. The town itself was awash in steampunk decor with several shops selling steampunk dress and apparel. I’d never heard of it before that day but I guess steampunk always comes with goggles, spikes and gears. Oamaru was small but anything but boring.
Our last night was spent along a windy lake an hour outside of Christchurch at a free campsite. We ate fresh bread with a ‘lovely’ local havarti cheese and drinking a New Zealand Cabernet sauvignon. It was a great way to wrap up what has been an incredible 6 weeks on the road.