A Wee venture down south

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April 19th 2016
Published: April 21st 2016
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R: Heading south, we drove down the same section of route 1 we had previously driven up with Dave and Shannon. So we put the boot down, and were straight on to Timaru. After a short lunch break in the sunshine, we were on to Oamuru, known as the Steampunk capital of New Zealand. For those of you not familiar with steampunk, it's art and design made in a futuristic version of the industrial revolution using mechanical bits of junk, mainly. It's a very odd town. We headed straight for the steampunk museum which was filled with some of the most bizarre structures, statues, vehicles and even an old JEOL SEM (similar to instruments we have at work) which was displaying X-ray images of skulls when we walked placed. Some of the exhibits had come from the weta organisation (who made the visual effects for Lord of the rings, and others) all of it was made from old industrial parts and most of them were ever so slightly sinister... There was also a visual light/sound immersive experience which so good we did twice, before riding on the giant trikes and train carriage out the back. It didn't convince Cate into liking
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Audio visual experience
Steampunk but it was fantastically weird.

Next we headed to the Victorian precinct, which looked like an untouched Victorian port. In each of the sheds were old artefacts and exhibits, including collections of old boats, nic nacs and penny farthings. In fact you could even go on penny farthing tours of the town. There was a New Zealand whiskey tasting experience where a man with an ironic beard (of which there are many in this town) talked us around the various New Zealand distilleries. Feeling it was rude not to, we tried a 21 year old whiskey, which was quite similar to a Talisker or similar. And then it was on to the children's park. The best children's park ever! Done out in a steampunk style it featured a penny farthing swings, steampunk elephant zip line and giant hamster wheel. Very very odd, but charming place.

There's a beach nearby where apparently you can view yellow eyed penguins, but sadly not on the date we were there, so after enjoying the sunset, it was off to Dunedin.

C: We arrived into the hills surrounding Dunedin as the sun was setting and noticed how attractively positioned the city is. It was also nice to be back in hills after the flatness of the Canterbury plains. Driving through the city, we immediately noticed the Scottish feel from the types of building - we could have been in a smaller version of Edinburgh or Glasgow. We were staying in an Airbnb just outside of the city to the south which Roger mainly chose because of it being on an alpaca farm! Sure enough, seven alpacas were there to greet and stare at us as we drove in. The owner, Greg, was a really lovely man, extremely friendly and he had even baked us some bread for our arrival. It was a great place, set just back from some stunning clifftop views of the sea. It even had board games - a New Zealand version of Monopoly which is possibly the most dull game known to man.

The next morning we headed into the city. There's not masses of sights in Dunedin itself but my friend Jane had given us some tips and there was plenty to do for a few hours. We went to the cathedral which was interesting as most of it was over hundred years old except the chancel which apparently they ran out of funding for when they built the rest of it. This was then completed in the seventies and had a definite seventies' concreteness about it! There's a also a more beautiful Presbyterian church, one of the oldest churches in NZ and a very grand train station offering various scenic journeys around the area on beautiful old trains - my godson would have liked those very much!

After all the wine tasting of the previous weeks Roger decided we needed to redress the balance and so we visited the Speight's brewery, the main producer of beer in the country. After a tour of the site conducted by a characterful guide, Roger enjoyed the 'pour your own' beer tasting (it was my turn to drive) then we drove back via a beach district complete with some quite hardy surfers - it wasn't a warm day and the sea looked freezing!

To the southeast of Dunedin is the Dunedin peninsula which is full of coastal wildlife so we set off the next morning to explore it. Unfortunately we didn't manage to spot the very rare yellow-eyed penguin or the local Royal albatross colony but we did get to see more seals relaxing on the beach. There are lots of wildlife tours you can take here but they were a bit out of our price range. Instead we visited NZ's only 'castle', a nineteenth century stately home that was quite a mixture of styles but had a suitable turret to give it its name, Larnach Castle. The house was interesting enough but the grounds were really lovely and the setting glorious, views all across the peninsula and Dunedin bay. The home has a chequered history - the family who it is named Aer were deeply unhappy and two of the inhabitants had committed suicide (not in the house). Must be the isolation of the place! Later on, we went off-roading and then a walking path led us through sand dunes to a very beautiful, secluded beach. We still didn't find any penguins but did come across a very cute hedgehog by the side of the path which seemed happy to be photographed.

On our final morning Greg took us on a quick tour of his farm where we got to see the beautiful cliff views and...major highlight...feed the alpacas!! They were exceedingly friendly but strangely were more interested in the camera than the food. We were then directed to Tunnel Beach, slightly further along the coast road. After a extremely steep walk down (I did not enjoy the walk back up!!) we came out to a great view of a cliff bridge and surrounding stacks. We were still high above the beach and then we came across this tiny tunnel hewn through the rock to the pebbly beach below. Apparently it was built by a local farmer who wanted a private access to the beach for family picnics. Quite an endeavour as the tunnel was at least 20 metres long! Our flight wasn't until early evening so we then drove to the other side of the city and spent quite a long time trying to find the road up Mount Cargill, the highest mountain in the area. It was quite a mission to find as the roads were not really marked but the views were worth it in the end. We ended up parked under the TV tower for the whole area.

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