Odyssey Down Under East Coast South Island

New Zealand's flag
Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Oamaru
March 25th 2017
Published: March 28th 2017
Edit Blog Post


Looking down to Akaroa in the gloomy weather
" Investment in travel is an investment in yourself". Matthew Karsten

23rd March 2017

Oamaru was our first sighting of the East Coast and was a to be a two night stop over in the Waitaki Waters Holiday Park. This holiday park had a seriously big tick of approval from TripAdvisor and the little advert in the AA Traveller's guide was just too good to be true...."great fishing! 5 minutes walk to the beach". The sun was shining late afternoon and having set up camp we drove down to the beach....a five minute drive so the five minute walk thing had us guessing. As already noted, the "beach" was an incredible pile of grey rocks and small stones and the sea had a murky, greenish look...not one that any sensible fish would lurk in.The mouth of the mighty Waitaki River was about 2kms north of the beach access so even the elusive salmon was going to test the "great fishing" slogan.

Let me get the salmon thing out the way. Back in camp I spoke to a few old codgers who had been there for a few weeks as was their custom each year going back many years.

This is "Silo" accommodation in Little River. Whacky but enterprising.
In pursuit of salmon. They had caught very few and told me that most of the rivers on the East Coast had been "buggered up" by hydro schemes and with low summer rainfall, they were fishing very poorly. On the journey further up the coast, I had a good look at the Rangitata and Raika rivers. Just didn't look enticing so I packed the fly rods away. I will need to tick the salmon box some other time.

According to the LPG "nothing moves very fast in Oamaru: tourists saunter, locals languish and penguins waddle". Nevertheless, it is a beautiful little harbour town with a Victorian feel to it as many of the buildings ooze grand old style. Many of NZ's older towns have preserved their historic buildings impressively and this little town is right up there with the best we have seen. So what you have are areas of ancient buildings in narrow streets which retain their original grandeur and and are now home to eateries, coffee shops and anything in between to empty the gullible tourist pocket. Shamefully we broke the code after meandering around the old town and found a McDonalds for an egg and bacon

The Anglican Cathedral stands forlornly waiting for a decision to restore it...one way or the other
breakfast which was affordable and trumped the usual cereal/yoghurt combo. Oamaru also boasts having one of "NZ's top ten favourite beaches". It did have sand and is wedged right next to a busy, noisy harbour so we just didn't get the same feeling as those NZ blokes who go about rating beaches.

Back on the road heading north up the coast, we continued to pass through little towns on Route 1. But there was something different. Few had signage punching out their seductive message as to what they offered the itinerant folk on the roads. This had been a feature of our travels elsewhere in South Island up to this point and it slowly dawned on us that the countryside had become fairly monotonous. The mountains were distant in the west and between them and the ocean is a very large, completely flat expanse of endless green pastures and massive dairy and sheep farming enterprise. The weather had changed and a dull, grey day with misty rain added to the gloom. "Statistician Sue" also observed that there were far fewer campervans and caravans on the road so we could only conclude that fewer tourists spend time on this coastline

Temporary shopping mall using containers with cranes and reconstruction behind
than elsewhere in South Island.

The plan had been to stop and spend a night at Ashburton and I had managed to convince Sue that, even having packed rods away, maybe I should have a last, quick scan of the river of the same name. No good so it was time for a Plan B moment and Sue had identified a town about 80kms from Christchurch on the Banks Peninsula. We duly turned right towards the peninsula and the flat plains were soon replaced by an impressive mountain range which seemed to rise out of nowhere. I have paid tribute to the road designers and builders of NZ and Route 75 to this peninsula is simply spectacular. Sharp hairpin bends and steep drop offs on the road side provide breathtaking views of the deep valleys below. The climb up this road was steep and there is a real sense of anticipation as to what lies ahead on the other side of the summit. Again words fail me but at the top we looked down on superb bays and little villages on the shoreline. Akaroa was where we were headed and worth mentioning a bit of the history of this

Sue in the Botanical Gardens blending in rather well with the hydrangeas.
French influenced village. It is the site of the country's first French settlement with a number of descendants of the original French settlers living there. History records that the French Government sent 63 settlers there in 1840 but just days before they arrived the good old rampaging Brits sent a warship to raise the flag claiming British sovereignty. Had the French got their timing right, South Island could have become a French colony. The village has a French provincial feel to it with street names such as Rue Lavaud and Rue Jolie. The Top10 holiday park is superbly located up the mountainside above the village and would provide an ideal base from which to explore the bays of the surrounding area. Still grey, cold and a misty rain falling as we set up camp and bunkered down for the night after one of our few meals at a restaurant. This time a local Thai restaurant with nothing fancy and a glass of wine each and worth mentioning the cost was R602. So dining out in NZ is more than double what we would pay back in SA. Sue keeps telling me "it's just money" and I guess not even the Minister of Finance could challenge that!

The grey, rainy weather continued the next morning but this does not seem to deter people touring or the locals. Just add layers of clothing and rain jackets and get out there. Breakfast for a number of us in the communal dining room had a real moment of panic when the town's sirens went off very loudly...reminiscent of WW2 air raid warnings. Was this an earthquake moment or not? Fortunately the earth did not shake or rumble but we did find out later that it was someone taken off a luxury liner moored in the bay who had to be helicoptered out of the village. We ambled down to the village Catholic Church for morning mass and shared a quaint little church with about 30 other parishioners. Average age of the congregation was north of 75, I would guess. Got me thinking. How do NZ people stack up in terms of religious fervour? In many small towns we had been through, there was either no sign of a church or some had been converted to art galleries or coffee shops. Wikipedia provides a clue in that it records that Christianity has about a 48%!a(MISSING)ffiliation rate according to a 2013 NZ Census with a decline since the 1990's and an increase in those stating no affiliation. We were asked by the Priest where we were from and on hearing South Africa, questions flew about whether we planned to watch cricket or not. Thankfully no mention of rugby except one bloke who mentioned that the Bulls had been hammered by the Crusaders the day before. Didn't surprise me.

The rain and cold continued and this does not warm the hearts of the camping fraternity. It means trudging around wherever one heads in wet shoes and wrapped in rain jackets but as stated before, people here just get on with things. Rain or no rain. We had a serious "chill" day reclining in the sheer luxury and comfort of the HBS until Sue came up with the best suggestion of the day, a sundowner (not quite...hadn't seen the sun for a couple of days) at the trendy pub at the harbourside. Luckily we sloshed in during "happy hour" so the grog bill was manageable. There are many young people from all over the world travelling in NZ on one year work visas and our young bartender was a guy from Holland. Got chatting to him and on discovering we had been to Holland, he pressed us as to whether we had sampled some of the green stuff there. Right!

Third morning in Akaroa much like the other two. Great pity as this little town and it's environs must be superb in good, sunny weather. We ambled out onto the road for the final saunter to Christchurch and took a slightly different " Tourist Route" to take in the other little bays on the peninsula. In thick mist and rain this sightseeing jaunt turned out to be a non event as we had no sight of what must be a stunning coastline punctuated with those tiny villages. Christchurch was to be the last stop on our NZ trip and we had planned one more night in the HBS and then "upgrading" to a one room cabin in the holiday park for the last two nights. Cold and rainy as we arrived at 219 on Johns Motel and Holiday Park and I immediately upgraded for the last three nights to a motel cabin. Stuff the budget! Sue ecstatic. The weather forecast for the next two days in Christchurch was looking brighter.

Woke to a day with no rain and the sun desperately trying to punch through. Great day to explore Christchurch not forgetting that this city was devastated by it's worst ever earthquake in February 2011 which claimed 185 lives. Almost 70 percent of the inner city was destroyed and the first thing one notes when arriving in the city center is the incredible amount of reconstruction underway. It's a maze of building sites and what is impressive is the attempt, wherever possible, to retain the old facade alongside the new. Understandably no high rise buildings. We did the real "tommy tourist" thing and hopped on the tram which is excellent in that it covers the real places of interest and included some cameo commentary from the tram driver. The botanical gardens are outstanding and has a section devoted to fynbos, proteas and other Cape flora. An impressive city with the people of Christchurch deeply divided as to what the rebuild and reconstruction of their city should look like. The best example of this division is the Anglican Cathedral which has stood badly damaged since the 'quake as no decision has been made on whether to restore it to it's original state or not.

The clock winds down on our NZ sojourn. All that remains is to give the Happy Black Sheep a serious cleaning and then to return it to the flock at the Happy Campers company. Then an early morning flight to Sydney arriving there on 30th March to spend time with Sue's family. SA then beckons and we arrive back in Johannesburg on 11th April.

Any travel story is deserving of a good ending or, in this case, a good summary. Hopefully the blog stories provide an array of insights worthy of this magnificent country which punches way above it's weight. All we can humbly say is "Thank you New Zealand for sharing some of your absurdly interesting and spectacular sights and scenic beauty with us. We leave with a myriad of wonderful memories and a promise that we will be back someday!".

Footnote: I promised to provide an overview of the cost of our 36 day NZ trip (or better, the investment in ourselves). In brief: (1) Food, accommodation, fuel and entertainment : R1425/day (2) Cost of campervan : R765/day. Therefore total cost: R2190/day. One has to cost any holiday deducting what it would have cost had one stayed at home. In our case the incremental total cost was R48730 after deducting the estimated cost of staying at home for 36 days in terms of food, fuel and entertainment. Hope that makes sense.

Final comment. Thank you to those who have taken the trouble to read some of the blogs. Thanks for the comments. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to record our experiences and anyone toying with the idea of visiting NZ...my advice JUST DO IT!!!


28th March 2017

Sad your trip is over
Been so good reading your blogs Tim.. We will one day do a similar trip but without the fishing, not that you caught too many on your trip. Far more trout in Tassie and they do get caught.
29th March 2017

Hi Barrie Tassie is very much still to be explored again...promise!
28th March 2017

See you back home on the waters of Leliekloof
Pleased you both had a wonderful trip. Back in SA, you will now have a chance to really test the quality of your fly fishing equipment. Looks like it was just excess baggage in NZ. A
29th March 2017

Hi Neil great fishing rivers and lakes but not easy to catch NZ trout!!
29th March 2017

Thank you!
Dear Sue & Tim. Thank you so very much for sharing your travels with us. Safe travels back home ?.
30th March 2017

Thank you
Great time and really looking forward to getting back to St Francis Bay after Easter
2nd April 2017

Just do it!
To all those South Africans who think New Zealand is too far away to visit, I agree with Tim, just do it, it's a beautiful country and worth the trouble (and expense)!

Tot: 0.242s; Tpl: 0.013s; cc: 13; qc: 51; dbt: 0.1092s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.1mb