Wednesday, 9 May 2012

NZ travelogue: Day 6

The end of the Day 5 of our motor holiday through New Zealand's South Island saw us arriving at Oamaru at 6pm. It was driving in the dark again. This time, our overnight stop would be at The Little Farm Homestay, run by Julie Barclay. When we arrived, we saw the table in the living room all laid out for a family dinner. Her daughter's birthday, she said. We felt a bit intrusive and retreated quickly to the room that she had prepared for us.

With hunger gnawing at us, we soon reappeared in her kitchen and asked for suggestions. Definitely the Portside Restaurant, she recommended. It was a little late already, she added, but if we had come earlier we could have caught the blue penguins coming back to their nests under the cliffs along the town's historic harbour foreshore.

What about other opportunities to watch penguins in this part of the South Island, we persisted. Julie thought about it for the moment and asked if we wanted to wake up at 4.30am to watch these penguins leave for the sea?

Four thirty in the morning? Erm, no thanks. Then perhaps we'd want to go to another part of Oamaru, the Bushy Beach scenic reserve, then to watch the yellow-eyed penguins instead, she suggested. These birds don't leave their nests until very much later.

So having confirmed part of our itinerary for the next morning, we set off for the Portside Restaurant. We arrived there at about seven o'clock and except for a group of people at a distant table, the place was almost bare. But by the time we finally left the place an hour later, the restaurant and especially its bar was already filled out with diners and merry-makers. 

It was still dark when we arrived at the Bushy Beach look-out point the next morning but the day was brightening. As we peered out, there we saw them.

Slowly, the penguins were emerging from the bushes and undergrowth and plodding towards the shoreline. And one by one, as the waves washed up to reach them, they dived in and swam out into the open sea.

Our final stop in Oamaru was at their historic precinct. Largely built during the 1870s to 1890s, the precinct is today New Zealand's most complete Victorian streetscape, having been restored some 120 years later. The large buildings there were constructed using material from the locally quarried limestone.

While the historic area sometimes gives the impression of being deserted, several small businesses operate including a bookbinder, a book shop, an auto collection, antique shops, art galleries and of course, cafes and restaurants. We were lucky, because the Harbour Street Market was open on that day. I indulged myself with two second-hand compact discs and two vinyl records.

We left Oamaru at about one o'clock and started on the last leg of our long drive through the South Island. Our destination would be Christchurch, where we had arrived seven days earlier. The journey was very uneventful and we arrived at the Christchurch Motel in Riccarton at about 4.45pm.

Our only two stops along the way were at Timaru for a quick look around and an equally quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and for coffee at a roadside cafe somewhere along the highway. 

Muffin and coffee, our last meal while on the road in the South Island.

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