We broke the journey S from Christchurch by visiting the town of Oamaru, a pretty town about half way to Dunedin. We had heard of it as it is the World HQ of steampunk. The term steampunk was coined in the 1980s and is based on imagining inventions the Victorians might have created for the modern world, using steam power as the base tech. Steampunk inventions have been used in such films as the Mad Max collection, Wild Wild West and Stardust. A whole fashion industry has grown up around this strange alt neo-Victorian style. I’ve put the wiki link for anyone that wants to understand more. It is a hoot! The town itself is largely unchanged from its heydays in the 1870s. Unfortunately for the town at that time, it went bust and a lot of the population moved away. Fortunately for us, it was so poor that it couldn’t afford to redevelop and so now that money has returned, you have a main road through an unchanged town which is still wide enough to allow for a “four bullock cart’s” turning circle and many of the original Victorian buildings, fully restored.
These are built from a local white stone and are beautiful. Now attracting tourists simply because of its prettiness, the town is well worth a visit. The playground, right beside Steampunk HQ has had the full treatment and the kids had a great time on the very fast death slide and fantastic swings hung from a 10m tall Penny Farthing. The area around the seafront is the place to go with some excellent shops, one of the finest travel book stores equipped with a replica Shackleton boat, used in the Kenneth Branagh film, a whisky distillery (with tasting room) and a brewery. And of course Steampunk HQ. We loved it and had a great time wandering over the all exhibits.
The campsite we stayed in was the nosiest we have ever stayed in but also one of the best. The culprits were Blue Penguins, the smallest penguin in the world, who initially colonised a quarry on the edge of town and have now just moved in wherever. We had two couples within 10m of us and I wished that I had put earplugs in at 0300hrs when they decided to do some “bonding” before they head out for the day’s fishing. There is a visitors’ centre dedicated to them that you can go to but in the end, we didn’t bother. We just stood by the front gates of the campsite just after last light and watched these tiny creatures, standing no more than a foot high, wander in, waddling from car to car trying to keep out of the light. They are noisy but not unwelcome residents to most of the houses and buildings along the seafront. Sadly my photos didn’t come out well.
We continued S, stopping at the weird Moeraki Boulders on the coat line, just along the road from Aviemore. These spherical rocks were formed mud, pebbles and shells were deposited in a quiet sea floor, some 55 million years ago. Lime built up around them and this formed the hard sphere. As the region was uplifted, the sea eroded the softer rock around them leaving them sat on the beach as they are now. There are a couple that have split and sucked in sulphur, now forming yellow crystal lines running through the sphere .
Dunedin is named for the capital of Scotland, generally anglicised as Edinburgh with burgh being a literal translation of the Gaelic “dun”, meaning fort. Although there were settlers in the area before, the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland, through a company called the Otago Association, founded Dunedin at the head of Otago Harbour in 1848 as the principal town of its special settlement. The Wee Frees get everywhere….
Originally making its money as a busy whaling port, the town exploded in population due to a nearby gold strike in the 1860s. It was, until 1900, the biggest city in NZ by size and population. During this period, Dunedin’s town architect was instructed to make buildings that would not have been out of place in the grandeur of Edinburgh. The railway station is a prime example. It is said to be the most photographed building in NZ but these days it is only used for historic train rides up and down the coast. It is beautifully if just a little over the top!
These days the town’s main “industry” is that of education. The University of Otago (the province that Dunedin sits in) has a large student population and provides over 20% of the towns population. It also has the Speight Brewery which is open to the public. Gill, an ex-Bass employee, was less than impressed at the cost and time we would have around the place so we retired to a bar across the road and did our own sampling there instead.
Dad had asked me to see if I could prove an old Henderson story that Capt T Henderson, an ancestor and skipper of big boats in the late 19thC, had brought settlers from Scotland and delivered them to Dunedin, at the time the main ingress point for immigrants. I visited the excellent Toitu Otago Settlers Museum where I was able to use their reference section to try and prove one way or another whether he had visited. I rooted around Past Papers, searching the old newspapers of the time that always recorded ships arriving to NZ which made excellent reading. Sadly whilst I was able to find the list of ships that brought settlers in, found in the Council’s papers, as I didn’t know what ships he had skippered I wasn’t able to complete the work. I’ve handed the copies of the records on to Dad in the hope that we can make the link. My search wasn’t helped by the fact that it seems a Mr P Henderson and Co of Glasgow, Ship’s Agent, appears to have handled every Scottish emigrant’s passage and appeared everywhere.
We stayed at a campsite at Portobello, a little way out of town but close to the big attraction of the area for me, the Royal Albatross Centre site at the end of the protecting peninsula for Dunedin Harbour. We visited the centre which was excellent but decided not to pay the $130+ to be allowed to walk up the hill for an hour. We stood at the wire fence and watched the birds soar above us instead. Just superb. In all our travels, we had never before had the pleasure of seeing an albatross on the wing. There were some in Galapagos and folk have even seen them around the Society Isles but we never had the luck. The birds are magnificent and sodding huge. In the UK, I suppose a Goose or Kite might be the largest bird you will normally see. They are tiny in comparison. With a wingspan of up to 12’ and weighing up to 30lbs, with its close relative, the Wandering Albatross, the Southern Royal Albatross are the largest birds in the sky. They are truly majestic.
We left Dunedin and its surrounds having had a great time. Alasdair was fair bouncing to be off, wanting to get down to complete our road trip to the two ends of NZ. Of course it might have something to do with the Fastest Indian being in Invercargill! Lastly, if anyone knows anyone in the T-shirt printing business, I want one of these. In regard to one of my true heroes, it says it all, I think.