Tag Archives: Invercargill

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

We arrived in Bluff. Gill had decided she wanted a house rather than a campsite to celebrate her birthday in so we booked a bach and stayed for two days. The house was lovely even if the décor was a bit 1970s. It was a proper house with lots of fires, polished wood and enormous bedrooms. There was a screaming red bath suite in it but we forgave it for that. We got the log burner going in the kitchen and the house soon heated up. Whilst Gill was sent off for a walk, the girls cooked a birthday cake and decorated the house. We had a good day, opening presents, eating cake and having a rather good evening meal of Beef Wellington, using the first full kitchen we have had access to for a long while. We all got a bit carried away and dressed up for the occasion. All were aghast when Alasdair appeared in trousers. There is a first time for everything!

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

There was also lots of boogying around the kitchen as we plumbed the music in to the decent hi-fi speakers the house had. Hannah was happy to perform and there was a good amount of tomfoolery. Pickles, Habitat and new friend, Kevin the Kiwi joined in too.

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

We walked 20mins down from the house to Bluff, officially the southern point of mainland NZ. It was windy, a little wet and reminded me so much of a decent Lewis walk. The air was crystal clear and we could see Stewart Island, sitting about 35miles further S as well as a smaller group of islands just off the point. 

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Coming back from Bluff point towards the village,  we walked past the narrow channel to the sheltered bay which the peninsula of Bluff protects and were surprised at just how strong the tide was as it ripped out. A conservative speed of current, estimated by Alasdair and I, was six knots. It would be a nasty place to try and enter times other than slack. The rather hideous building on the other side of the channel is an enormous Aluminium smelter works which is a major contributor to the local economy. It unfortunately seems to be constantly nearly going out of business. It is on an upswing at the moment due to the strength of the dollar but it has “nearly” been closed regularly for the last 15 years which is a worry to the locals. It consumes about 13% of NZ’s entire electricity supply and has a long jetty where a series of container ships were filled whilst we were there. 

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Alasdair desire to see the Fastest Indian was the primary reason we were this far S on the island. We originally hadn’t planned in going beyond Dunedin before we crossed over to the W side of the island. However, having seen the film about the crazy New Zealander, Burt Munro, who turned up at Bonneville Salt Flats with a home made faired motorcycle and proceeded to establish a still current World Record for a normally aspirated 1000C motorbike, we decided we needed to go too. If you haven’t seen it, The World’s Fastest Indian is a brilliant film, stars Antony Hopkins and is well worth a watch. The bike is displayed is in a hardware store, E Hayes and Co  which contains over 100 motorbikes, racing cars and engines dotted around the shop. It is a Temple to Speed as well as being one of the best stocked hardware shops I’ve seen.  It is amusing wandering through the shop, going past the paint to find yourself face to face with an old F5000 car, turning round to see the car used in the film by Hopkins driving across USA, then past a collection of 1970’s race bikes as you go walk the drill bits. Then in the power tool section, the gem. The actual bike used to set the World Record back in 1960s. Beside it there was a nutter 600cc methanol bike which Burt used to set another world record in the early 70’s. That record was only broken a couple of years ago which is testimony to the engineering skill Burt must have had to push the technology he had so far in his time. He worked in the garage at the bottom of his garden. Most of its content is now in the store on display. The official record for mile and back was set at 184mph but the bike was recorded at 205mph during a straight run which Burt crashed on. An extraordinary tale.  

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

On the way in to visit Invercargill, we had noticed a sign up saying that the NZ Superbike Championship were visiting, racing one of the national series at the local Teratonga track, the southernmost FIA approved track in the world. We waited in town until the rain had blown through and although we missed the first couple of races, had a great time watching everything from full works team superbikes to sidecar and a good selection of 125, 250 and 600cc races as well. All for the price of $10  a head! The really nice thing about it was that it was assumed that everyone there was a petrol head and other than the post race scrutinising area, everywhere else was accessible. It was great being able just to walk up to team tents and watch them in action. It meant you had to be careful as bikes were called to the next race as they weren’t interested in stopping and it was up to you to jump out of their way as they went to the assembly point before being released on track. The standard of racing was high and there was a good amount of overtaking. Note the lack of barriers in front of where we parked between us and the racetrack! It was all pretty laid back and a great day out.

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

After two weeks heading nothing but S we finally were able to turn N towards Milford Sound which sits in Fjordland, the mountainous SW corner of NZ. We had a great time in Invercargill and we very much liked the easy going nature of the people we met. I would happily go back there and I’d like to explore the wild lands E of Bluff and those W at the S end of Fjordland. The weather is a bit drafty for the most but a reminder of what we would expect in the Outer Hebrides!

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Steampunk, Dunedin and Royal Albatross

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.

Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

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.

 Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

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 .

 Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

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!

 Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

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.   

Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

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.

 Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

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.Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross