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2024 - January - Day 9 - Oamaru

Today was to be the first long drive of the holiday. The aim was to be on the road by 9am but being the seasoned travellers, we were actual pulling out of the motel 10 minutes early.


The weather was lovely as we started what was likely to be at least a 5-hour journey but we were to experience all sorts of weather during the drive with the temperature dropping 10c in under 10-minutes at one point as we went through some clouds before creeping back up again.


The roads were clear and with a speed limit of 100km that everyone mostly kept to, it was an easy drive. We listened to a couple of podcasts (Desert Island Discs and Inside the Room) which passed the time away. The scenery was ever changing from mountains to sea shore and a joy to see.


At Gore we stopped for petrol and then headed further onto to Balclutha. Here we took a drink stop in a local café.  I had another sausage roll for my lunch whilst Karen had a Date Scone. Karen also took the opportunity to nip into a pharmacy to get some more cream for the many bites we were bothering now suffering from after being bothered by sand flies on the Doubtful Sound boat trip. We were both covered in lumps and bumps and they were very itchy and annoying and the cream gave us some welcome relief.


We decided to make the journey more challenging by turning off the direct route to dip back into The Caitlin’s to visit Purakaunia Falls which would involve an extra hour driving for the day.  The extra section of driving was hard though as we discovered it involved some unsealed roads upon which we skidded a couple of times.


The falls were a 10-minute walk from their car park. They were pretty but would have been spectacular if there had been more rainfall. We are glad we saw them but unsure if they were worth the extra miles and time on what was a long driving day of almost 300 miles.


We had one other stop at Moeraki Boulders and what a strange set up they were. A natural phenonium of round boulders on a beach – that Karen likened to something from Star Wars. They were only accessible via private land upon which there was a shop and café – both of them closed and no toilet facilities. Unfortunately, we arrived at the same time as a Coach full of Asian tourists who noisily seem to take over all the boulders all taking a million and one photos whilst holding 2 fingers up – again, why?

We made one final toilet stop at a place called Hampden. Having driven through streets earlier in Balclutha named after Cromer, Yarmouth and Lowestoft, I was pleased the public toilets were on the corner of Norwich Street. There was also an Ipswich Street but that just looked scummy.


Then we arrived at our stop for the night – Oamaru. We had passed through here on our first visit to New Zealand and liked the look of the place. It is the steampunk capital of New Zealand for some weird reason. The main draw for Karen though was to visit the colony of Little Blue Penguins for which we purchased tickets for the night ‘show’.


After unloading the car and having the compulsory cuppa we headed out to buy some Fish & Chips to take to eat at the harbour. They were absolute top notch.  We got out to eat them on a bench on the harbour wall. We were soon joined by a seagull watching us closely. Then a few mates joined him and were hovering in the air a few inches from our heads. We gave in and finished eating our food  in the car. Our car then turned into something from the film ‘The Birds’. We had seagulls on the bonnet, side mirrors, roof and the windscreen. All with their beady eyes on our food the other side of the glass. When I had finished and screwed up the paper in which the food was wrapped, they all went mad thinking I was going to throw them something. How wrong they were, the food was delicious and I left not one morsel. The seagulls got their own back by poohing all over the car.


We had forgotten to bring a drink out with us so I drove a couple of minutes back into the Town Centre where we popped into Countdown to buy some cans. Then it was off to the Oamaru Penguin Centre to check in for the ‘show’. Once we had done this we went for a walk until the doors opened to the seating area.


Now ‘show’ is not the correct term, nor would be ‘performance’. Our tickets gave us entrance to a grandstand from which we could watch the nightly routine of the Little Blue Penguins coming out of the sea and then scrambling/hopping to their nests. The tickets were not cheap for something that happens naturally and which no one has any control over but the money goes to help preserve and research them which makes it more worthwhile.


Sadly, but understandably no photos are allowed so they are not disturbed. You are required to sit and watch in silence. However, try telling that to another Asian tour party who just chattered all the way through and kept trying to sneakily take photos. Mind you they were not as bad as some Germans who kept standing up and annoying everyone behind and then moving about to shift positions depending on where the little penguins moved to. Even the Asian tour party were getting annoyed with them and there could have been a diplomatic incident. Karen & I just tutted at all of them.


Once it was pitch black the penguins came out of the sea in droves. Karen thought they were cute – I thought they looked a bit drab and a bit stupid (as in not very intelligent). They are only 30cm tall and waddle along like the penguins that they are. I think they need to take a serious look at their lifestyle – swimming miles in freezing water every day for fish and then clambering up rocks each night to their ‘homes’. Also, none of them seem to know where they were going and I reckon it would take them most of the night when they are supposed to be resting before they remembered which nesting box was their own. Otherwise, why were warned to check under our cars when we left in case any of them went into the car park by mistake?


Karen loved the whole experience and to be fair it’s not something we do every day or can ever do in Northern hemisphere. I had enjoyed it but was cold and stiff from sitting on the benches by the time we stood up to leave via a long route as some of the penguins were hogging the path out.


It had been a late night out for us this trip was almost midnight by the time we got to bed.

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