One of the first things on our Australia bucket list was to visit my grandmother in New Zealand. I am very close to my grandmother, and Nick loves her as well, so it was a pretty high priority for us to go and see her as soon as we could. That plan came together during the second-last week of January.
Just to show you how amazing my grandmother is, here’s a picture of her in her heyday as a go-go/cage dancer, after she had given birth to 4 sons:
And without further ado, we were off to the airport!
The first thing we did upon arriving, after settling in, was visit the bustling downtown of Oamaru, which is where my grandmother lives. Oamaru is an adorable Victorian heritage town in the South Island, about 3 hours drive south of Christchurch. It has a stunning, bright blue harbour, gorgeous buildings made from limestone (or “Oamaru stone”), and a Victorian-inspired bustling tourist industry.
There’s also quite the “steampunk” presence in Oamaru – in fact they label themselves as SteamPunk World HQ. If you’re not familiar with the steampunk thing, my understanding is that it’s sort of like Victorian-era machines – more info at the Wikipedia page. Regardless, there’s a steampunk showroom, which we visited, and which has lots of machines you can play around with and climb on:
During our visit, in addition to hanging out with the awesome lady who is my grandmother, we also wanted to do a bit of exploring. Given the short amount of time we had (about 5 days total), we opted for a short road trip down to the Catlins.
The Catlins are a district of NZ on the southeastern coast of the south island. They have the reputation of being isolated, wild, and beautiful, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
There are also many waterfalls – one of the key activities touted by the Catlins guide is to hike to all of these waterfalls:
The last one – Niagara Falls – must have been named by some homesick Canadian, because they are hardly a waterfall and more maybe more of an eagerly bubbling creek?
Nick and I stopped for dinner at the Niagara Falls Cafe, which calls to mind the words “touristy” and “overpriced”, but was actually really lovely, everything there is home made (I had the salmon, which they smoke in-house!).
Also, one of the daughters of the owner won Bronze, Silver, and Gold in the London 2012 Olympics, and the medals and several photos are on display in the restaurant:
Next up, the petrified forest at Curio Bay. This forest is 180 million years old, and incredibly historically significant as it is one of the most extensive and least disturbed petrified forests in the world.
Then, we headed off to Slope Point, which is the southern-most tip of New Zealand! The South Pole is only a mere 4,803km from where we were standing in the picture below. We could certainly feel the antarctic winds!!
We then went to check out “Jack’s Blowhole” (ha ha). A blowhole is basically a hole in the roof of a sea cave. Jack’s Blowhole is a 55m deep hole 200m inland from the sea, which sounds pretty cool, but in actuality the best part of this little excursion was the beautiful hike there. The blowhole itself was not very special to see.
And one final stop, at the Flying Gypsy, which had been recommended to us by the waiter at dinner the previous night. The Flying Gypsy is an emporium(?) of sorts, full of lots of inventions and machines cobbled together from shells, scrap wood, old toys, etc. It was a very cool place and I would definitely recommend paying the $5 for admission into the “theatre” which is more like a little maze of inventions and machines.
We then made our way back to Oamaru, where we had just one more day trip up our sleeves before we headed back home to Sydney. My grandmother has a ritual of sorts whenever people come to visit her. We always visit the Moeraki Boulders, the town of Moeraki for lunch, and then the ancient Maori Pā.
The boulders are perfectly round huge rocks that emerge out of the cliffside and move down towards the ocean over time on a beach near Moeraki. It’s quite amazing to see and I don’t mind making a ritual of it either.
And lunch in Moeraki is always lovely, as long as you get the fish – it’s a fishing village and the product is always fresh and perfect.
And finally, it was time to close our visit with a trip to the ancient Maori Pā, located in the hills near Moeraki. A pā is a fortified Maori settlement, usually found on a hilltop or headland. It is holy ground and one must be very respectful – no food or trash or disrespectful language is allowed on the pā, and she always gives a respectful greeting before we step onto the holy ground.
I really love visiting the pā, not just because it is truly beautiful, but also because there is amazing wildlife there – lots of birds, sea lions, dolphins, and endangered yellow penguins.
And with that, we dropped grandma off at home in Oamaru, and we headed to Christchurch to catch our flight back home to Oz.