Christchurch to Timaru Road Trip

Southern Alps Timaru

South Canterbury’s flat plains, flanked by the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps, stretch in a colourful patchwork of fields south to Timaru, the urban heart of the Central South Island. A lively, colourful town with a striking piazza overlooking Caroline Bay, Timaru has preserved much of its historical heritage in a collection of Edwardian and bluestone buildings, local museum treasures, and Maori rock art found in caves nearby. Further south, in Oamaru, a legacy in limestone awaits and the town’s wonderful Victorian architecture – from banks to basilicas – is a rare sight to behold. Oamaru is home to a large colony of blue penguins and in Dunedin, where eco-tourism activities abound, visitors can get more than a glimpse of their yellow-eyed cousins. We spend three days exploring the route from Christchurch to Dunedin. We take a historic train ride aboard the world’s only Model T Ford Railcar, and sample classic slices of kiwiana before Bob begins training for a tramp. We explore Oamaru by foot; learn all about little blue penguins; and spy on ‘Paul’ as he squats atop a large pearly white egg.

“Well,” says Bob, as we leave Christchurch airport where we’ve kicked off the day with an early morning visit to the Antarctic Centre, “those explorers are hardy types but I bet they love those Hägglunds!”

Rather taken with our simulated ride at the centre, he continues to relive the experience as we leave town and drive south on SH1 across the southern Canterbury plains to Ashburton and on to Temuka, a small town whose famous pottery has made its way into most NZ homes. At the Temuka Pottery Factory Shop we check out the stylish hand decorated terracotta pottery and enjoy an early lunch at its airy café.

Further south, in Timaru, we’re greeted by a striking piazza overlooking Caroline Bay’s popular sandy beach and fairgrounds. A flight of stairs cascade down to the bay but we continue along the main street past several fine local bluestone and Edwardian buildings to the information centre housed inside the historic Landing Service Building. Here we decide to spend the afternoon in Pleasant Point, a 15-minute drive inland, after exploring the highlights of Timaru.

Bob humours me with a walk through the Trevor Griffiths Rose Garden where we lose ourselves in the heady fragrance of 529 named old rose varieties, and then we explore Aigantighe Art Gallery’s amazing exhibits of New Zealand art and sculpture.

At Pleasant Point I agree, somewhat reluctantly, to accompany Bob on a trip down memory lane aboard the world’s only Model T Ford Railcar. It turns out to be great fun, but I tune out as Bob discusses the minute details of the restoration process with our friendly driver. We disembark at Keanes Crossing, where we’re lead through a museum whose highlights include a Steam Locomotive AB699, a Steam Locomotive D16 (circa 1878), and NZ’s only birdcage carriage, with pleated upholstery and a handcrafted kauri interior.

While Bob pores over beautifully restored engines and equipment, I wait it out in the Old Time Movie Theatre watching fascinating historical footage.

Finally I track Bob down. He’s outside caressing the Model T. “Well,” I say, “I’m ready for a custard square.”

“A what?” says Bob distractedly.

“Flaky pastry, creamy custard, lashings of icing,” I say offhandedly. Vintage engine abruptly abandoned, Bob propels me back into the railcar.

At ‘The Tearooms’ in Denheath House, Pleasant Point, we order tea and custard squares. This classic slice of kiwiana originated here and I feel truly patriotic tucking into my eight centimetre high tower of flaky golden pastry and fluffy melt-in-your-mouth filling, topped off with the creamiest icing.

“Oh my,” says Bob, “heaven on a plate!”

Replete we visit modern-day blacksmith, Gareth James, at the Artisan Forge, then drive inland to Raincliff Reserve to admire Maori Rock Art on limestone overhangs. We return to Pleasant Point via Upper Waitohi and the memorial to pioneer aviator and inventor, Richard Pearse, who once made his home here. It’s claimed that he flew using power before the Wright brothers, in 1903.

“Never!” exclaims Bob, triggering a debate that lasts all the way back to Timaru where we relax at a café in the piazza and watch the sunset over the mountains. “Richard Pearse…well I don’t know,” concludes Bob as we finish our desserts, “But that Model T was something else!”