Timaru to Oamaru Road Trip


I awake to find Bob gone. He returns a little later looking sweaty but decidedly pleased and announces that he’s been ‘jogging’ at Caroline Bay.

“I’m thinking about hiking the Kepler Track,” he says, much to my amazement, “but I’ve only got a couple of weeks or so to get fit!”

Privately I have my doubts about the wisdom of a strenuous three to four day tramp, but who am I to judge? “Great goal,” I say encouragingly, as we pack our bags and leave for Oamaru. En route we make a detour to Waimate, the strawberry capital of the south, where large brush wallabies roam in Hunters Hills behind town. We enjoy coffee and berry muffins at Wildberry Café then, with the delicious aroma of freshly baked wallaby pies wafting on the breeze, pop into Enkledoovery Korna where Bob cuddles a tame wallaby and poses for a photo.

“Aren’t wallabies Australian natives?” he asks, as we drive away. I explain how they - along with the pesky possum - were unwittingly introduced to New Zealand.

A short time later we arrive in Oamaru, which has the largest collection of protected heritage buildings in NZ. Crafted from a creamy-textured local limestone known as Oamaru Stone, these gorgeous Victorian buildings with their huge columns and extensive ornamentation were designed by the finest architects of their time.

We head straight for the Harbour and Tyne Historical Precinct, reputed to be the only intact Victorian harbour in NZ, where there’s a curved wooden wharf. We watch craftsmen sculpt Oamaru stone, then drop in to sample a cheese platter at Whitestone Cheese before (in the interests of Bob’s fitness regime) setting off on a self-guided walking tour of the town.

We hike up the hill to the late nineteenth century St Patrick’s Basilica, with its coffered renaissance ceiling and an impressive dome over the sanctuary, then continue on to 56 Eden St where Janet Frame lived for 14 years. A number of extracts from her earlier manuscripts can be seen in Oamaru. We admire the magnificent trees and flower beds in the 1876 gardens, and relax at the Italian marble fountain. A stroll along the train track takes us back to Tees Street, home of St Luke’s Anglican Church (1866), the former Post Office building (1883), the North Otago Museum (1882) and the old Courthouse built in 1882-3.

Blue Penguins

“I’m ready for a beer,” Bob declares, so we relax over a cold Speights in the Criterion Hotel’s olde-worlde bar and dine upon their specialty pies – sausage meat with fillings of cheese, tomato or mushroom. Earlier in the day we booked a blue penguin tour, so after dinner we follow the waterfront past shag-smothered piers and the Red Sheds’ craft displays to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. The evening begins with a behind-the-scenes view and history of the colony, then we watch in the fading light as a hundred or so birds ride in on the waves, awkwardly right themselves, then waddle up the stony beach. At the top they stop to preen, then with an unconcerned air continue their ungainly gait past where we’re seated and return to their cliff-side homes. “Let’s go spot their yellow-eyed cousins tomorrow at sunrise,” says Bob, elated, “I’ll walk and you can follow me in the car.”