Heading to Waianakurua but how do you say this place? Well the closest phonetically, I can get is whya-nacker-ruer. It is a small settlement on the west coast between Dunedin and Oamaru (that one is Ome-a-ruer). We were booked into an airbnb on a farm about 3km off the main highway and our host was Robyn who looked after the farm and worked part-time in the local whiskey maturation business. More on that later.
At our pace it only took us around two hours to get up the coast to Robyn’s place. She was at work so we were greeted by one of the dogs, Patch, and been given the double double secret coded details of how to access the property. Patch a friendly little chap who barked a bit but was used to guests arriving and settled down quite quickly. Her other dog, Kane, who was a former airport security sniffer dog was in his outside kennel and run so we did not get formerly introduced until Robyn came home. He was a very happy border collie who just wanted to play tennis. Well actually there was only one racket which the human used but there wasn’t a ball because Patch had stolen and hidden them. Kane decided that a pine cone would do so it was game on for pine cone tennis, fetch and retrieve.
Later on we met the other animals, Perry the enormous pet pig, the not so big pig for fattening up who was called Pig, a house-cat called Reeve, a feral cat, a deer, five cows, three calves and five chickens.
Robyn had huge amounts of land and luckily for us they bordered the coast so it was only a short walk down the track and across a few paddocks to the sea. There were two warnings: one = shut gates behind you because she didn’t want the calves to end up in the sea; two = if we wanted to take Kane he may end up chasing the seals so keep an eye on him. The beach was non-existent at high tide so Robyn checked the tide times for us so we could make the most and get a walk along. It felt remote, unspoilt, wild and beautiful. Yes we did get to see the seals lumber out of the water and plonk themselves down. They do brilliant impressions on grey rocks so it is tricky to see from a distance exactly how many there are.
About 10km south of Waianakarua, is Koekohe Beach and on the beach are some large spherical boulders which have become a bit of a photographers and tourists hot spot. They look like cannon balls only ten to twenty times bigger. Even though I have read about how they are formed it is all a bit of geological terminology that I can’t get my head around. Basically they are concretion boulders formed of mud in the sea bed around 60 million years ago. Coastal erosion exposes more and more of these boulders over time and there are around 50 spread along the length of Koekohe Beach. At given times, they fall out of the cliffs into the sea. Some of the boulders looked like punctured footballs and others resembled a mini crashed Death Star from Star Wars.
Sunrise is the most popular time to try and get the million dollar shot but ours was at about 2.15pm so it will have to do! There is a small cafe and gift shop and a donations box recommending NZ$2 per person for the upkeep of the path down to the beach. We were glad to see them but the boulders are not unique to this area and can found in other coastal areas.
After one more evening of ‘Pine Cone Tennis’ on the farm, we said our farewells and headed north to Oamaru, another coastal town with a port. This was the first stopping off point before heading inland to Twizel. Oamaru was once a buzzing port servicing the huge agriculture/pastoral inland areas. At that time, it was larger than Los Angeles. It grew in wealth and over 70 of the heritage buildings still exist in their grandeur. One of which is the whiskey maturation business located in one of Oamaru’s historic harbour buildings where Robyn works. Although distilling does not take place here the bottling from a variety of cases does. The casks give the whiskey unique flavours. One whiskey for example is matured in American bourbon barrels and then moved to French wine barrels, the Dunedin DoubleWood was born.
We liked Oamaru. There seemed to be a passion to preserve their heritage and even reinvent it. Which leads me nicely to Steampunk HQ. Housed in a building that was built in 1883 and called Meeks Grain Elevator. Damaged by fire in the 1920s the top two of the five storeys were chopped off and a new roof added. Steampunk has a quirky steam driven science fiction theme and set in an alternate, futuristic version of Victorian England. Steampunk HQ holds a lot of sci-fi art, movies, sculpture and lots of steam experiences!
From Oamaru we headed north to Pukeuri then inland following the Waitaki River. Our next stop off was Elephant Rocks. These rocks are about 5 km south of Duntroon and are weathered remnants of a limestone formation. They are on private rock across a paddock and do look a bit strange. None of them individually resemble an elephant but from the shaping and colour you can see how they got their name. Maybe it should be called the Elephant Graveyard.
Takiroa Rock Art
Duntroon also has two sites with still visible Māori carvings. Due to the weathering of the soft stone, removal of carvings by early settlers and vandalism both sites are bit disappointing but worth a look if you are passing through Duntroon.
A “Dam” Good Detour
The road followed the course of the river inland and we passed the first of three dams, Waitaki Dam. At the viewing area we realised that we could drive over the second and third dams. So a diversion was planned. Drive over the second dam, Aviemore Dam, drive along the north side of the lake and then return to the south side at Benmore Dam. It was a scenic drive and much more interesting than the main highway plus we got to drive over the largest earth-filled water-retaining structure in New Zealand. Bet you’re impressed now!
Our final excursion of the day had been recommended by our friends Gill and Ross in Wanaka, the Clay Cliffs. They are about 10km up an unsealed road north of Omarama off State Highway 8. A donation box for NZ$5 for your car gets you across the private land to get within 100 metres of the cliffs. The last bit is done on foot and sturdy shoes are recommended so you can get the most out of your visit. The cliffs are huge tall pinnacles of gravel and silt that reminded us of church, or cathedral, organ pipes. It looked like they had been placed here from another world and when the light hit them there was an array of yellows, oranges, greys. Up close, they looked like loose sand. I don’t know if you ever took a fist full of wet sand on the waters edge on the beach and let it squeeze through your hand like cake icing but it looked a bit like that.
Visitors are free to clamber in and around all the pinnacles although some of them did look a bit precarious. Such a crazy place and well worth the bumpy 10km track. It was certainly a case of saving the best stop off till last even though it made us arrive a little later than expected in the superbly named Twizel (which is Twi-zel)!
17/01 – 19/01/2018