Oamaru, on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, prospered during the nineteenth century and retains streets of intact grand stone buildings. Even industrial buildings exude an air of Victorian elegance and extravagance.
The town established its 34 acres (13.75 hectares) of public gardens in 1876, a serene and well used town resource. This is another example of New Zealand’s admirable devotion to providing public access to the outdoors. Here the gardens supplement the extensive walking and cycling trails around town and by the sea front, offering links to lengthy trails along the coast and into the Southern Alps .
The town’s generous spirit and strong artistic flavour welcomes visitors with its excellent restaurant and pub options, fine Victorian streetscapes, and extensive displays of public art, including whimsical sculptures down by the old port. Even penguins are welcome, and several colonies flourish at Oamaru’s beaches.
The image of New Zealand is of a small country, yet the sign at Bluff, close to the southern point of the South Island, indicates that Cape Reinga, near the northern tip of the North Island, is 1401 kilometres away.
At Cape Reinga, the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea collide in boiling currents, a fitting place for the spirit of a Maori to take their last journey by leaping off an 800 year old pohutukawa tree into the ocean, on the way to returning to their ancestral home, Hawaiki.
When in Bluff, Antarctica feels close. Eating Bluff oysters for lunch while gazing south towards the pole is recommended.
In between New Zealand’s extremities awaits a country of great scenic beauty, quirky towns, a vibrant culture, and friendly people. I keep coming back for a couple of weeks each year to rent a campervan/motorhome and enjoy a meander. It’s easy to find an isolated beach or country spot for a picnic, and often, to free camp as well. Those locations are a perfect place to sample one of New Zealand’s great wines along with some local produce.
Each time I visit, I find more appealing towns to add to my list of favourites. On my recent visit to the South Island, Oamaru and Akaroa joined the list. Away from towns, the hauntingly beautiful Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island keeps returning to my thoughts.
As an Australian, another joy about visiting New Zealand is that it’s the only country in the world where I am allowed to stay for as long as I want. No visas required