Coasting Around Otago Region
Leaving the mystical Mt. Cook behind, it was time to head back to the east coast to see the highlights of the south eastern portion of the island before crossing over to the Fiordland. On the way out of Mt. Cook, I picked up my first two hitch-hikers. Both guys were heading north to Picton so I just took them back to the main interchange of highway 80 and the road going to Mt. Cook. From there, I proceeded through Twizel to Omarama - the glider mecca of New Zealand. Unfortunately, the weather was still uncooperative, with low overcast, so a glider ride over the mountains was not even a consideration. From there, the drive back to the east coast was supposed to be very scenic one, but soon the overcast was supplemented with rain showers, completely hiding the surrounding landscape.
Riding Penny-Farthing Bicycle
An article in JetStar Airways' magazine caught my attention on the recent flight from Cairns to Sydney. It mentioned the historic east coast town of Oamaru and one of the activities that I have yet to do - riding the original (penny-farthing) bicycle. I have exchanged a few emails with Faye at the Oamaru Heritage Trust and she was kind enough to arrange the ride for me on the short notice. Wendy from Oamaru Cycle Works was patiently waiting for me and we lost no time giving it a go. She proceeded to explain the proper way of getting onto the bike, but being so tall, I was able to cheat out of that challenge. Riding the bike was an even bigger challenge thou, especially making turns. Since the front wheel is being turned directly by the attached pedals (no gears or anything), when it is turned using the handles, it amplifies the torque imbalance at slow speeds. Somehow, I managed to ride it around the parking lot without making too big of a fool out of myself before checking out the shop where they restore the bikes. Wendy also told me that they participate in yearly rides with other enthusiasts, covering more than 200 kilometers! Crazy…
I wandered around the historic downtown Oamaru for a bit before continuing further south to the next stop mentioned by the JetStar magazine's article - Moeraki Boulders at a beach just north of the town of the same name. These are essentially round stone balls of various sizes scattered around the beach in that area with no apparent explanation of their origin. Luckily, I was there at the best time to see them during the low tide (early evening) so there were a bunch of them out of the water. There were clear signs off the highway 1 with a small gift shop and cafe setup at the top of the cliff, with a deposit box asking for $2 set up next to the staircase leading to the beach.
Speight's Brewery Tour
Being the number one attraction in Dunedin, Speight's Brewery tour requires advanced reservations, so it was my pacing item for this trip. I got to the Central Backpackers hostel in downtown Dunedin with just enough time to drop off my bags and walk over to the brewery. Interestingly, the brewery set up uses seven floors of the building and employs gravity, rather than any machinery, to move the brew through its various stages, starting with the raw ingredients at floor 7. Even more impressive is their dedication to employees, with a bar set up on each floor so they do not have go far for a fix. The tour itself started out with a lame promo movie improved upon by the brief history of beer. Starting with the Egyptian times, it ended with the recount of the first beer brewed in New Zealand in 1773 by none other than Captain Cook himself in to help prevent the development of scurvy among his crew. In the end, it turned out to be on of the best brewery tours I have been on, climaxed with essentially unlimited samples of six different brews. I did not really care for the 'original' Speight's Golden Ale, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Distinction - their darker brew.
Next morning, I drove out to the eastern most tip of Otago peninsula, mostly to check out the views of Macandrew Bay. At the end of the drive, there is the largest albatross colony in the world and, as with other wildlife colonies, it was not free to enter. Still, there were plenty of birds everywhere and I pretty happy to escape unpooped on. Driving back on the other side of peninsula, and mostly at higher altitude, I was treated to a much less crowded drive and some very astonishing views of the coastline at the Boulder Beach.
Baldwin street in North Dunedin boasts the title of the steepest street in the world with its 1:2.86 grade at the steepest part (that is 20.5 degrees incline for the rest of us). Of course, I had to check it out and the round trip up and down the street turned out to be quite a workout for my legs, which were still recovering from the full day of driving the day before.
Leaving Dunedin for Te Anau, I followed the scenic route that took me to the Brighton beach. The views there were spectacular and I will leave it at that.
Mandeville Airport Museum
After having some late lunch, I realized that I would not be able to continue following the scenic drive along the coast to reach Te Anau in the evening, so I turned inland, passed Gore, and stopped just outside the town of Madeville to check out an aviation museum there. The airport turned out to be just a grass field with a cafe, a museum in one of the hangars, and a restoration shop. Even though I got there late, the lady at the cafe handed me the key to the hangar and wondered around for a bit checking out a bunch of Tiger Moths with a few other vintage craft. At the restoration shop, they were working on the original 1936 Staggerwing, already three years in the works, it should be ready for prime time by next winter. As it turned out, the field plays home to the annual fly that just happened to be this coming weekend so I plan on returning to check that out if the weather cooperates on Saturday.