Elusive penguins, a victorian town and some old fossils

In Oamaru we finally made it to another farmers market. It was only small, but still had some nice stalls; notably the Whitestone Cheese stall and one selling fried bacon and burgers. Whitestone Cheese is quite famous for its locally crafted cheeses and we were keen to visit their factory for a tour and tasting. Very unfortunately they don’t do tours at weekends and the next Monday was a bank holiday. At least we got to try them on the market.

VW as milkshake and cheese roll van

Oamaru town has kind of two centres: one is more touristy and located near the harbour. Old storage buildings house artisan bakeries, cafès, art galleries and curiousity shops. It has bags of charm and atmosphere and we enjoyed hanging around and shopping. The other (more like the actual centre) was the typical highstreet with all the usual shops and it felt sterile to us. Mainly thanks to the cosy old part Oamaru is our favourite New Zealand town.

We followed a recommendation to try the pies from the Harbour Street Bakery but were not overly impressed by them. They were pretty good pies, but no match for the delicious pastries we sampled in Te Anau and Mossburn. The bread however was delicious.

One of the galleries belonged to a limestone carver who was very talented in shaping big blocks of stone into intricate art works.

Atmospheric old town

An old penny farthing

In the afternoon we had booked a visit to Steampunk HQ, a small and very quirky museum between the two parts of the town centre. Bookings are not required, but we found a half price deal on bookme. The exhibition is spread over two rooms and a courtyard and consists of a very random mix of items. Most of them were crafted by the museum’s creator. Visitors could interact with most of them, but not all items provided some response. The most interactive object was probably the modified organ which produced random sounds when keys were pressed. It was also dark inside, making any type of photography tricky. Maybe it was just us, but hardly anything in the museum had anything to do with our understanding of what steampunk is about. In the end we left again after less than half an hour and were glad we hadn’t paid the full entrance fee of $10.

A steampunk/scrap motorbike

After our somewhat disappointing track record of penguin sightings we were keen to some more of these little fellows. Over the hill from Oamaru was Bushy Beach; home to a colony of yellow-eyed penguins. Supposedly they returned from their daily fishing trip between 3pm and dusk so we were very hopeful when we arrived late afternoon. After 3pm access to the beach is closed, but there is a hide and a viewing area at the top of the cliffs. Within ten minutes one little penguin arrived on the beach and walked the 20m across the sand to the bushes covering the cliffs. Excited by this early sighting we settled to wait for the others. After two hours later when we had to leave (it was quite a drive to the next campsite), this remained the only penguin of the day leaving us disappointed again. It seems every penguin colony consists of only one penguin just to proof to tourists that they actually exist.

Our lonely yellow-eyed penguin

We were told that there is also a blue penguin colony on Bushy Beach, but they arrive after dusk and visitors have to pay to see them. We did not hang around long enough to find out whether this was true, but regardless of it there is free alternative: some of the partner-less penguins come into the bay and onto the beach right next to Oamaru harbour. We saw wooden nesting boxes for them and smelled their guano, but it was too early for them to return.

A beautiful animal tree

On our drive north we decided to head to Duntroon Domain to spend the next night. This council-run campsite turned out to be fantastic: for $10 per person we got a fully equipped kitchen, a lounge and tv room, hot showers and a really nice camping spot.

The tractor truck leaving the campsite

In the morning we took a leisurely walk to a museum called Vanished Worlds. It was small but well set up and displayed fossils and various types of rocks. We were impressed by the displayed skulls of long extinct types of dolphins and penguin bones. We learned, that the word comes from the Welsh language ‘pen gwyn’ meaning white head and was originally used for a now extinct sea bird. We don’t know when it got transferred to the non-flying birds of the southern hemisphere, but it is an still interesting story. Most of the displays have been found in the local area.

Replica of the skull of an extinct dolphin species

After enjoying the included tea in the museum, we took a detour to visit the elephant rocks. These grey rock formations have been carved and shaped over millions of years into very interesting shapes. We haven’t found one that is shaped like an elephant; the name comes from the grey colour. There are quite a lot of them scattered around the field and make an awesome place to play hide and seek.

Ted looking for elephants
Some of the elephant rocks and Matthias found Zoë again

On the way back we stopped briefly at some Maori rock paintings and carvings. Though old, they were slightly underwhelming.

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