Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

New Zealand isn’t just lakes and beaches.

Marigold Says...

Talking of campers, well G probably will be as this is about New Zealand, our first foray into the world of camping was a £50 caravan (we are talking many years ago). So exciting, even though it had very smelly gas lights and the walls were pretty grimy. Anyway, we papered the (inside) walls with something garish, gave it a good clean, new tyres, somehow managed to hook it up to our car and off we went.

We went to Thurstaston on the Wirral because it was our dog’s favourite place. As good a reason as any. The camp site was just a field on top of the cliffs with absolutely no regulations. We were told to park ‘wherever you want’.

As the afternoon wore on a double decker bus arrived with quite a lot of weirdos inside and we were told it was the World Kite flying championships. They were sleeping on the bus and made a huge bbq, well actually they just burnt a load of sausages on a fire and put them in dry baps. Yes we did scrounge some.

Another family arrived with a huge tent followed by another car, and it seemed 4 adults and 6 kids plus 3 dogs were on holiday together. It was a really big field so where did they pitch their tents? Right next to us of course. A chip van arrived about 9.00 at night. What more do you want from a holiday? The place had filled up quickly by then and he did a roaring trade.

We had the most uncomfortable nights sleep in our new caravan, the bed sagged in the middle and was on the slant and I remember one of the newly added pieces of wallpaper had peeled off in the night and was on the floor in the morning.

Next day we watched the kite people but after half an hour got rather bored. We headed for the cafe, as it took our cooker grill almost an hour to do toast. We spent most weekends there. It is now an upmarket site with many rules and regulations.

We loved it so much there, before it became upmarket we bought a very old static and lived in it for eight months while we did a house up. We sold the wallpapered caravan for £130 and they went on to make it quite luxurious, sent us photos from their holidays in France. G said it was an Ace Ambassador and now it would be collectible, then it wasn’t.

Can you imagine camping in these times of Covid when you have to have a Covid test to use the bogs or have a shower. There will be Covid marshalls coming round at night shouting “zip up your tents now”, and “if you are having sex, remember to double mask”.

They will invent waterproof masks to use in the sea, and if you have an ice cream you will have a special mask with a hole for a straw so you can slurp it up. Flakes will be outlawed and sprinkles. Told G and he said he rather liked the idea. He is getting worried as he likes liquorice which will be hard to eat through a mask. There will be all sorts of culinary masks, the most popular being the Chip Mask, which will have a little pocket where you feed your chip in, squash it and it falls directly into your mouth.

Can’t wait. Come on, James Dyson, get inventing.

Second jab later today. Have had lots of “Good Luck” messages. What do these people know that we don’t?

We are both showered, wearing clean underwear and correct tops from which we can offer a bare arm. G would be wearing his military uniform if he had one, just like Major Tom. He has even polished our shoes. Standards, my dear. Wonder if I should wear a hat?

Thankfully the jab is not in my bottom.

We have not ordered a food delivery next week in case we get a blood clot. Don’t want to waste food and money. Maybe will just order jelly, tinned rice pudding and custard, wine gums and liquorice. The essentials.

There was a bloke lopping trees yesterday wearing his mask on his head. Wonder if the higher you go the less likely it is to catch the virus. Must look it up. Thinking about it, it is unlikely he will meet anybody up a tree whilst wielding a chainsaw.

Bacon butties await when we return.

Back from jabbing. The best bit was waiting fifteen minutes afterwards as there were some weird people there and one man was wearing a clown mask. The woman who was wiping down the chairs kept asking everybody if they felt okay, but hardly anybody could understand her behind her mask so she had to ask the question half a dozen times. When she asked G he said, ‘no’ and she just carried on chair wiping. G felt fine but he said he was checking if she was listening and she obviously wasn’t.

Doctor asked if we had had any after effects after first one. I thought only a propensity to eat more biscuits, chocolates and crumpets, but of course you have to put up with these things, so didn’t mention it.

The biggest changes for us during Covid:

A worn carpet on the way into the kitchen

An indentation in the chair that wasn’t there before

Flat cushions

Biscuit barrel always empty

Staring into fridge

Saying “who’s that” when a stranger goes past.

Wearing pyjamas from 7.00 in the evening onwards. (G said to say he sleeps naked, but thankfully he doesn’t all the time. Sometimes it’s best to have a cover up).

 

G Says…

 

Setting off for Queenstown we drove alongside Lake Wanaka and ended up in the town of Wanaka itself. It was quite ‘touristy’ – unusual as most of the towns we’ve passed through recently have been anything but touristy – and reminiscent of many Alpine resorts. It wasn’t the ski season yet, a major focus here, but of the choices on offer, skydiving, canyoning, mountain climbing and kayaking were just a few of the things we didn’t do!

We did, however, visit a lavender farm, just outside town, which was spectacular. If that makes us sound like decrepit old fuddy-duddies, our excuse was we were pacing ourselves and the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown would be our next stop.

No, that’s not likely to convince many people who actually know us.

We hadn’t known it, but this next leg of the journey, just a short hop from Wanaka to Queenstown, was better than any route we’d travelled so far in a country full of spectacular scenery. I can’t begin to describe it, but if I say we drove very slowly, no traffic to bother about, paused often and every turn in the road brought a fresh reason to say ‘wow’ you may get an idea of how we felt.

Queenstown calls itself the adrenaline capital of the world. Bungee jumping was invented here and since we visited in 2008 has spread throughout the world. I can scarcely contemplate adding up the numerous countries and many different places in which we declined to bungee jump!

Bungee or Bungy? It’s not quite ‘you say potato and I say potarto,’ not that any ever says potarto outside a song lyric, but when we were in New Zealand it always seemed to be written as ‘bungy.’ I prefer ‘bungee’ and it’s our blog so take that, A.J. Hackett.

He’s the Kiwi who really kickstarted bungee jumping with some of the best early examples of self promotional stunts, such as jumping off the Eiffel Tower. Even better if you get arrested, lots more coverage.

AJ Hackett created the world’s first commercial jump site on the Karawau Gorge suspension bridge in Queenstown, but of course the ‘sport/activity didn’t originate with him. I used to know a couple of former active members of the DSC (Dangerous Sports Club), mostly consisting of Oxford University undergraduates who first kicked off the ‘sport’ of bungee jumping when they jumped off Clifton suspension bridge on the 1st of April 1977. They were immediately arrested, thus ensuring the event hit the world’s press.

The DSC performed numerous stunts, almost invariably wearing full evening dress. I remember them skiing down the Matterhorn on such ill suited items as bicycles, a rowing skiff and while playing a grand piano. I even managed to locate a photo of a guest member, Nigella Lawson, playing croquet under unusual circumstances, being carried around in a sedan chair.

In New Zealand, however, it’s all about the genius of A J Hackett who made bungee jumping (my blog, my spelling) the worldwide phenomenon it has become. We went to the Karawau Gorge where the queue to jump was in the hundreds. We watched for a while until we suddenly realised we had other very important things to do and gave up the chance of our first ever bungee jump. Marigold’s chief objection was the water far below us looked icy cold. Even though the whole idea was to avoid an actual plunge from the bridge parapet into the river, that was regarded as a mere detail.

Queenstown turned out to be one of those places best appreciated in anticipatory mode rather than actuality. There have been a few like that over the years. Some people loved its ‘buzz,’ we didn’t.

As with the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef and the worst let down of all, Las Vegas, we ended up disappointed. Obviously, that’s our fault as other people have exactly opposite opinions.

It’s not always mutual, I loved the whole ethos of San Francisco while Marigold couldn’t wait to leave, but we both found Queenstown somewhat underwhelming. A bit tacky, overtly commercialised and not very well equipped for visitors in camper vans, but the setting is simply magnificent.

Lake Wakatipu is gorgeous and the the wonderfully-named Remarkables mountain range rise sharply up into the clear skies to create a backdrop that I could happily look at every day.

The best thing about our visit to Georgetown, well it wasn’t the beer, the omnipresent smell of burgers or the rowdiness of the evening revelry, it was leaving on a sunny morning to travel around the lake to Glenorchy. If that marked us out as middle aged frumps we didn’t care.

We’d marvelled at the scenery getting here from Wanaka, but the next leg of our route left us speechless. We’ve experienced the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, Alaska, Monument Valley in Utah and marvelled at the architectural marvels that define Rome, Venice, Paris, Sydney and so many more cities, but when I recall that particular morning on the road to Glenorchy I am almost lost for words. ‘Wow Island’ at its most intense.

I can remember Wilson Bay, Bennett’s Bluff, and Bob’s Cove, two islands in the lake, one being Pig Island and I think the other was Pigeon Island, but it all merged into one awesome experience.

Marigold reminded me we also visited Lake Woke – an unwise detour where the van got a puncture on the rough track. Not having previously checked on the condition of the spare until that point, (yes, I know, unforgivable as when it was needed we were right out in the wop-wops), it was a relief to find it in better condition than any of the others already on the van and it only took half an hour of straining and mauling to prise off the recalcitrant wheel nuts and change the tyre.

Even that didn’t take away our pleasure at one of our best days ever. Woke Lake was quiet, peaceful and calm. Just what we needed after the puncture episode. We camped there and had one of the best sleeps of the whole trip.

Even with the facilities being the almost obligatory ‘long drop,’ which is what New Zealanders call the usual fixture in an outhouse, a toilet with no flushing system, just a ‘long drop.’ A long drop dunny to be precise. Wharepaku, if the sign is written in Maori.

In Marigold’s view they’re responsible for a rare phobia: the fear of falling down a long drop dunny into the unmentionable pit below. We encountered one on Antelope Island, Utah, that took the words ‘long drop’ to extremes and Marigold decided she could hang on a bit longer rather than even consider taking a seat inside. An extra hour, even a week if necessary

A 'long drop dunny.' Fairly basic inside, but all you need really. Assuming your need is great.

Marigold stopped us here, thinking it was a roadside 'dunny.' It's actually a very famous Mail drop hut. People have their wedding photos taken here. That rarely happens outside public lavatories!

That's not Marigold

That's definitely not me either.

The lake shore at Wilson Bay. Stunning.

Bungee jumping? That's nothing. Try doing this wearing full evening dress

Part the Second

We set off back to the West coast, enjoying every scenic mile, and onwards down towards Milford Sound. We decided against visiting Doubtful Sound as well. Both involve difficult drives on narrow roads while being eaten alive by insect life and Milford Sound was closest.

The village of Te Anau is on the shore of a lake and when we arrived in the early evening it was thronged with visitors. An hour later almost all of them had left. It seems this is a ‘pit stop’ for tourist coaches going to or returning from Milford Sound. We found a campsite, free camping was not allowed here, and settled in.

Our nearest neighbours were living in a converted bus so our pathetic little van looked even more ridiculous than usual. There were several other huge van conversions as well. We compared sandfly experiences with them, about the only thing we had in common. One couple told us they had ‘done’ Milford Sound twelve times and this had been the only occasion it hadn’t been pouring with rain. They’d still loved it though.

Another pair, a right couple of miseries, had just returned from their day trip to the Sound and told us not to even attempt to go there as the only entrance road was awful and ‘it’s only like a big lake anyway.’

Oh well, we shall see, we mused.

We set off early the next morning to beat the tourist coaches. Milford Road is the only road into the Milford Sound and driving along it’s not hard to see why. We passed through an absolute wilderness in the next seventy or so miles with scarcely any roadside facilities available.

Until fairly recently there hadn’t even been a road at all and landslips and floods were still common. There were stopping points like the appropriately named Mirror Lakes. As I was taking a photo one of the only three other people there came over and said, ‘don’t even bother, it’s crap today.’

I thanked him for his concern, but we’d already decided the reflective effect wasn’t exactly brilliant. I’ve subsequently seen other people’s photographs and realise our unwanted advisor was just being accurate. We decided we’d try again on the way back but forgot all about it.

We’d now crossed the Main Divide of the Southern Alps and were soon stopped by traffic lights at the Homer Tunnel. It’s always frustrating, being unable to see the other end, and we had almost decided the lights were broken when we saw cars coming our way.

It was misty up here in the clouds, pretty cold and there were kea ‘parrots’ flying everywhere, so many of them Marigold refused to leave the car, muttering something about an Alfred Hitchcock film. Kea are on a par with seagulls in Cornwall for nuisance value, but far more attractive. We’d seen many signs asking people not to feed them, but plenty of people did.

That tunnel wasn’t all that long, but considering where it is it’s no wonder it took 30 years to complete the job, only opening up the route to Milford Sound in 1953. Once again we were on a road full of scenic wonders and we were actually slightly disappointed to reach the Milford Sound jetty.

We were booked on a cruise and were advised to ‘dress warm and waterproofing is advised.’ Time to drag out the ‘seemed like a good idea’ cagoules we’d stuffed into cubbyholes in the van and not yet used.

Highlights of the cruise: venturing out to the mouth of the Sound (elsewhere it would be called a fiord), the non-stop stunningly visual vistas of surrounding mountains, seals basking on rocks and the wide selection of truly spectacular waterfalls.

‘Our boat’ inched closer and closer to one of them to satisfy those aboard who secretly yearned to be drenched in thousands of gallons of water. Yes, of course we were right in the forefront. It was exhilarating, very much so, but also very, very cold.

Always has to be a counterpoint to pleasure and excitement.

I’m skipping over vast tracts of land now, including the lovely city of Invercargill, as I need to get on to the lowest point of Southland, the Catlins. This is an area like no other and we could have stayed here for months and still found amazing things to see and do.

It’s pretty remote, scarcely anyone lived there, the climate varied by the hour and we loved it to bits! We saw seals, penguins, sea lions and several species of birds we’d not seen before. Not that ornithology is a strong point. Not forgetting the wretched sandflies, of course, and by now I’d resorted to rubbing HP sauce on my exposed areas. It worked as well as may have been expected, no better than insect repellent maybe but at least as effective and without experimentation there’d be no scientific progress.

Far too many highlights to recount, but Tautuku Beach was very special and wonderfully deserted. We could only imagine how many others before us had taken a photograph of that beach from Florence Hill Lookout.

Those viewpoints were prolific, understandably so as the Catlins is so ridiculously scenic and the views from Nugget Point Lighthouse were just one more example that came to mind. Slope Point marked the furthest Southerly point of South Island, so of course we had to go there. A fairly basic sign told us how far it was to the South Pole and the Equator, but that was about all.

There was much more information not too far away at Bluff where the signpost gave a great many more distances and location. For some reason I found this information far more fascinating than Marigold did. She did consent to have her photo taken but subsequently vetoed the picture due to hairstyle ‘issues.’ In fairness it was blowing a gale at the time. Fortunately I had an ‘unmanned’ photo of the signpost to fall back on.

The Catlins was very, very windy. Not unusual here, it seemed from chatting to locals. Perhaps our favourite Catlins day involved our visit to Curio Bay. The plan had been to park on a beach, as we had done many times on this trip, but the van appeared to be in danger of being overturned when the wind off the sea hit it.

We took the sensible option and tried to find an alternative place to spend the night. If a hurricane is rated Force 12 on the Beaufort Scale this felt like Force 25.

This coastline is a great surfing area and as we walked the beach, hunched over while trying to remain upright against the wind and treading on the fossilised remains of a petrified forest (180 million years old and normally underwater but clearly visible at low tide) the lone twenty something surfer with sun bleached ‘surfer hairstyle’ we’d been watching far out to sea arrived on shore and came over to greet us.

I talked surfing with him for a while, somehow I resisted his offer to lend his spare board so I could check out the huge waves at close quarters (!) and he asked if we were just passing through or staying locally. I pointed out our van, still visibly swaying despite being reasonably sheltered from the wind.

‘You need to get that moved,’ he said. ‘It’s supposed to turn into a real blow later. This is nothing.’

Gulp!

Five minutes later we had moved our van into his big shed already housing a JCB and a tractor and were safely ensconced in his kitchen waiting for the coffee pot to finish bubbling. A total stranger had invited us in and insisted we make use of his home tonight as this was the ‘project house’ he had built to rent out to tourists and he would be going to the house he shared with his girlfriend as soon as he had got out of his wet suit. Offers of payment were firmly refused.

‘It’s not ready yet, still got a bit to do, can’t rent it out yet anyway and that van of yours will be in the ocean by morning if you leave it out there’ was the gist of it.

Freshly showered and dressed in tee shirt and shorts our host soon returned and poured himself a coffee. ‘Help yourself to anything in the ‘fridge,’ he said. We assured him we had everything we needed stored in our van, but were overwhelmed by his generosity.

Marigold had been desperate to know more about the scar on his leg, at least 18 inches long.

‘Surfing,’ he said, grimacing.

‘A shark?’ Marigold asked, horrified, and he grinned.

‘Nah, just got swept onto the rocks last summer, cut my leg open, broke an arm and six ribs. Put me off work for months and missed the whole footie season.’

We talked rugby for a bit, he was a scrum half, and worked on his family farm a few miles away, but had built this house on the shore in his spare time.

‘Work, rugby training, surfing, not enough hours in the day so getting munted on the rocks did me a favour. No rugby, no surfing, could get the house pretty near finished. Only been back in the water for just over a week.’

‘Did you build all this yourself?’

He nodded. ‘Everything but the electrics. Knocked in every nail, laid every brick. Got a digger in the barn, that’s a big help.’

While I was pondering on the scale of this achievement – having renovated a fair few houses on our own we’d never even considered taking on a total house build, never mind doing so while recovering from broken limbs – Marigold had a question to ask.

‘What’s munted mean?’

He laughed. ‘You don’t say munted In England? It just means broken, fair bashed up, you know? Keep an eye on the shore, there’ll be a fair few yellow eyed penguins about come evening.’

After he’d left we spent ages talking about how he’d encapsulated the essential kindness and generosity of the New Zealand people and especially in the remote and unpopulated Southland. Mainly rural communities where nobody locked their doors, everybody knew their neighbours and hard work, mostly on the land, was the norm. People often compare New Zealand to Britain in the 1950s, not always kindly, but there was so much here to remind me of my own childhood and we’d just met a shining example of New Zealand hospitality.

We left 50 dollars, three bottles of wine and our home address details on the kitchen table when we left the next morning. Six months later we got a postcard from ‘Alvin with the munted leg’ who was in Fiji on his honeymoon.

We had the best sleep we’d had since arriving in the country – a big comfortable bed was quite a contrast to our necessarily ‘bijou’ sleeping arrangements in the van – and the setting was simply wonderful. Floor to ceiling windows overlooking a stunning bay with the surf breaking only a matter of fifty yards away, it was wonderful.

Yellow eyed penguins? No, we didn’t see a single one. The following week we saw lots of penguins so our deprivation was to be short lived.

Read on for lots of photos and some more of my ramblings as well

Two variations on the theme of a two berth camper van

Waiting for the lights to change at the Homer Tunnel. It's high up here, in the clouds, cold, wet and miserable plus we were under attack from dive bombing parrots

As with feeding seagulls in Cornwall, there's always idiots about who ignore notices

They're rather nice, on their own. Pity they always seem to turn up mob handed.

We parked next to Bruce Lee at Milford Sound jetty

One of the many waterfalls hitting the surface. Who thought sailing a boat under it was a good idea?

Surely you can get a bit closer.

Marigold loved it. She's very tough.

A few seals. These are the 'bachelors,' waiting their turn to get a colony of their own and access to females. They're a grumpy bunch, understandably so.

The day after the previous photo was taken. The only dull day we had in The Catlins. The scenery is still fabulous

We intended to camp here. Er, maybe not a good idea in a virtual hurricane.

We did camp here one night. It's the perfect spot for surfing, seals and sandflies.

Fabulous Curio Bay

Our only proper bed in two months. One more reason we liked Curio Bay so much

It was a wild night out in the bay

We slept here and next morning we saw this bus next to us. 'It wasn't there last night.' Marigold said. I suspect it had been parachuted in under cover of darkness. Even stranger, it was unoccupied.

Part the Third

Time to move this narrative along or risk boring you. After several blissful days, even allowing for ‘a bit of a blow’ as the locals termed that virtual hurricane, we left the bucolic charm of the Catlins behind and drove to the big city.

Dunedin is closely linked to Edinburgh and the Scottish heritage was obvious. We stayed on the outskirts and did a day visit. There was a craft sale at Kings High School so we went inside and browsed.

Marigold bought ear rings, not an uncommon purchase, and I was captivated by a list of the school’s notable alumni. International rugby players, cricketers, politicians, scores of them. ‘Represented New Zealand’ asterisks were alongside many names and on several more the additional notation ‘captained New Zealand.’

Just in one school.

Dunedin isn’t a big city, scarcely more than a decent sized town by British standards, but what a heritage.

Baldwin Street, Dunedin, is supposedly the steepest street in the world. I wouldn’t have parked our van on it unattended that was for sure. Many years later we drove down many of the streets in San Francisco, one of which claimed to be the steepest in the world. I’m not being unfair when I express a preference for Baldwin Street’s claim.

Come on, San Francisco, don’t be mean, you’ve already got an iconic bridge, let New Zealand have the kudos of its steep road.

Leaving Dunedin, heading for Oamaru, we stopped off to look at some fine examples of Maori rock art we’d seen in so many places in South Island along the way as Alvin, the surfer had told us not to miss them. He’d also recommended a camp site in Oamaru and insisted we’d need a couple of days there to see everything. We stopped for coffee and as we rejoined the road saw a signpost for Shag Point Nature Reserve.

No, we aren’t that childish, it was the Nature Reserve aspect that was the attraction. Honest.

Not that others shared the same lofty detachment as we saw many people taking photographs of the various permutations made available by a simple place name. I even took one myself, to remind us of the backpacker hostel where some people we’d met ‘on the road’ had booked for their 10th wedding anniversary.

As the sign clearly shows, the name Lazy Shag refers to a species of cormorant, in this case a tired one. Honestly, the minds of some people! We did wonder though if the owners had called their hostel the Lazy Cormorant, would it still have the No Vacancies sign outside?

We saw seals in rock pools, lots of cormorants and walked across a lovely beach, but the best part of Shag Point was the weird and rather wonderful houses we found overlooking the ocean. It was a glorious location for a house, but we didn’t see much ‘traditional’ housing stock.

There were converted buses, lorries and a few ‘bitsas’ as a local called them – ‘bits of this, bits of that’ – houses cobbled together in a distinctly ramshackle fashion.

Our envy was boundless.

Oamaru turned out to be a very surprising town. It was once the largest and richest town in the whole of New Zealand, until, in 1868, a huge storm destroyed three cargo ships in one night and the town’s fortunes went down along with the vessels. What remained was a town full of large Victorian buildings as a stone, bricks and mortar legacy of its former wealth and importance.

The campsite was excellent and quite busy. We washed our clothes and bedding and went for a walk around the site. There were a couple of ‘Wicked’ campers like ours and we compared designs with their ‘owners.’

Most of the vans here were large, proper motorhomes and there were a few Winnebago type monsters as well, dwarfing everyone else.

‘Are you going on the trip?’ Someone called out.

Well, we tend to avoid organised ‘trips’ as a rule, but it turned out this was a planned excursion to see a couple of penguin colonies. We signed up for the penguin ‘bus straight away.

A brilliant decision.

The penguin related experience was fascinating, but if we hadn’t heard about this excursion we’d never have met the most interesting man we came across on the whole trip.

The bus was older than us and even more wheezy than me when going up hills, the seat padding was non existent and the windows were practically opaque. None of that mattered as our driver, tour guide, meeter and greeter and new best mate was Doug.

‘Just Doug, don’t call me Douglas or you’ll be walking back.’

Fair enough.

There were only six of us on the bus, plus Doug and the other four passengers headed for the back seats and carried on drinking the vast quantity of beers they’d brought along with them. We sat up front and talked to Doug who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of penguins and a bottomless pride in his home town.

The Yellow-eyed Penguin is unique to New Zealand and then only in tiny numbers, all in this area of the far South. We’d missed out on seeing any in Curio Bay but Doug seemed convinced he’d find one or two for us on or around Bushy Beach.

‘There’s still a few knocking around in this bay we’re going to, but they’re real shy and easily spooked so you can’t go on the beach. They’re only just hanging on, it’s mostly stoats that kill the little fellers, but if they get scared they clear off out to sea and leave the young ‘uns in the nest so that’s the end of them.’

We said we’d be careful and Doug waved his hand at the group on the back seat who were singing lustily by now.

‘I reckon they’re better off left on the bus with the grog,’ he muttered. Which is exactly what happened when we reached the cliff top vantage point.

‘There’s a viewing hide over there, but if you don’t fancy spending time where blokes have been sitting and farting for hours, just keep an eye on the beach, you may be lucky.’

We looked down at the deserted beach. It was getting dark and we didn’t see any signs of life. It was pretty windy up on the cliff top and we were just about ready to give up when Doug appeared, hissing, ‘there’s one of the little ‘uns, on the path.’

We strained our eyes, saw nothing, but then Marigold gave a start and grabbed my arm. There it was, a wild penguin, only about twenty feet away from us and seemingly unaware of our presence. We watched it waddle along until it vanished from sight and by then there were two, much larger ones, on the beach, just coming ashore. Doug said it was okay to take a photo, but not to use flash, but as with so much that is magical in life a photograph does not do it justice.

Back on the bus the back seat drinking session was still in full swing. Doug wasn’t impressed, but he hadn’t got much time for anyone who was ‘on the grog.’ He told us his dad’s generation lived through ‘prohibition’ - Oamaru went ‘dry’ in 1906 and stayed that way until 1960, the last South Island district to allow alcohol sales. He walked to the back of the bus and said, very firmly, ‘pack the beers in or off you go, eh?’ after a few seconds deliberation the other four passengers picked up their crates of beer and got off the bus.

‘Didn’t expect that,’ Doug said, ‘but that’s me stoked, them going bush, it’s right curly is that.’*

*I’m paraphrasing as most of Doug’s remarks were pretty unintelligible. He spoke a very different language than anyone else we’d met on this trip. We understood ‘going bush’ and we’d heard ‘stoked’ enough often to know it meant Doug was pretty happy about the drinkers departure, but ‘curly’ – also an expression of something being very good appeared to be a word only used by Doug as we never heard it again.

Of course, Marigold and I say it all the time now as our tribute to Doug.

Doug drove us back into town to see the Blue Penguin colony in an abandoned quarry close to the harbour. Blue Penguins, the Blues, are unique to New Zealand and a tiny region of Australia. On the way he told us all about the Blues. They’re tiny, the smallest by far of the 18 known penguin species and only come ashore later in the evening to avoid predators. They leave their little rock burrows at dawn, spend the day at sea and return at dusk.

We arrived at a viewing stand where tour groups were being rigidly organised by a very bossy woman. Doug told us to say ‘we’re with Doug’ and nobody would ask us for payment. We did and they didn’t. We’d already had a quick look, far enough away from the burrows to avoid scaring the chicks waiting for their parents to return and could hear them crying out, quite noisily.

The bossy woman was telling everyone not to take photos as the penguins were easily frightened and would return to the sea, abandoning their chicks if we behaved ‘inappropriately.’

She reminded me of Mrs Eardley, one of my first ever teachers at Primary School who still causes me occasional sleepless nights. #

# No, of course she doesn’t, but she was a pretty scary disciplinarian and more than a match for a not entirely well behaved six year old schoolboy.

There was a clever infrared lighting system in place allowing the watchers to see the booming surf breaking on the beach almost next to us without scaring the penguins and about a hundred spectators gasped as the first penguins were sighted, fighting the fierce waves to clamber onto the rocks and reach the safety of home.

It was an amazing sight. There were really tiny, repeatedly battered by the waves, clambering on to the rocks only to be swept back again as the waves receded and regrouping to try again.

‘Just imagine, swimming around all day and then coming home to all this,’ Marigold whispered.

It was certainly a tough life being a Blue. After a bunch had struggled ashore, almost everybody in the viewing area left. We stayed where we were and were joined by Doug who told us he’d ‘been for a smoko with me offsider, he’s mad as a meat axe about the footie club,’ which translates as taking a short break with one of his mates who was annoyed about something connected to the local rugby club. We were getting the hang of Doug by now.

‘Watch out for the drill sergeant,’ Doug whispered, ‘he’s checking for them as haven’t turned in yet.’

Yes, there he was, a lone penguin perched atop the rocks, looking out to sea. Looking anxiously, we surmised, for a missing group from the colony. ‘They spend all day out in the ocean fishing on their own but when it starts to get dark, they gather together and come ashore in groups of 20 or so. Suppose they think that’s safer,’ Doug said and as he spoke the watcher on the shore started hopping from side to side.

‘He’s spotted ‘em,’ said Doug and within moments we saw them too, struggling ashore under the watchful eye of the ‘drill sergeant.’ A brilliant evening, but Doug hadn’t finished yet. Talking non stop he took us on a guided tour of his home town, his civic pride shining out brightly. The main buildings in the centre, built of local white stone, have been preserved and restored, but Doug was equally keen to show us many examples of faded Victorian splendour. This was once the major trading hub of New Zealand and although Victorian buildings are commonplace in the U.K. here they are revered and we paid them due deference.

‘People reckon the Big Smoke is the place to live these days,’ said Doug, ‘but you wouldn’t get me away from here. Centre of the universe, this is.’ We established that the ‘Big Smoke’ referred to Dunedin, by no means a big city by European standards, but couldn’t fault the enthusiasm of this proud son of Oamaru for the place he would always call home.

We never saw Doug again, but before we left, from a distance, sitting on the railway platform, legs dangling, was his 'offsider.' We'll never forget Doug, remarkable man, one of life’s true characters and the provider of so many words and phases still in everyday use in our house.

We were on the last leg of our journey around and through New Zealand by now. We’d been as far South as possible and our final destination would be the city of Christchurch where we would return the rented van and jet off back home. Christchurch was not very far away up the East Coast, but of course we eschewed the direct route and there were many detours yet to be taken. More of that in the next blog. I must go and do some more photograph sorting and scouring of our joint memories before I can get to that.

A 'bitsa' house on Shag Point. It was difficult to track down the order in which the various bits were added, but just look at that view.

Maori rock paintings

No, not a Maori rock artist

Penguin sighted at last

Doug took us to see the sights of Omarua. They weren't necessarily the grand buildings in the centre

Lane's Paints, famous throughout the entire district.

That's the courthouse next door, but the Coal Shop took precedence on Doug's Tour

Doug's dad used to work here. You don't get to see places like this on many guided tours!

Doug's 'offsider' in contemplative mood