Left Christchurch on 16 January and headed for Lincoln to look at a couple of free camps on the Selwyn River. We stopped at Chamberlains Ford – hardly any water in the river and 4WD vehicles were having fun driving up the riverbed in the loose gravel and splashing through the shallow waters. Quite a few families all set up in ‘established’ camps – looked like they were there for the duration of the school holidays.
Next day we drove past the Coes Ford campsite and it was even busier but appeared to be mainly short-term stayers. We carried on to the shore of Lake Ellesmere at Selwyn Huts – lots of baches/cribs(whatever) along the Selwyn River bank. Saw an amusing Council signpost which we couldn’t resist recording.
Continuing southward we drove around Lake Ellesmere to another free camp at Timber Yard Domain (near Leeston). The lake empties into the ocean near this point. We were amazed that this great campsite was practically empty. Only one other camper set up when we got there and overnight only a handful of small vans joined us. Great lake views, flushing loo block, two boat ramps, huge area (reckon you’d get around 500 campers there no trouble). A little boat and a flounder net would be great to have here too.
Over the next couple of days we travelled to Geraldine via Ashburton and Ealing. Heavy rain was falling in the area and we heard later that there was flooding in Timaru. We spent a night at the NZMCA Park in Ealing and the grass was really saturated – drove in very carefully (no wheelies)! No doubt the farmers were delighted by the water deluge.
Things were improving though by the time we arrived at Geraldine the next morning. The sun came out and we were soon ‘cooking’ in 28°. We caught up with some friends in Geraldine – travellers we first met up with in Australia on our 2003-2006 trip and have kept in touch with over the years. We stayed in Kennedy Park where the Council has dedicated an area for Self-Contained camping. Great spot – just a short walk over a little footbridge and you are right in town. Left Geraldine with jars of ‘goodies’ from the Barkers Shop – lots of things they produce that you never see on the supermarket shelves.
Next stop Timaru. Checked out the camping spot at Caroline Bay – meant to be for Self-Contained vehicles between 4pm-10am but it was totally filled with non-self-contained cars and little vans (no ‘regs’ being taken notice of here). We stopped nearby for lunch and went for a walk through the park and up the 107 steps (there is an elevator if you are feeling lazy) to the town level and browsed the main shopping area. Great view over the beach and park areas on the return walk. We also visited the Aigantighe Art Galley which has works by Goldie and Colin McChan to name a couple of the renowned artists represented. The gallery is located in a beautiful old homestead built in the 1950’s. Well worth visiting even if you are not a great art lover.
Decided to spend the night at the Phar Lap Raceway – the NZMCA has permission for club members to stay there for the usual $3pp fee. A good spot.
Onward down SH1 through St Andrews and ended up in Waimate. Stayed in the Club Park there – a beautifully laid out area and well kept. Checked out the large image of a white horse up on Lookout hill.
Drove to local Kelseys Bush Reserve to check out Sanders Falls – not a big waterfall but it was pretty and a lovely bush walk to get there.
Camped the next night at a pretty remote free camp called The Black Hole on the Waihao River. It was down a bumpy steepish track to the riverbank where there is a large swimming hole and the start of a Walkway along the river. An old concrete ‘loo’ block has a large painted sign on it warning swimmers of the deep water. Not as though you’d want to swim anyway – the water was pretty murky and a recent sign from the local Authority warned that the water was polluted. It was probably a great place some years ago before the surrounding farmland wasn’t converted to dairy herds. The nearest farmer obviously grazes his cows in the reserve as evidenced by the old cow pats on the grass and riverbed. We later read on ‘Mr Google‘ that the swimming hole was infamous for the drowning of two children here while on a school outing in Feb 2000.
Early next morning it started to rain steadily so we got out of bed early (still dark outside) and decided to drive back up to the road before the grass and track out got too wet for us to get out. Better to be sure than sorry by getting stuck! Breakfast was ‘served’ at a Rest Area further down the road towards Kurow.
Stopped at the new bridges crossing the Waitaki River near Kurow. These impressive bridges were completed in 2014 and replaced the old wooden truss bridges that served here continually from 1881. A section of the old bridge is displayed in the carpark along with interesting signboards showing photos and a the history of the area.
Headed west from Kurow to visit the Waitaki Dam built from 1928-34. This was the last Dam in the McKenzie Basin Hydro area that was excavated by hand with pick and shovel. An impressive feat when you look at it.
Decided to turn back from here and leave the rest of the lakes areas for another trip so drove back through Kurow and on to Duntroon.
Had a look at two different Maori Art sites around Duntroon – not much to see to be honest, as most of the drawings are well faded in the most part and you can see where a lot of the art has been removed over the years.
There are lots of these art sites around the Waitaki area as the valley was used by early Maori to travel from the East Coast to the inland areas. While travelling they would take shelter in the many small caves and overhanging rocky outcrops and decorate the walls.
Did a short round trip from Duntroon to visit the Elephant Rocks which were quite impressive being formed 24-26 million years ago. Their shapes have been formed by the elements since being uplifted to the surface within the last few million years. We wandered round the area, which is on private property (hence the grazing calves and sheep). Took lots of photos of the rocks while a Japanese Tour Party were taking just as many photos of the sheep!
A notice at the gate indicates that you can camp here if you ring the owners first for permission.
On the loop back we walked up to the “Earthquakes” – tall limestone cliffs streaked with colour. Originally thought to be an earthquake uprising but later found to be more reflective of a major landslide thousand of years old. (Refer to photo as it’s a bit complicated (double-click to enlarge). Many fossils occur in the area that originated from the sea bed and came to the surface as New Zealand gradually emerged from the sea 25-30 million years ago. At this site a fossil of an ancient whale was found when a chunk of rock fell from the cliff face and is on display, partly excavated.
Too late in the day to drive on to Oamaru so parked up at the NZMCA Park in the middle of no-where at Awamoko Domain. Hardly surprising that we were the only ones there. Walked around the grounds and found a few mushrooms ready for picking – just a taste but better than nothing.
Arrived in Oamaru on 26 January. It was grey day, cold wind blowing and rain threatening. Parked near the historic precinct and walked and browsed in the interesting galleries and old warehouses stuffed full of crafts, old books, antiques and curios…you name it you could probably find it somewhere there.
The Steampunk Exhibit looked ‘different’ and interesting so we paid up the entry fee to find out. It’s basically old machinery modified into Sci-Fi, Mad Max, Ghost Rider type themes. An organ you can ‘play’ and mix strange sounds together, a doomsday counter, time machine…all housed in a darkened warehouse and lit with coloured lights.
In the yard outside we found a “Back to the Future” train and a rocket ship in the stage of being completed along with lots of junk that ‘might’ be useful in their creations.
The best thing about the whole place is a little square room of mirrors and lights called “The Portal”. It was amazing, you could see your reflection multiplied all around you for ‘miles’ – in front, behind, the sides, above and below(if you zoom the photos you will see us everywhere from all angles). It was like standing in an abyss. Then on top of that hanging lights were flashing and changing colour all around you to the tune of soothing music. It only lasts 2½ mins but you don’t want it to end…we went in twice it was so cool!
At the entrance there are 3 exhibits that you can ‘start up’ by putting a $2 coin in the slots. Lots of people (including us) milling around waiting for someone else to pay up so the could enjoy the show for free!
Back on Earth again – we returned to the ‘truck’ and moved to the Friendly Bay Wharf area for a late lunch. Found the ‘Watchmans’ red shed made famous for it‘s part in reporting the demise of Scott‘s Antarctic Expedition in 1913. The SS Terra Nova called into the harbour and dropped off two men who broke the news by coded telegraph while the ship sailed on to Lyttleton. Thus the fate of the expedition was received by the families before the ship berthed and the rest of the world heard what had happened.
We gave the little blue penguin viewing park at the end of the road a miss and headed to the A&P Showgrounds for the night.
Drove up to the local Lookout before leaving Oamaru next morning. Great view over the port and town centre. The historic buildings from the white Oamaru stone sure stand out proudly. Headed south taking the scenic coast road (27 January).