18 Dec – After spending a couple of days at Waimate we moved on to Oamaru via a back road to join up with SH1 just north of the Waitaki River. The traffic on SH1 felt intimidating after the less busy roads we’ve been travelling on since we last left Christchurch in mid-November.
On the way we passed Riverstone (Dot’s) Castle and Gardens so stopped to have a look around. Quite a story behind the building of this fantastic ‘home’ that started as a lifelong dream. In 2011 the project started with the digging out of a large area to form the lake. A local quarry turned the removed gravel into 20,000 large concrete blocks that form the main structure of the castle. The outside cladding is Oamaru Stone and is complete with towers and ramparts. The inside has marble floors, chandeliers, suits of armour, a dungeon (of course) and all heated geothermally from the surrounding lake. Building work started in 2014 and it’s almost finished! For the full story it’s worthwhile watching the documentary, made in March 2017 (click on the link below). Dot is an amazing woman for sure!
The castle is sitting in the middle of a lake separated from the commercial side of things…a renowned restaurant, extensive gardens, children’s play areas and amazing gift stores located in ‘rustic’ buildings. We wandered around the gardens lush with all sorts of vegetables and fruit (that are used in the restaurant).
Also browsed in the gift shops that were packed to the brims with fabulous items for house and garden decor.
How would you ever do a stocktake! We spied many interesting things to buy…just as well we live in a small space and have no-where to put more things…so we kept our purse tightly closed and escaped empty-handed!
We continued down the highway to Oamaru and went straight to the A&P Showgrounds on arrival…where we stayed on our last visit to Oamaru. Cost is only $6 night and they now have a washing machine for NZMCA members to make use of and have even opened up one of the toilet blocks and a cassette dump point. They get a lot of motorhomes stopping here and even with the low fee, probably bring in a fair donation for the local childrens’ sports teams. The only time it’s not open for members, is once a year when the ‘A&P Show’ is on.
We spent 5 nights there as we waited for our appointment with VTNZ to have the COF safety check done on the motorhome on 22nd December. It’s always due at the end of June and December each year…we keep saying that we need to get the date changed so the last one is not so close to Christmas. Guess the only way to do that is ‘bite the bullet’ and get it done early (forfeiting any time credit) and force the date to change. The guys at the VTNZ were from Timaru and drove down to Oamaru to work for the day…they were friendly and cheerful…and we passed our COF with flying colours again.
On the way back to the Showgrounds we did our grocery shopping at New World and then mad a ‘fatal’ mistake of going to investigate the Rainbow Lolly Shop across the road. Big bags of black jelly-beans, pineapple lumps, sour worms and lolly mixes seemed to follow us home! Oh dear…now we’ll have to eat them!
23 Dec – with all our laundry done and our COF renewed we set off again southward. We did stop in town first to look around the shops on the main street and to refresh our mind of the historic area around the waterfront. Last time we visited the ‘Steampunk’ place and thoroughly enjoyed it but decided we didn’t need to go a second time (just yet anyway). So after having lunch overlooking the bay we set off along the scenic coast road to check out the camping spots.
The place we stayed at in 2016 has now been closed off (too many small, non-self-contained camping vehicles have caused issues at many popular camping places and Councils have re-acted by shutting them down). However, we did find one beside the road at All Day Bay that has survived because it has a long-drop toilet there. So we settled there for the night. Across the road is a river estuary where lots of Gulls were breeding and they kept us entertained with their comings and goings. Black swans were ‘swanning around’ also.
The area is real popular with locals too and many family groups were parked up all day having picnics and swimming at the beach. Campers get lots of ‘bad press’ for not using toilets, however, I didn’t observe any of the locals come back over the sand dunes to use it during the day…hmmm I wonder where they were ‘going’ when nature called??? No doubt any clumps of loo paper in the sand dunes were latterly blamed on campers!!
Next morning we decided to move on and headed for the Glencoe Domain DOC Camp, down a side road near the settlement of Herbert on SH1. The camp was down in a hollow so we were pleasantly surprised to find we could still get an Internet connection there. So we ended up staying for four days and quietly celebrated Christmas Day there.
It was hard to find a flat spot to park on but we managed to get fairly level with the use of double blocks under the wheels on one side. Half of the camp was roped off being reserved for a “Tohanga” and we fully expected a multitude of the local Whanau to arrive over Christmas. But apart from a few cars arriving one day to erect a few marque tents and then leave…it didn’t eventuate. Neville got chatting to the DOC Ranger one day and he said the camp is actually Maori owned land so they get first choice on the campsites. He seemed surprised the group hadn’t arrived as yet.
The camp is surrounded by trees on one side and on the other falls down to the north branch of the Waianakarua River. There are couple of tracks down to the river and we explored them finding some great crystal clear swimming holes. The Christian “Camp Iona” is just up the road and people were obviously ‘in the know’ about the pools and making good use of them.
We headed off again on 28 Dec but only to the next DOC Camp at Trotters Gorge about 20kms south. Stopped at Hampden on the way and bought lunch at the ‘famous’ Cod and Chips shop there. They were OK but have had better. Drove to look at the local beach and saw that the Caravan Park there was really busy – a popular place.
As we drove into Trotters Gorge we recognised that we’d stopped a night there when we had just bought our motorhome in Dunedin and driving it back to the North Island. That time we were the only ones there and the grounds were pretty saturated…this time it was bone dry and quite busy with both campers and day trippers arriving to do the walks in the area.
Oh dear…no Internet Service! Maybe we’ll only stay one night…lol. With that in mind we set off in the afternoon to do the two popular walks in the area. Did the Trotters Creek Walk first – a number of shallow stream crossings to negotiate along the way.
We managed to rock hop for the first three, then the stones became further apart so in the end we just paddled through and got our shoes wet rather than risk slipping and falling on our backsides. There were 15 crossings in all (7 in and 7 back).
We were following a rough 4WD track but in places it was only wide enough for a quad-bike and the grass was flattened, so has been used fairly recently.
There’s a padlocked gate at the beginning of the track and as we got about 1km along we came across a fence and a sign saying you can access a picnic area by the river but camping not permitted.
Walked down and found a rustic hut in a clearing that looks like it’s still being used.
Later that evening I looked on the internet and learned that the hut is owned by the University of Otago and can be hired out. Cost is $7.00/night per adult and $3.50/night for children. Tertiary students get a discount. There is a toilet somewhere…we didn’t see it but no doubt would be locked when hut wasn’t being used.
After having a snoop around we continued along the track for another 30 minutes and were rewarded as we arrived in an enclosed valley with high rocky formations and cliffs that were formed after the last ice age 12-15,000 years ago (similar to the famous Castle Rocks along the Arthurs Pass road). They were quite impressive. This was the end of the official walk, but we continued on across a grassland area, found the stream again and continued on as far as we could… passing more amazing rock formations along the way.
We eventually arrived at a private property fenceline and the rock formations had petered out so we retraced our steps back to camp.
Total time away was 1½ hours which included stops and the extra distance we did.
We considered going back to the m/home for a sit down but the Trotters Caves walk was only going to take another hour, so we headed that way quickly before we changed our minds.
The track was a little more uphill following a dry stream bed around cliffs and rocks.
We arrived at a pair of caves that appeared to be man-made but they have been sculptured by the rushing water of a stream that no longer runs through them.
There is another track from there that circles back to the camp but it was closed off as slips have made it dangerous. Apparently it climbs up the rocky bluffs we could see back at the campsite. After a bit of exploring around the caves we headed back ‘home’. Two really nice walks and we were glad we returned to complete them.
29 Dec – Drove back to SH1 and southwards past Moeraki to arrive at Palmerston. Had a look around found and saw a McKeown’s Fuel Stop so topped up with diesel and fresh water too.
We were on the hunt for a new camping spot and headed to Waikouaiti further down the highway where the Beach Van Park was advertising a free POP for NZMCA members at the back of the camp. Unfortunately that didn’t ‘pan out’ when the camp owner told us the POP was closed as they’re holding their annual concert there over the weekend and are expecting over 300 people to descend on them for it. She offered to fit us into the paid part of the camp (which already looked full) but we decided to head off and look for a somewhat quieter place to spend New Year.
Nearby across the highway was another area listed as available for freedom camping, so went to check that out. Drove around the streets of a mostly abandoned area of neglected empty houses and closed factory buildings but couldn’t find any obvious area to camp. The Evansdale Cheese Factory was nearby and open so went to enquire there and the girl told us it was OK to just park anywhere in the streets. That didn’t really appeal as we were looking for somewhere to stop for 3-4 days, however, the cheese looked pretty good so bought four blocks of assorted cheeses and carried on our merry way!
Ended up further down the road than we intended at Warrington Domain on the coast and beside the estuary of Blueskin Bay. Two years ago we passed there but didn’t stay as it was jam-packed with small cars and vans as it was basically the closest ‘free’ place near to Dunedin where people could pitch tents and camp. Since then the Council has tried various options to control the area, from closing it altogether, making a small gravelled and fenced spot for a restricted number of Certified Self-Contained vehicles to park, to opening it up again for everyone.
This time, however, they have ‘organised’ the area better with fencing around the large area OK for camping thus leaving a roadway free for locals to drive to the Estuary, and placed porta-loos at various spots around the camp so that people don’t have to walk too far to a toilet. The public dump spot was outside the camp entrance so was easy for everyone to access and the original toilet block building was facing a fenced oval with car parking for day trippers, surfers and beach-goers. It also housed a little shop selling great coffee, cakes, ice-creams etc and there was a ‘wash up’ area at the back for campers to wash dishes etc.
In the camp there were several large family groups with circles of tents that looked like they were settled in over a lengthy stay and at a guess they looked like people that have been coming to this spot for years over Christmas and New Year. The signs stipulated a 3-day stay only but anyone trying to move them on would have probably been ‘lynched’ (so to speak) and no-came around to check for overstayers. All in all the area ‘worked’…everyone was well behaved, rubbish was put in the large bins provided (emptied twice while we were there) and people used the loos provided.
We went for walks along the beach and down to the estuary (Blueskin Bay) and over the sand dunes towards the Spit that separates the estuary from the sea.
Walked back from the Spit along the beach, past the swimming flags and across to the other side of the beach. We were amused by the seagulls that were resting on the sand and sheltering from a strong offshore wind behind clumps of seaweed on the beach. They would poke their heads up as we approached to see if we were getting too close.
Sealions swim in to rest in the sand dunes and one day a Police Car arrived at the camp to advise campers to avoid one of the tracks where a sealion had ‘parked’ itself. The policewoman distributed pamphlets to the overseas visitors warning them of the dangers of approaching our wildlife.
At the end of the beach we climbed up through some pines and out to the point to see the view beyond in the next bay.
We stayed four days and saw in the New Year there enjoying the private displays of fireworks we could see from the houses overlooking the bay.
So it was a nice ending to 2017 – we’ve been touring the South Island for just over two years now and it’s been the third Christmas and New Year we’ve spend down in ‘the mainland’. Roll on 2018…sounds like a good vintage!!
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