Hillgrove, NZ to Oamaru, NZ

29.5 mi / 10.5 mph / 1582 ft. climbing
Home: Oamaru Harbor Tourist Park

Our shorter day today into Oamaru, combined with our decision to get restaurant-breakfast 5 miles down the road rather than cooking in our primitive campsite, meant that we not only lazed to a “late” 7am wakeup, but we even did a short hike between packing up and leaving!

Spotted high above our campsite in the morning, some sort of observation center for advanced aliens secretly studying our civilization! The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers” was real!!!
Hmm, it looks like the aliens must have abandoned their observation center some time ago, and then its cloaking device failed after the dilithium power source was finally depleted.

The hike took us into a narrow gorge to a small ground-level cave. It was dense with green jungle-like vegetation, an environment more like the North Island than anything else nearby.

Rett visits the Oracle of Oamaru, who shouts premonitions of our future from his giant stone mouth.
Those are some long roots!

The five miles of riding brought us to the cafe that provides easy access to the Moeraki Boulders, which we would have stopped to see anyway, but eating breakfast there meant that we didn’t need to pay the $2 (honor system) to use their stairs down to the beach (their long driveway did mean that we added a steep hill to the day we hadn’t planned on). Just like at the Cathedral Caves, we lucked into good timing: the tide was out so all the boulders would be visible/accessible, and we were either before/between the tourist buses, so we ate our big cooked breakfasts in quiet peace, and then had a relatively-empty beach when we went down to the boulders.

So these Moeraki Boulders are more clear evidence that this region was (and maybe still is!) a hotbed of alien activity. These huge perfectly-spherical “rocks” (uh huh) five feet in diameter are supposedly created by a natural geologic process? Suuurre…

Moeraki Boulders, half-buried in the sand.
Proof that these spheres are not small!
The aliens tried to hide this one in inside the cliff, but we’ve found it, you sneaky assholes!
One cliff-boulder in front, with another one in the far distance.
Rett examines one of the “boulders” in the middle of a self-destruct sequence. Is this where the Empire got their idea for the Death Star?
An interior shard from one of the “Moeraki Boulders”. C’mon, quit your bullshit about these being “rocks”, these are obviously ingots of some unknown advanced metal (vibranium?) cemented together with resin. It’s clear that these “boulders” were actually a fuel source for the aliens; the only remaining unknown is whether they were fuel pellets to power their warp drives, or energy-filled food that the enormous aliens ate as candy?
The remains of a bag of candy that a giant alien child accidentally spilled on this beach a million years ago.

The boulders-stop was in the middle of another 9-mile stretch of SH1, which again was mostly-ok, generally with 4-foot shoulders, but we still pulled off and stopped a couple times when big trucks were coming up from behind in tight spots. Then at the end there was a mile of 1-foot shoulder, but again with the relatively-light traffic (and a bit of luck) we were able to blast through it without any risky encounters.

Then for the last 16 miles into Oamaru, we were able to cut over again to the coast, on one of the emptiest oceanfront roads we have ever been on. Not only was there essentially no traffic, there was little sign of civilization besides the cultivated fields on the opposite side of the road. Even the few houses we saw were small and tucked back into trees on that far side of the road, when there were plenty of obvious places on the ocean side of the road to build luxury mansions in an incredible setting. Strange, but we sure didn’t mind the undeveloped setting!

Don’t forget to make that left turn!
Empty coast riding, where it is no problem to tell Rett to ride on the wrong side of the road (for New Zealand!) to achieve better photo framing.
Perhaps these sea-carved rocks indicate why no one builds their houses closer to the water here?
From a distance we wondered if this guy was a penguin, but no, turns out to be a more-rudely-named “shag”.
Rett and her bike on top of that stone arch seen above. Please don’t go any futher!

Near the end, Rett was getting really tired of the climbing we were doing, even though objectively it was nothing close to what we had done yesterday; we never exceeded 200 feet above sea level, or 7% grades. But we did end with 50 feet of climbing per mile, a still-significant amount, indicating a whole lot of up-and-downs within that 200-foot window.

In Oamaru we had hoped to stay at the Oamaru Harbor Tourist Park that’s steps away from the attractions in the center of town, rather than the Top10 that’s a couple miles out. But it had been impossible to book; days of phone calls failed to reach anyone (thankfully the answering machine message was bluntly honest: “don’t leave a message, no one checks this”), and our email inquiry went unresponded to. So we just pulled in, and found a German couple self-registering, who had gone through the same trouble we had (though they had reached someone yesterday on their third day of trying). Luckily we were in early enough that there was still a wide choice of spots available, which I suppose shouldn’t have been surprising. If no one can reach you to book, many people are probably going to settle on somewhere else to stay! We marked our choice on the map and dropped our NZ$50 cash into the slot, and then I made a quick run on the bike out to Countdown for groceries and we had lunch in the nice camp kitchen.

Friendly Bay, right across the street at the front of the holiday park. Yep, this is the place to stay!

Oamaru is the day’s third set of evidence proving alien visitation to this region. The Whitestone City is not quite the Egyptian pyramids, but what else besides aliens could explain the dozens of grand Victorian limestone buildings in this small city of 14,000 people? The continued existence of high-wheeled bicycles and anachronistic uses of Victorian-era technology (aka “steampunk”) indicate that Oamaru was in fact the Earth city that shapeshifters from Devidia II visited in 1893; Star Trek: The Next Generation subbed in San Francisco in their fictionalized retelling of this event in the two-part episode “Time’s Arrow“.

This guy is the central figure of the town playground right next to the campground.
Legolas single-handedly taking down a war-oliphaunt at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

So we set off for a post-lunch walking tour, first heading up and down the surprisingly-wide 19th-century main drag, and then returning to the more-intimate but still from-another-time pedestrianized alleyway of Harbour Street.

Oamaru architecture. It’s not just this one block either. There is probably at least a linear mile of ornate facades like this in this city.
Just one example of an Oamaru whitestone building, and a pretty “ordinary” one!
The Steampunk Museum was closed by the time we walked by, too bad because it’s one museum these non-museum people might have paid to visit! But still fun to look at the stuff outside.
In this town, if I had seen an airship actually flying overhead with the handlebar-mustached captain leaning out of the suspended gondola and shooting fireworks out of his muzzle-loader, I would not have been the least bit surprised. “Yup, that’s Oamaru”.

On one of our nights in Dunedin, after visiting Larnach Castle, we watched one of Netflix’s many American-falls-in-love-with-a-prince movies, The Royal Treatment, because Wikipedia told me that it was filmed at the castle, and other locations in Dunedin. It was great fun to revisit all the places we had been, in such a terrible movie, but I didn’t recognize the poor/dangerous/wholesome/dancing-in-the-streets side of the kingdom that the heroine introduces the prince to. It turns out that was filmed here on Harbour Street!

Harbour Street, Oamaru, a real place!

It looked like a movie set (even down to a planked-over rail line running along one side of the road), but felt real and lived-in, partly aided by the modern businesses creating and selling things not far off from what a 19th-century shopkeeper might have sold. And instead of being mobbed with tourists, it was pleasantly-quiet, with the shopkeepers all closing up at 4pm (and some even earlier), likely in preparation for the spontaneous music-and-dance party that will draw all the poor townspeople into the street once the sun goes down (or did that only happen in the movie…?)

Rett trying out the penny farthing, put out by the Oamaru Ordinary Cycle Club.
It’s a much-better fit for me, and I was able to mount it the proper way (without using the helpful step-stool sitting alongside it). At least with the frame holding it upright! (and I still needed the stool for the dismount).

One of those 19th-century products produced on this time-traveling street was beer, particularly beer made in traditional Belgian styles. Craftwork Brewery was for our tastes, one of our most-anticipated breweries in New Zealand. It could have sat atop a 21st-century glass-and-steel high-rise and we still would have loved the beer. But being hidden within the whitestone walls of one of the buildings on this movie-set street made the beer taste at least twice as good. The funny thing is that a brewery in this location could serve the blandest, least-imaginative styles possible and still be a success (maybe even more of a success!), so I give huge credit to them for taking their safe position and using it to swing for the fences. One of the servers (likely one of the owners/brewers) had a long beard and 19th-century clothing, but it seemed much less like a costume and simply what a dude brewing Belgian beer in New Zealand would choose to wear even if his brewery was in that high rise.

Craftwork Brewing must like Gryffindor.
I wish we had all the beer that shows up in this mirror image, but we still managed to try everything they were pouring.
This all feels pretty 19th-century, including the fact that this was the route to the toilets, and there were no ropes separating you from all of the brewing activity.
Rett enjoying the early-evening atmosphere of Harbour Street. I don’t know if it’s something about the locally-quarried limestone that forms all these buildings, or if it’s careful lack-of-cleaning, but the non-pristine surface perfectly adds to the back-in-time feeling of the town.

Besides camp being a three-minute walk back from the brewery, another attraction of its location was its proximity to the blue penguin colony. These cute little guys spend all day out at sea, but at nightfall return to shore and their nests. Most of the nests are on the opposite end of the bay, behind the walls of a pay-per-view operation, but the penguins don’t understand human business models so there is still a chance to see them elsewhere. The problem is that “nightfall” means “can’t see anything”, so in an attempt to help Rett maximize her chance of fulfilling her desire, I dragged her for a walk along the bay at dusk, amongst a bunch of other hopeful, squinting tourists.

That was a bust, but reviews of the campground say that the penguins will actually come inside, so while Rett returned to get ready for bed, I staked out the area in front of the campground where a boat ramp would give them easy access to land. I think I might have actually seen one cross in the light of a distant streetlamp, but it was too far to make out. However, I then began hearing sounds coming from back within the campground, and a quick check on YouTube suggested that they were in fact blue penguin sounds.

The only blue penguin that Rett saw this night.

They turned out to be quite loud and vocal, but the sounds were all coming from under buildings or bushes or around nesting boxes, making them nearly-impossible to find or see. Another woman in the campground was just as curious as we were, and on her hands and knees pointed out a little guy who I could just barely make out under a bush. Oh well! Even without seeing them well, it was cool just to know that goddamn penguins were sleeping in the campground with us tonight! (and, we had actually already seen a blue penguin last week in the Cathedral Caves).


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