Quirky Oamaru, Limestone Architecture, Old School Sweets and Items, Scrubs' Favourite Cheese Factory, Blue Penguin Colony!
We drove into lovely quaint Oamaru in the morning and did a very slow tour of its famous limestone Vicotrian style buildings. We checked out an old grain factory which is now a function room and bar- and hosts a gallery upstairs. We had a look at the gallery and I picked up a pair of earrings (one NZ dollar!). We also saw a number of old buidlings in the famed styles, along with a limstone sculpturer in action, an on air radio station (complete with old skool radios, transistors, one deck turntables and kooky old sweet shop (we had some sherbert dabs and gobstoppers).
We then went to the place I had been looking forward to (in second place to the evenings attraction though). The place was the Whitestone Cheese factory- I had been in need of some serious cheese for 5 and a half months so we opted for the tasting platter that included brie, cheddar, a strong cheddar and a stilton- yum!! This was accomanpied with gapes, crackers and quince sauce and a cheescake to finish! It was heaven. Unfortunately cheese in NZ isn't great, or the decent stuff is very expensive compared to the UK- as an example a block of feta that would normally cost a quid at home is about 4-5 pounds here!. After the much needed cheese feast we walked back to town and had a look at the very compact but lovely City Gallery, again showcasing local works of art. We had some time to kill before our evening activity, so went to another yellow eyes penguin colony- Ajay opted out of going to the hide and had a sleep in the van as he was penguined-out. I walked down to the hide, a few people were there, and after about 20-30 minutes a penguin emerged from the sea! I managed to get a blurry pic this time, so will put that up.
I headed back to Boba, we popped to the supermarket and had our tea and then went to the local Blue Penguin Colony Visitor Centre. We were there early to get good seats, and picked seats in the viweing area. It was pretty windy and the srf ws crashing against the rocks. At about 8pm (dusk) we watched as the first 'rafts' of little blue penguins began to swim ashore. We were able to seem them quite cleary as the area was lit up with lighting that they are unable to see. Blue penguins are only about 30 cms in hight(so pretty small) and they come ashore, shake themsleves down and begin to hop, waddle and jump to get to their nest. They are also noisy- squeaking and squaking at each other when they are back at their nests(we could see some of the nesting sreas from the viweing area). They are naturally sociable with other blue penguins, but understandably shy of humans.
We sat transfixed for an hour as over 70 penguins came ashore after a day feeding out at sea. We also stood by the nesting areas and the penguins waddled past us- lierally next to us! It was all very exciting. After the viewing we saw quite a few penguins in the car park and on the way back to the main road and got really close to them, but couldn't take any pictures as they are distressed by bright lights and it can impair their vision permanently.
We drove to our campsite and although we arrived late, the owner kindly showed us a good spot and informed us he had very cheap unlimited braodband and free laundry facilities! Bonus.
We spent a good part of the day chilling at the Waitiki Waters Holiday Camp, did our laundry, skyped home and had a fry up for brunch- much needed. It was a beautiful day- perfect for the drive to Mt Aoraki/Cook National Park.
The next day we drove into quirky Oamaru and were immediately struck by the laidback vibe permeating the town. We spent most of the day wandering around the town centre which is notable for its limestone buildings that have been built using oamaru stone (or whitestone) from the surrounding region. The old historical area of the town centre is very pretty and consists of a few narrow streets lined with bookshops, antique stores, workshops, galleries and the odd penny farthing.
Within this area we explored a huge old grain factory that was constructed from stone and timber and had now been converted to a restaurant and function room. The upper level of the grain factory hosted an art gallery exhibiting works from local artists - we visited it and thought it was pretty good.
We also visited a limestone sculptor's workshop and an on-air radio station that had the most amazing array of old school transistor radios and turntables. At the end of our tour of the old historical area we treated ourselves to sherbert dip and gobstoppers from the local sweet shop...unfortunately, however, they were not as good as the sherbert dip and gobstoppers from our childhood memories!
We then checked out the Whitestone Cheese Factory, touted as "the South Island's yummiest cheese factory" and famous for providing cheeses to the production wrap parties of the television comedy Scrubs - no joke! We had a tasting and indulged in a platter selection of cheeses (brie, blue, chedder) with crackers, bread, grapes and quince sauce...and then followed up with cheesecake for dessert!
After our totally delectable lunch we walked back into town centre and visited the well kept City Art Forrester Gallery which is housed in a beautiful columned 1880s bank building.
Aside from the limestone and cheese, the main tourist focus for Oamaru is penguins. There is a large blue penguin colony in Oamaru that waddle ashore near an old limestone quarry over a period of about an hour or so on a daily basis. The Blue Penguin Colony Visitor Centre in Oamaru has built a nesting area for the colony of penguins and has also developed a separate viewing area for visitors.
Thus, in the evening we ventured out to the Visitor Centre near the waterfront to watch this amazing daily journey. By the time we arrived the sky was a fantastical pink and big waves from the choppy sea were crashing against the coastline. We were sat in the designated viewing area and after a little talk from the experts at the Blue Penguin Colony Visitors Centre we watched in awe as rafts of penguins, which resembled black patches in the sea, began moving towards the coastline. As soon as the penguins reached the rocky coastline they began their climb onto the rocks; they were bathed in special amber lights which they were not able to see but helped us to see them.
We watched as these tiny creatures (approximately 30cm in height) stood up on the rocks and started to nimbly hop, jump and waddle to their specially constructed habitat. It was an amazing sight! We saw approximately 70 penguins over the course of an hour return to their lair after a day's foraging for food at sea.
Whilst driving out of the Blue Penguin Colony Visitors Centre, Am and I saw more penguins in the car park that had come ashore further down the coast. We parked up and spent a good 20 minutes trying to get close enough to the penguins to try and get a photo but the light was pretty poor and we didn't want to use flash as this would distress the penguins. So we gave up and drove onto our holiday park and rested up for the night.
The next morning was hot and sunny and we spent the morning sorting out some laundry and skyping home. It was also memorable for a big fry up for brunch including fried eggy bread, sausages and beans. We then hit the road to Aoraki National Park.