Gore - famous for fish, country music and super polite people!
Whilst in Gore we had the first in a series of unusual experiences - shopping! As we went further south and the temperature dropped, we had no choice but to go to the Warehouse and pick up an extra thick blanket and some warmer clothes. We realised as we went around that this was the first time we had been properly shopping for anything but food in more than four months! This was a feat we were very proud of - but another significant thing was soon apparent and became even more obvious as our travels took us through more of the major Southland centres. We are almost completely, blissfully out of the loop. We have absolutely no idea whatsoever who is in the magazines or movies, what songs are on the radio, what video games are out, what items are supposed to be 'must-haves' - we simply don't know! And I tell you what, it's brilliant being that way. The more shops we encountered, the more we laughed at how much meaningless rubbish and utter crap is put in front of poor, hapless shoppers. When your whole life is contained in a Mazda Bongo, you soon realise that none of that stuff means anything. Maybe it's because houses are so big, people feel like they have to buy more things to just to fill the space. Doesn't matter what it is, it can be literally anything, a ceramic pineapple even. We saw a lot of ceramic pineapples and even gold ones. I feel as though I couldn't be further away from that world now.
Queens Park, Invercargill
From Gore we moved on to Invercargill and I have to say, visiting the deepest of the deep south was a rather strange experience. Invercargill itself is a nice enough city. It's attractive, easy to get around and has a lot of great architecture and historical buildings. The reason we found it strange was, for a city it was empty! We thought Wellington was quiet in comparison to Auckland but that was nothing compared to Invercargill. It has everything you could possibly need, all the major chain stores and fast food outlets - but no people! We were there for two whole days and the streets were absolutely dead. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, quite the opposite! It was lovely to be able to find our way around so peacefully and certainly made driving in a big city a lot less stressful. It was just so surprising and we couldn't help but wonder where on earth all the people were.
Sign at the gateway to Bluff
Land's End, the brooding landscape of Bluff
Getting blown away at the iconic signpost
The next stop wasn't far away and was one we were very excited about - Bluff! The last town at the very bottom of the country and home of the famous Bluff oyster. Once you get to Bluff you can go no further. As we approached, I felt a similar sense of anticipation as I had done a few months earlier, when we made it to the top of the North Island at Cape Reinga. When we arrived however, my experience couldn't have been more different. Bluff is, quite simply a ghost town. It's dark and it's bleak and you really do feel as though you are at the very end of the earth. It was freezing cold, the sky was gunmetal grey and although we drove around the whole town twice to make sure we hadn't missed anything, we did not see another living soul. The only people we did eventually encounter were a group of Asians doing the obligatory selfies next to the iconic signpost at land's end. We could only conclude that there must be a heck of a lot more oysters there than people - and no, we didn't buy any! Despite the season having begun, we came across only one oyster stand at the edge of town and there was no one manning it. In all honesty, I found the place to be downright eerie and couldn't get out of it fast enough. As Gareth pointed out on our way out, even the horses in Bluff look depressed!
Taieri Mouth beach at dusk
They have REALLY big seaweed in Southland!
Still, we had been and seen and now we had reached the bottom of the country we were keen to start making our way back up again. We spent an enjoyable few days at Taieri Mouth, which isn't far from Dunedin. This is a really beautiful spot and our campsite was literally a hop and a skip from the beach. After seeing the West Coast, with its black sand and brooding landscape, we didn't really expect the southern beaches to be particularly spectacular but we couldn't have been more wrong. Taieri Mouth beach is absolutely stunning, with golden sand as far as the eye can see and we had it almost entirely to ourselves. It reminded me a little of the beach I had left behind at Whangamata and even had an island!
One very happy bloke - Gareth at his favourite shop!
I would have continued to stay there quite happily had we not had a special weekend planned in Dunedin. Gareth would probably call 'special' the understatement of the century! As an avid Warhammer figurine collector of many years, there was just one store in the whole of the South Island (there are only two in the North as well for that matter) and the Dunedin store was holding a special anniversary celebration, with heaps of events, specials and freebies. He had been looking forward to it for weeks, carefully tailoring our travels around being in the right place at the right time and had even given up smoking a month prior so that he could afford to treat himself to some figures and books without feeling guilty. Seeing as it was pretty much a whole day event, we put Minnie into a boarding kennel overnight, so that we had plenty of time and freedom to explore the city.
Typical architecture in Dunedin - very cool!
Dunedin from rainy Otago Peninsula
I have to say that Wellington is absolutely hands down our favourite city in NZ - but Dunedin would probably come second. It's a bit like the Auckland of the south, which I took full advantage of by eating pretty much my own body weight in Asian food over the course of the weekend. We saw the sights (with the exception of the Cadbury's factory, which we boycotted after selling out and making its 330 employees redundant - even Gareth's passionate love of chocolate wasn't going to sway him!) and took a leisurely drive around the beautiful Otago Peninsula. It had been a wonderful day, all we had to do now was check into our campsite for the night. Which was when we hit a hurdle. As we pulled in to the NZMCA ground we saw to our dismay that it was full. No problem, there were still more campgrounds in Dunedin. Unfortunately we found that they were all full too - and we weren't even limited to dog friendly ones for a change! We were faced with a choice - either leave the city and drive miles out of our way to an area we didn't even want to be in to find another campground, or get a motel for the night. At least we were able to do that without Minnie in tow. We got online for last minute deals and to our total disbelief found that there was ONE motel left which wasn't completely booked out - and they only had one room left!
We couldn't believe it - how could every motel and campground be full in a city the size of Dunedin? It's a massive place! With no time to waste we bit the bullet and booked the one remaining room. As it turned out, rushing in off the street and begging the nice receptionist to give it to us was a good move as she gave us $30 off the online price! At least that softened the blow slightly. The receptionist led us to our room and as she gave us the key we were absolutely gobsmacked. Room? It was more like a small house! Kitchen, lounge, bathroom, bedroom - what on earth were we supposed to DO with all this space? We didn't even have any stuff!
I have to admit, it was the best night's sleep both of us had had in a very long time. A proper mattress with a whole mountain of pillows? We didn't know ourselves! In fact, I really didn't know myself and had to chuck the rest of the pillows on the floor as I could only sleep with one of the enormous marshmallows. Gareth enjoyed making a coffee with fresh milk rather than Coffee Mate the next morning and we both had a chuckle at the novelty of having our very own shower and loo and simply wandering off to another room to use it! But that was it - that was really all we got out of our decadent night. We had a TV in our lounge and another one in our bedroom and couldn't believe all the rubbish that was on Sky, we had to switch it off. All this space just seemed so - unnecessary to us and luxurious as it was supposed to be, we just didn't like it.
Home! Hooray for Ken!
It was with great joy and dare I say relief that we jumped into the van the next day to pick up a very excited Minnie. This was our home! With all our stuff in and everything we needed in the world. Our city weekend was a great experience and one that we wouldn't have missed - but one very important thing that it did teach us is that we are very happy with everything we have and never want to live in a 'normal' house ever again!