David Rich 1100 Words
$1NZ= 70 cents US
Q u i r k y N e w Z e a l a n d S o u t h
The sheer joy of the strange, the weird and the wonderful grab me like a magnet, such as the top-ten loverly stuff and nonsense attractions on the South Island of New Zealand. The attractions are coded from the map contained in the photos by Zone [10-14] and number [1-20], starting at the bottom and proceeding to the top. For example, Invercargill, site of the World’s Fastest Indian is at 14 (Zone)/20 (location):
• 1—World’s Fastest Indian: Anthony Hopkins starred in this great movie, playing the incredible eccentric Bert Munro, who with homemade machines of unequalled design set land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Bert’s many motorcycles, replicas and originals, are displayed for the general public, which unendingly streams through the E Hayes and Son Hammer Hardware store to check it all out in Bert’s home town of Invercargill; location 14/20. Admission FREE www.ehayes.co.nz
• 2—Larnach Castle: Like a wailing country song Larnach Castle is a soliloquy of weirdness and insanity. William Larnach built the castle in 1871 to impress his fancy French wife who hated it’s remoteness atop a scenic ridge of the Otago peninsula a full days journey by horse from Dunedin town. Financially ruined 27 years later Billy boy blew his head off in the New Zealand parliament after finding out his favorite son was having an affair with Billy’s latest hot young wife. The gardens and the views from the castle top are superb. Admission $25 (US$18.50), gardens only, $10 (US$7); location 13/20 www.larnachcastle.co.nz.
• 3—Taieri Gorge Railway: The Railway leaves from New Zealand’s most photographed building, the Dunedin Railway Station built inside and out in a uncharacteristically flamboyant Scottish style. The train chugs off hauling classic wooden coaches crammed with tourists for two hours along the steep and scenic Taieri River Gorge. After stopping to admire the statue of a sheep dog in Hindon and an opportunity to buy quilts and other sundries in the remote whistle stop of Pukerangi, Maori for Hill of Heaven, the train winds its weary puffing way back to hilly Dunedin; location 13/20. Admission $76 (US$53) www.taieri.co.nz.
• 4—Oamaru, a town: Oamaru has it all from little waddling blue penguins and hulking yellow-eyed ones to New Zealand’s best preserved historic buildings hewn from local white limestone in 19th century styles ranging from Gothic to classic Italianate. The historic district houses quaint bookshops, sculpture workshops, bakeries and antiques, including an excellent whiskey museum featuring an art gallery and tastings. After sampling the whole shebang, including 4 classic whiskies, I was caught atop a carnival’s toy elephant ride; location 13/14. Whiskey tasting $10 (US$7) www.historicoamaru.co.nz and www.nzmaltwhiskey.co.nz
• 5—Lord of the Rings Tours: Sundry movie-fan tours stud New Zealand but the widest ranging, Nomad Safaris, leaves from Queenstown in the heart of adventure country. The passengers loved it, demanding autographs from the driver of our 4WD Rover, who appeared in several Lord of the Rings’ crowd and battle scenes. The highlight, aside from achingly scenic locations revered by cult nuts, was panning for gold. The movie star driver found his first gold nugget after three years of bit parts and driving 4WD Rovers, and the group was electrified, eagerly grabbing pans and finding zilch for themselves. An enthusiastic time was had by all, most of whom qualified for free plunges off the world’s first bungy jump by AJ Hackett at Kawarau Bridge (on the tour); gratis for those over 65; location 14/10. Nomad half day safari $149 (US$85) www.nomadsafaris.co.nz and bungee jumping for under 65s, $175 (US$145), www.bungy.co.nz
• 6—Wanaka’s Puzzling World: This is my favorite with hologram halls, tilted houses where water flows uphill, a monorail sliding from floor to ceiling and an illusion room that transforms dwarves into giants in a few baby steps. The fascinatingly interactive displays are augmented by a giant outdoor maze, photo ops of colorfully tilting buildings and a chance to play puzzles galore, for sale and free on multifarious tables for the patient and pure of heart; location 14/3. Admission includes the public Roman toilets and similar tomfoolery, $12.50 (US$8) www.puzzlingworld.com
• 7—Punakaiki Rocks: Pancake rocks bulge along a kilometer stretch of the west coast like Aunt Jemima gone mad in stacks of gray while gorgeous surf rolls inland and a giant blowhole explodes skyward at high tide. The area is cut with jagged chasms and edged with giant monoliths reminiscent of Easter Island heads. But as everywhere on the west coast slather on repellant and beware of the dreaded sand/black fly which menaces humans with vicious bites that inevitably become infected and itch for days on end; location 11/4. Admission FREE www.punakaiki.co.nz
• 8—Beachcomber Mail Boat: Board out of Picton to explore the labyrinth of Marlborough Sound, a crazed quilt of bays, beaches and bayous that make up a full 20% of New Zealand’s extensive coast line. Explore the eastern north end of South Island while delivering the mail to fancy resorts, remote farms and sprawling ranches, along the way visiting the idyllic bay where Captain Cook first landed, to return on later voyages: monumental location 10/9. Admission for a half-day mail run $85 (US$60). www.beachcombercruises.co.nz
• 9—Farewell Spit Eco Tour: Farewell Spit begins with a storm-prone arch that marks the jumping off for 26 tumultuous kilometers (16 miles) of enchanting beach, fossil walls, wetland sanctuary for Arctic migratory birds, towering crescent-shaped sand dunes and whales on a meander to a colorful lighthouse. The lighthouse with a view is surrounded by flowers next to a carved Maori memorial bordered by three weathered lighthouse-keeper cabins. The combination treacherous-sand drivers and tour guides host the trip with an enthusiasm unparalleled in the civilized world; location 10/24. Admission for 6 ½ hours of adventure $120 (US$85) www.farewellspit.com
• 10-- WOW (World of WearableArt): This sprawling museum nestles in a suburb of Nelson, an eclectic mix of fabulous old cars and fashion frippery, flanked by a reflecting pool with a classic convertible floating atop. Inside adornments funnel gawkers past bizarre bras of materials ranging from cones to cardboard and by frocks made of copper wire, paper-mache, paua and edibles, separated from a fantastic array of 50 historic antique cars by a rotating art gallery; location 10/14. Admission $20 (US$14).
P.S. The single strange attraction on North Island is the Hundertwasser Toilets made of tiles, mosaics and colorful bottles bedecked with lawns and plants in Kawakawa. It was built by Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived near this small town from 1973 until the millennium in a remote house without electricity, the lack perhaps contributing to his death in 2000.