Answering the Call of my Bluff

Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
Trip End Oct 22, 2004

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Having been kept awake for most of the night by the sound of heavy rain and air raid sirens our day's skiing was cancelled. It was still raining hard this morning and the thought of wrestling with snowchains added to our decision to head off to the coast in search of blue skies.

SH83 took us back to the east coast and the town of Oamaru, a town that was by all accounts supposed to be very nice, but in monsoon conditions it seemed just like any other characterless provincial town so after a quick look and an even quicker coffee we continued onwards along the coast for another 120km to Otago's capital, Dunedin.

It was still raining as we arrived but Dunedin deserved a couple of days exploration so once we found a parking spot we headed for the city's railway station. Touted as the country's finest stone structure, it has to be the world's grandest looking railway station both inside and out. The outer is covered in limestone cherubs and lions, granite columns and stained-glass windows with the insides being a mosaic frenzy of 725,000 Royal Doulton porcelain squares. Woolwich Arsenal it ain't.

On the first floor is the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame which we, well I, just had to visit and we found ourselves alone in a little hidden treasure of a museum that paid homage to all-things all-black with a special section put aside for the 'once mighty' All Blacks.

When we emerged it was still precipitating profusely so on such days we resorted to our cinema-going tactics and headed for the local flicks to watch Fahrenheit 9/11. Interesting film, although you gotta wonder if MM is pro-Saddam? He starts by portraying American soldiers in a bad light and by the end of the film he's defending them. I'm confused.

Anyway back to this travel-writing business. It was still precipitating plentifully once we emerged back into the real world so we headed to the nearest campsite to play scrabble, eat chocolate, drink wine and watch The Office. Is it Friday night already? The weeks are flying by now.


After a quick foodshop we drove into the city centre for a closer look at this very Scottish city (Dunedin being the Gaelic name for Edinburgh), and all roads led to the eight-sided hub they call The Octagon surrounded by beautiful Victorian and Edwardian public buildings and terraced houses.

Sitting on an eighth of the Octagon was the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, an excellent name to cover up the fact it was a modern art gallery and once more we were drawn in hook, line and sinker. The scores on our doors must be a high-scoring draw for visits to contemporary galleries and underground caves.

After dragging ourselves away from more contemporary art (will we ever learn?), we strolled down George Street, the city's main shopping drag, for a spot of window-gazing punctuated with a bargain-basement vegetarian Indian meal for lunch, as surprisingly deep-fried Mars bars were nowhere to be seen in this very Scottish city.

With yet another damp afternoon in store we once again activated our soggy-weather contingency plans and found our way back to the cinema for a movie of a slightly less serious nature, Shrek 2, and back at the van park we surrounded the van with sand bags in anticipation of another night's deluge.


200km lay between us and our next destination of Invercargill, the country's southernmost city in the country's southernmost province, Southland, but before we were going anywhere we had to visit a 'Guinness Book of Records' entry just up the road, and when we say 'just up the road' we mean it. Dunedin's Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world, even steeper than Everest Avenue, Nepal. It has a 1 in 2.86 gradient.

Mean anything to you?

Me neither.

Nonetheless it was there to be power-walked up and power-walk it we did, but we won't dwell on it though as it must be a Guinness World Record in the Guinness Book of Records as the least interesting Guinness World Record in the Guinness Book of Records.


Me neither again.

If you doubt the authenticity of these claims, by all means consult my complete set of Guinness Books of Records that I keep on my pale-lilac Ikea bookshelf in my bedroom next to my collection of antique Edwardian Teddy Bears . . . d'oh, red wine talking again.

We finally got under way and were accompanied by sheet rain for the whole journey south-west along State Highway 1, but a ray of sunshine greeted us as we hit the 'Presidential Highway' between the towns of Clinton and Gore. Aaaaah, the pre-Dubya good old days.

Invercargill was another town with Celtic links having been settled by Scottish immigrants in the mid-1850s, but why 50,000 or so people was still living there was a mystery to us. Sure, it was Sunday and it was raining but the place reeked of blandness (harsh, but fair) so we headed straight for the local caravan park for a typical rainy Sunday afternoon of relaxation and reading the Sunday papers.


Our real reason for visiting this part of New Zealand lay 30km down the road in the town of Bluff, famous for its oysters and a much-photographed international signpost.

We arrived at the Lands End Café and grabbed a window seat overlooking the South Pole before ordering a plate of natural oysters from the nice chatty owners. We'd just made it before the end of the oyster season which was finishing in a fortnight's time and soon a dozen had vanished down our gullets without touching the sides. Being so delectable another half-dozen were ordered and despatched in no time. Delicioso.

Somehow we dragged ourselves away from shellfish heaven to head along State Highway 99 better known as the Southern Scenic Tourist Route which took us along the south coast before heading north to skirt the Fjordland National Park. The dropping of our jaws was temporarily interrupted as a stone from a passing lorry flew up onto our windscreen leaving a nice bulls-eye crack in our line of vision, which forced us to stop to patch the divot with a see-through anti-contamination plaster. Exciting stuff eh?

The rest of the snow-capped, awe-inspiring drive went without further incident and led us to Te Anau, a really nice town in it's own right, but unfairly weighed down by it's better known label as being just a gateway and stopover for Milford Sound, some 75 miles up the road.

We secured a place in a nice 5-star van park by the skin of our teeth which by nightfall was packed to the rafters with campervanners who, like us, were planning on driving The Milford Road the following day, a road that has World Heritage Highway status no less with three hours of forests, mountains, lakes, rivers and a very special tunnel to undertake . . .


. . . at least we all thought we were going to make the journey today, but after a quick visit to a local tourist information office the passage was cancelled for the foreseeable future as heavy snow last night had closed the road. Anti-climax or what?

It had been raining all night so it was no great surprise to us which meant we'd have to rearrange our schedule with a view to returning at a later date once the road had cleared.

From Te Anau all roads literally led to Queenstown, the adventure sports capital of the world. We'll see you there . . . if you're up for it.

Frank Muir & Sandi Toksvig
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