We've now been in Invercargill for just over 9 weeks, so what do we really think of it? Even after this relatively short time we think of it like a second home. We arrived with the misconception that the city would not have much to offer, which was put into our minds mostly by people who had never actually visited - both Kiwis and non-Kiwis. How wrong we were. It is, in fact, very pleasant with the weather certainly no worse and possibly slightly better than the UK! The people are certainly more friendly and open than the general South London and Surrey population. Obviously it is very different to South London but then it would be, being a small town (although it is now a city) serving a rural population of only 100,000 - spread over an area roughly the size of Scotland. It is interesting how peoples' perceptions differ. We stayed last night in Nugget Lodge, at Nugget Point in the north of the Catlins, in private accommodation in the middle of nowhere, right on the Pacific and overlooking a deserted bay with sea-lions sunbathing. A previous visitor had written in the visitor book - "How wonderful to get away from the busy city life". Where were they from? Invercargill! The friendliness of the NZ people is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that when we arrived the owner, Willie, showed me his garden and told me to help myself to new potatoes and veggies and his wife gave us half a dozen (although offered a dozen) of her chucks free range eggs. Would recommend it to anyone visiting this area.
The Mayor of Invercargill (since 1992) is Tim Shadbolt - a charismatic character who reminds me of Sir Les Patterson (aka Barry Humphries) - see photo! He was quite a radical in his youth but has done a huge amount for Invercargill, including making courses at the Southern Institute of Technology free to attract people to the area - successfully. He is supposed to be a great after dinner speaker and came 3rd a few years ago in NZ equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing. He seems to be respected by all sections of the community.
The architecture is quite a mix, with housing usually being single storey. However, some of the city buildings are classic Victorian style buildings, including the original railway hotel, old bank buildings, churches and the Water Tower, which are New Zealand Historic Places Trust sites. There are also a number of Edwardian and Art Deco style buildings and interiors around.
They also like to decorate their bus shelters.
You can fly quite cheaply to Christchurch in about an hour and from there virtually to anywhere in NZ and many places abroad. It takes less than 15 mins to get to the airport from almost anywhere in Invercrargill and you can park for $5 a day.
They take sport seriously here - even netball, which has a wooden sculpture at the entrance to the airport. From the i-site in Queens Park you can get buses to Dunedin and Queenstown, amongst other places. Parking is easy and either very cheap or free in the city. City buses are also free between certain hours.New Zealand in General
There are some unique flora and fauna around. A lot was destroyed by the various immigrants, to provide food, warmth and farming areas but there are lots of small areas of 'bush' around.
Flax is very, very common, as are wild lupins(yellow in the south but not a native plant), which have a beautiful odour. Lots of Manuka trees for the health fiends out there and, as well as providing the pollen for the wonderful, healing manuka honey, it's other name is Tee Tree plant. Need I say more?
Museums abound. Some are very small. We came across one in Waikawa which was free and was looked after by two lovely elderly local ladies and was full of exhibits of New Zealand life donated by local residents. Others, in Riverton and in Owaka charged $5 and were much more sophisticated.
They have great coffee over here - but don't expect to get it too quickly! It does seem to take a long time to arrive but, when it does come, it is delicious and served with a smile and a chat. They have a great selection of cakes and savouries - carrot cake is very popular, delicious and usually served with a choice of whipped cream or yoghurt. Savouries are also great, with choices of flans, muffins, quiches, or pies ( which are different and much better than the UK type of pie). Another favourite are 'cheese rolls' - which consist of a slice of white bread spread with a cheesy mixture (which, someone told me, contains evaporated milk) then rolled up into a sausage shape and grilled with melted butter. As Peter Bramley said, they look like your coronary arteries do after eating them!
The roads and beaches are deserted - your only companions on the latter seem to be seaweed and sea lions. Cars are few and far between and you can cruise along at the max speed limit of 100k/h most of the time. Bends are well signposted. The only problem is that every now and then the sealed roads stop and you end up on gravel roads, which take a bit of getting used to.
Braking too hard sends the back into a spin and it is always difficult to see out of the back window because of the dust blown up!
Some of the beaches, including Oreti beach are classed as state highways, although the speed limit is usually 30k/h.
As mentioned before, 'baches' are very popular and here are a few photos showing their variety - from small huts used for a day's fishing, to marginally larger ones used for month long family holidays. Tents can be pitched to give more beds if extra family or friends arrive. New Zealanders seem to love 'getting away from it all' and when they say that they mean it!
. However it can be quite windy and you can see the effects of this on the trees around Southland.
So if you do come to NZ try and visit the southern most city on the way round the Southern Scenic Route. You will be pleasantly surprised - and, of course, it has a good hospital.
A shorter blog this week after last week's mammoth entry and because we have just come back after a couple of days in the Catlins.