Yellow-Eyed Steampunk

Oamaru is the steampunk capital of the world. I did not know this before coming here. Well, I didn’t even know what steampunk was, for that matter. Never heard of it. That shows you how non-hip I am.

According to the dictionary:

noun: steampunk; noun: steam-punk

A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology

There are even entire blogs out there exploring this very interesting genre of sci-fi that I had never really heard of … although I guess Jules Verne is one of the founding fathers. According to the Steampuckavenue blog:

“Futuristic, yet retro at the same time, Steampunk is truly one-of-a-kind. The genre blends the aesthetic and technology of the 19th century with elements of science fiction. Its literary and audiovisual works take place in an alternate reality where technological progress is based not on electricity, but on the steam engine. The steampunk aesthetic is inspired by the fashions of Victorian Era in England (1837-1901), but also by the Belle Epoque in France (1871-1914) and the Civil War era in the United States (1861-1865). The clothing from these eras is often modernized by the addition of mechanical elements with gears showing.”

So, Oamaru has the Steampunk HQ. Steampunk HQ has infiltrated the “Grain Elevator” which was an 1883 Oamaru stone building, located at the entrance of Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct. The HQ was founded in 2011 by a group of creative minds (Don Patterson, Jac Grenfell, and Brian de Geest), who were passionate about Steampunk, and showcasing it to the public.

Susanne playing the intergalactic organ

After our lovely stay in Kaikōura, we headed south to Oamaru where we had rented a house for a month. Every time we told people we were going to Oamaru for a month, they all shook their head in a somewhat puzzled way. I’m not sure what the issue is. Oamaru is in a great location at the end of the Alps2Ocean trail, has a wide variety of interesting sea life like the rare yellow-eyed penguins, a funky Victorian downtown, and as mentioned above, the Steampunk HQ. What’s not to like? The drive down was pretty easy and even traversing the “big city” of Christchurch was a piece of cake. We drove out to the house, which required going up a very San Francisco-like hill. It is near the end of a road and has an amazing view of the ocean. The other cool thing is that is 300 meters from Bushy Beach which is a world famous locale for yellow-eyed penguins.

Our house
Not a bad place for a glass of wine

The house seems to be brand new and is super comfy and well insulated. It is a 2-1 bach that is perfect for two people. We unpacked, settled in, and enjoyed the view. The next morning we decided to walk down to the beach after some coffee to just check it out. I decided to not bring my good camera as I was not expecting to see any penguins at that hour. It is not a big beach, but very scenic. We checked it out from the penguin viewing area and then headed down toward the beach. A family ahead of us was stopped on the trail. They whispered “there’s a penguin!” Sure enough! There was one standing right next to trail with some leaves and twigs in its beak! Usually you only see them from a distance because they are very skittish creatures, but we all got a good look at this one. They are huge! Over 2 feet tall. Amazing.

Bushy Beach
Yellow-eyed Penguin

The next day we had some errands to run and wanted to do a bit of walking near town. We realized that in our rush to leave Cooks Beach and being so distracted by Otis, we had left our very expensive microplane there. Doh! The place was also lacking some bowls so I suggested to Susanne that we go down to the local Op Shop and pick up a few things that would make our life much happier in the month we were staying here.

An Op Shop, for you Americans that are not in the know, is a thrift shop (“opportunity shop”). A lot of SPCAs and other charities have them. We stopped at the St. John’s Op Shop on Thames St. They had a wide assortment of stuff, most of which we did not need. I found to big plastic bowls ($3 each) and declared them perfect. Just then, Susanne found a microplane for $1.00. Wow! It was going to be a great day! We headed to the check out stand to fork out the the $7.50 and the very nice lady cheerfully declared that it was 2 for 1 cheap plastic bowl day and gave us the whole lot for $4. Don’t ever bad mouth the op shops, please!

The best cheap plastic bowls money can buy!

Lovely view of Oamaru

The weather was getting a bit snotty, so we, of course, had to go and tour the Steampunk HQ museum and walk around the downtown. It is a funky little town with lots of art galleries and oddball shops in old Victorian buildings. The Steampunk HQ was best described as totally weird. I mean really weird. Somewhat interesting, but weird. They did have one really cool room of mirrors with colored lights that made the $10 admission worthwhile. We were going to go to the brewery for lunch, but when we went it, it was chockerblock full and a band was playing, which made it super loud. There was nowhere to sit, either. We bailed on that idea and went to the end of the harbor area to a restaurant called Del Mar. It had a great view and the pizza was quite yummy.

Now this was cool

Our impression of Oamaru was pretty positive. Small but not nearly as dinky as Kaikōura. The town had some life, a very funky downtown, 3 supermarkets, an aquatic center, a Pilates studio, and a variety of other things to make life somewhat normal. There is definitely some topography, but the big mountains are quite a way off in the distance. The coastline is beautiful. So all in all, it was hard to understand why Oamaru had elicited such disdain. And like most of New Zealand, no matter how frigid it might be, there are people out and about in their shorts and jandals.

Harden up, mate—it’s not cold!

We decided to drive south down to Moeraki Beach where there are some very famous boulders and a marine preserve nearby. It is only about 30 minutes south and a pretty easy drive. The weather had gotten pretty nice and was much warmer…Yeah!!!

The boulders are giant concretions formed by the mineralization of the mudstone in the formation. Think about how pearls are formed and that is a good analogy for these. Definitely worth a stop. We checked out the boulders and then did a nice walk up the beach.

We passed a dude walking his dog. We turned around and headed back. We came to the same dude and dog again. Of course we lured the unsuspecting canine into our grubby little paws and gave him lots of pets this time. And like so many times in Aotearoa, this resulted in a 20-minute conversation about all manner of things. He was a big biker. He had lived in Auckland, Sydney, SF, and LA. And most of his friends were artists and musicians, but they drove him nuts. Anyway nice dude. I wanted to make up some elaborate story about him being a famous music producer who had discovered Adele. Susanne nixed that idea. So, he was just a chatty biker dude with a friendly dog. Way less exciting.

Next stop on the world tour was Katiki Point which had a lighthouse and a great seal colony that the biker dude said was a must-see. It was really beautiful. A lot like Monterey in California without any of the people. There were tons of seals and birds. The color of the rocks, water, sand and landscape made for just an incredible scene. You could see the seals playing.

I had wanted to go for a bike ride the day before, but needed to adjust my front brake. I watched a few YouTube videos from SRAM and then proceeded to accidentally bleed the hydraulic fluid out of the brake. Doh! I took the bike into the local shop to get it fixed. They called me the next day and said my bonehead move had been fixed and she was ready to roll. Yeah!

I wanted to go for a ride out the Alps 2 Ocean trail to check that out. It is a 300 km trail that goes from Mt. Aoraki to Oamaru. Very cool. I got geared up and started out. As I was heading up the hill from the house, my pedals came off. Doh! I had forgotten to have them tightened. I managed to coast down the big ass hill into town and walked to the shop. This is a time when you are glad it is a small town. I showed them the second bonehead move and they groaned. I had almost managed to strip the metal on the crank, but they saved me. Yeah for Martyns!

The trail was nice, but in some spots had been washed out by the huge floods they had here a couple of months ago. I had also contacted the local bike club and was going to do a ride with them, so I just wanted to get a feel for the terrain. Mostly it was pretty easy with some gentle climbing and a few kickers. I ended up doing about 40 miles with a couple thousand feet of climbing. It was nice to be out riding in a new area. Looking forward to the group ride in a few days!

The Alps 2 Ocean
Lots of cows out here
Another tunnel requiring a headlamp
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