A Night at the Opera

Things have been going along swimmingly here in Oamaru and we continue to be impressed by the place. Sitting in our Airbnb and looking at the expanse of the ocean, every evening is a treat. It has become exceedingly clear that it was complete luck and quite rare that we had such a close encounter with a yellow-eyed penguin on the first day. Since then, we have only seen them way off in the distance, quickly scampering up into the brush and never to be seen again. They are very shy creatures.

“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see…”

— Freddie Mercury

Oamaru opera house. Check out the whitestone.

I had contacted the Oamaru Coffee Riders, a local biking group here, to see if I could go on their group ride. Terry, the organizer said “sure!” and told me they would be riding from Enfield Tavern at 10 am on Saturday. It was a chilly but sunny day and I was thinking this group was not a bunch of hammerheads that were going to go out and pound it for 3 hours, so I decided to ride the 15 km out to Enfield to meet them.

As I was pulling into the tavern, I got attacked by a magpie again! The last time I rode out this way, the damn magpie crashed into my helmet several times and pestered me for about half a kilometer. Yet another good reason to wear a helmet while riding….bird attacks! One of the woman told me that Terry had zip ties sticking out of his helmet to protect against the birds. Sheesh. Who knew?

Anti-bird device

There were about 15 of us on the ride with most people on e-bikes. We headed up some lonely paved and gravel roads at a pretty leisurely pace. It was nice to be riding with some other folks and Terry was telling me about all the great rides in the area. He organizes a big gravel race called White Rocks and sadly I am going to miss it by a day! It would have been fun. We ended up doing about 25 km and I then had a coffee with everyone afterwards. It was interesting to hear how much they all loved Oamaru. Most of them had not grown up here but had chosen to come here after living in a lot of other places, both in New Zealand and abroad. To be honest, Oamaru hadn’t really even been on the radar as a possible living location for us, but there are some things about it that are pretty awesome. The 100’s of kilometers of lonely gravel roads is one of them.

The group

We have learned that when the weather forecast is iffy, you just have to plan some smaller outings and hope you get enough good weather that you can enjoy the day. Susanne had finally decided it was time to get a haircut after 5 months. My detailed description of the benefits of shaving your head seemed to be unconvincing as she made an appointment with a stylist here in Oamaru. The woman told Susanne about a couple cool places to check out. One was called the Elephant Rocks out near Ngapara.

This area is known for the white rocks … in other words, limestone. Around here it is called the Oamaru Formation and is heavily quarried and has been used in a lot of the buildings in Oamaru and Dunedin (see the Opera House, above). It also creates some really cool-looking structures. According to the geology of New Zealand:

The major limestone-forming period in New Zealand was during the Oligocene, about 22–30 million years ago. At that time, New Zealand was covered almost entirely by a shallow sea. Many invertebrate organisms with calcareous shells thrived in this sea, and over time, a thick sedimentary layer of shell fragments developed. Subsidence followed by deep burial of these sediments provided the right conditions to convert them to limestone. Therefore, the limestones that feature in the Waitomo region are the same age as those in the Whangārei area, the Punakaiki rocks of the West Coast, Oamaru stone in Otago and the Clifden Cave system in Southland.

What this all means is that when it erodes, it makes some really cool looking structures that are worth a visit. We piled into the car and made the drive out that way. It wasn’t much of a hike around them, but they were super cool nonetheless.

Since the weather was kind of holding, we drove into Duntroon and did a little wetlands walk that was on the map. It wasn’t very wet, so there wasn’t much to see in terms of cools birds and stuff, but there you have it. It started to rain, so we headed back to car and drove home. Not a super exciting day, but it paid off to ignore the weather forecast.

On another day, we took a drive down the coast to the south to check out some of the areas that might be good potential living spots. Susanne had done some pre-scouting during my bike rides, and had seen some really nice areas down this way and wanted to show me. Kakanui was a lovely little beach town and some of the areas around it would be awesome to have a house on. The coast really reminded me of Mendocino. Rugged with interspersed nice walkable beaches. I did a 50 km ride down the road and back the next day and it was amazing. Almost no traffic. I did get attacked 4 times by those damn magpies, though. Better go buy some zip ties. The riding here is truly great … despite the birds.

Yeah, I could live in Kakanui
What a ride!

There was a huge cold front pushing up from Antarctica that was going to bring rain, wind, and even possible snow. It was supposed to be the first October snow in Christchurch in 50 years. Sheesh, we have really brought the winter weather to New Zealand! Sorry, Kiwis!

Since the weather was once again, super-suspect, we opted for a driving-centered day and headed further south toward Shag Point. We had seen some houses for sale here that looked amazing and there was a nice reserve and seal colony to check out. The houses perched right along the cliff were amazing, for sure. What a way to spend your life, staring out at the view!

Real estate photo. Yes, please!

The wind was howling and it was quite cold, but we got out and gazed at the amazing views and said hi to all of the fur seals. Part of me thinks it would be amazing to live in place like this and part of me thinks it might just be a bit too isolated. Not sure which part will win in the end. But, wow!

The weather, albeit windy and cold, was holding for us and neither of us felt like heading back yet, so we looked on the map and found a reserve (Tavora) just south of us that we knew nothing about. We thought, why not? The drive is was incredibly scenic through pasture lands, rolling hills, and stunning views of the ocean. There was one other car there when we showed up. The sign indicated that it was a short walk to the beach and that there was another longer loop around the headland. I thought it was going to be relatively miserable and we would only go to the beach, so I left my good camera behind.

We passed the other couple coming back out, of course hiking in gum boots, so now we had it all to ourselves. Note to self: get some gum boots when we get back from the States. We got to the beach and it was really awe-inspiring. The sand was deep red, the water was a grayish-green and the powerful swells added a lovely white to the canvas. The beach was steep and the power of the waves and the obvious rip currents made it a humbling place to stand and stare. Really gorgeous.

Love the colors
Hard to convey the power in the photo

I think both of us were amazed at how beautiful, rugged, and lonely this coast was. Susanne suggested that we do the loop since the sun was still out. It was windy but we both wanted to see more. The trail looped around the headlands with just some incredible views. It was clear that not a lot of people go here. We finished the loop with about 3 minutes to spare. It took about an hour to make the loop and outside of some cows trying to bum some carrots off us, we saw nobody. We got in the car and the rain started and then a mix of sleet and snow. Perfect timing. Sometimes when you have no expectations things work out the best.

Both of us commented that we really had to make a habit of just finding little places on the map and checking them out. Some have been nothing-burgers, but a bunch of others have been world-class and generally with nobody around.

The full force of the Antarctic blast showed up overnight and we actually had a bit of snow on the deck. Holy crap. We are both very tired of winter. We have been living in winter since December 2021. We want summer! We want summer! We want summer! We want summer! Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

(OK, maybe we binge-watched “Money Heist” and are feeling the resistance movement a bit too much or just have that song stuck in our heads. And BTW, if you can’t see the video, just google “money heist Bella ciao”)


“Una mattina mi sono alzato 
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao 
Una mattina mi sono azalto 
E ho trovato l’invasor”

On one rainy day, I had been looking around for live music in Oamaru. There really wasn’t much. COVID has really crushed that. However, I did notice that there was a play on at the Oamaru Opera House called “The bicycle and the butcher’s daughter.” I booked us some tickets so we could go check out the local art and theater scene.

We had a nice dinner at Del Mar and then headed over to the theater. It is a pretty impressive opera house for a small town. The play was in a little side theater from the main opera theater that probably sat 70 people or so.

The billing described it as “a lively and entertaining solo work which addresses themes of women in leadership, the meat industry, veganism, global food issues, and family relationships. It is written by Sue Rider and Helen Moulder and directed by Sue Rider, the collaboration that brought you Playing Miss Havisham, Gloria’s Handbag and Meeting Karpovsky. Production includes recorded music by pianist Richard Mapp and violinist Juliet Ayre.”

It was super fun! The play was clever and Helen did an amazing job playing the five characters. There was some very New Zealand-specific humor that we mostly got. I always forget how much I enjoy going to live theater. I marvel at the talent and bravery it takes to get up and entertain people in that way. It definitely was nice to know that if we did end up in Oamaru, there is a great venue right in town.

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