Choice Overload

Life has been good. The weather, in general, is getting warmer. Yeah! Oamaru continues to offer up many good options for fun and exploration, but there have been some less than exciting things too. We came here with no expectation at all that it would be on the list of possible places to live, but between the amazing cheese, incredible views, fine brewery, opera house, wonderful biking, and funky little town, it has slowly but surely worked its way into our hearts. That said, we have both been feeling pretty stressed out about choosing where we will live and how we are going to actually make that decision. As Susanne pointed out “our problem is that we have too many choices and not enough constraints.” Choice overload.

This is an actual thing. There are lots of studies and research on it. If you don’t want to slog through scientific papers, then watch this video. It’s good.

Choice overload or overchoice is a cognitive impairment that occurs during a decision-making process when we are presented with too many options we cannot easily choose between. Our ability to make a good decision is reduced by the overload of choices, as is our satisfaction with the final decision.”

Now, I know I am not probably getting a lot of sympathy from readers who rightly point out “Dude, you’re in New Zealand running around having fun looking at penguins.” Fair enough, but the pressure of it all! I swear!

Some serious food for thought while trying to pick out which of the 5000 types of pickles you want

When I think about some of the social ills of the US right now, I can’t help but think about this paradox of choice. Why are so many people in the richest, and arguably one of the freest countries in the world, so miserable? It is the only developed country in the world that has a declining life expectancy. Anyway, I won’t go too much down that rabbit hole, but it’s worth some thought.

We’ve been trying to explore some the hiking around the area to see what is within a couple-hour drive. We had been exploring southward, so one day we thought we would go north and see what was up that way. I read about a hike along a lagoon (Wainono Lagoon) that was supposed to a bird-lovers paradise. It looked like a pretty easy walk so we decided to give it a go. It was about an hour drive up there and when we got to the parking lot, it was clear it was a Te Awanga type beach. Lots of larger pebbles and a steep dangerous drop-off at the water’s edge. The walking wasn’t much fun and the area, to be honest, just wasn’t very nice. Oh well. We did enjoying watching the big waves crash on the beach. Once you get north of Oamaru, you really start getting into the flatlands of the Canterbury plains. We realized all future walks were either going to be west or south of us.

Dangerous beach
Not a very interesting walk

After that disappointing outing we decided to head back to town instead and try out the Craftworks which is a local brewery that specializes in Belgian-style ales. Sold! The brewery is down in the Victorian district of Oamaru and they have managed to build what feels like an English pub inside the bigger warehouse building. It’s very cool. We hemmed and hawed about what beer to get and decided on two different Abbey ales. We also ordered a cheese plate with 4 different cheeses. There were a lot of choices of cheeses (all locally produced, small batch) and we could feel the pressure of choice overload creeping in. The dude kept waiting for us to decide and we stood there like a scared yellow-eyed penguins unable to decide. I finally asked for a recommendation and he steered us into some good choices. We kept going back and forth as to which one was best and finally agreed they were all kick ass. The dude knew his cheese.

Yummy cheese
Yummy beer
Cool bar and cheese dude

The next destination was Kurow, which was about a 1-hr drive inland. There was a cool hike up Kurow Hill that looked good and I could ride back to Oamaru after the hike along the Alps2Ocean trail. Two for one!

It wasn’t a super long hike up to the top of the hill, but it was steep. About 350 meters in 1.1 kilometers. Very Wenatchee-like. All along the trail, people had hauled up various chairs and couches; the implication being that it was so steep, you were going to need a good place to rest on your way up. It was steep, but not that steep. Harden up, mate! In case you’re wondering, we did not use the furniture.

Well-placed furniture all along the route

After our hike, I pulled on my biking kit and headed out toward Oamaru while Susanne drove back. The wind was howling, but luckily it was a tail wind to start. The trail from Kurow to Duntroon was nice, but was still under repair in a number of places from the floods earlier in the year. I made good time with the 30 kph tail wind helping me out. The only thing that was causing me to slow down was the constant swatting at the magpies that incessantly dive bombed me. Note to self: buy some zip ties. From Duntroon, the trail went past Elephant rocks and climbed up through the white stone cliffs. It was a really beautiful section of the trail. At one point, the trail did a series of very tight switch backs up the cliff…not super technical but very cool.

Magpie gauntlet
Great view of the Kakanui Range

I reached the top of the first climb and passed 1 of the 3 bikers I would see all day. Just one more climb and then mostly downhill to Oamaru. The one bummer is that the wind had changed direction and I was now having to climb into it. As an old fat guy, I was very upset at this turn of events. Nonetheless, I continued on and marveled at what a wonderful thing it was that they put this trail in. I was glad to reach the top of the final climb and that it was downhill from there. Going through the tunnel, I passed the other 2 bikers that I would see in the 4 hours of riding. Damn these crowds. I stopped in Enfield at the tavern to get a little food and water and take a little breather. The salty chips went down well. Sadly it was headwind all the way home, but the suffering was kept to a minimum. It was a big day of exercise but I was grateful to have such a lovely day to do it.

Just me and the cows….and the damn magpies
Whitestone cliffs

We had a video call with our friends Dave and Carol and they asked the question “what did we do all day?” We both stumbled around trying to describe our day, which quite frankly consists of coffee, watching the sunrise, farting around on the internet, planning what to eat for dinner, planning what we will do once we are done with coffee. So many decisions to be made. And occasionally we have to, like, go the bank or talk to the tax dudes. Big-time adulting stuff. Very stressful, as you can see. But we have been enjoying ourselves, so too bad!

Sunrise from our Airbnb

We had missed going out with the Wednesday Walkers the previous week (it had snowed and we didn’t feel like it) but were planning on the hike this week. They were doing a hike down by Shag Point, so that sounded good. We met them at the tennis courts in Oamaru and got a ride with Claus down to the trailhead. I think there were about 15 of us total, and Mike, the American guy I had met previously, was one of them. He had been an environmental manager in the Bay Area, had retired to New Zealand in 2016 after Trump got elected and then ended up meeting someone who he married. Nice guy. We couldn’t help ourselves and did end up talking about some of the reasons we ended up here. But not too much.

The tide was a bit high, so we had to go over the sheep paddocks for a while to get to where the beach was wide enough to walk on. It was a lot of up and down and again, both Susanne and I were totally impressed by the kiwis and their fitness.

Just a bit of a scramble on a rope. New aging goal!

I think the average age of the group was 74 and it was only that because, as one of the dudes on the hike pointed out, Susanne and I had brought the average age way down. I hope I can keep doing what they do when I am 78. Impressive. At one point we had to scramble up a bit of cliff that required a rope to help. One lady, who I am sure is over 80, scrabbled up the thing with only a little bit of help.

When we popped out on the beach, there were some steep cliffs where a bunch of shags were nesting. They are part of the cormorant family and are quite beautiful. When they fly, the look like Klingon warships. As we walked down the beach, there were seals and sea lions scattered all over the beach. The sea lions (called Hooker’s Sea Lions) are huge. The males can get up over 900lbs. The key is to not get between them and the ocean. If you do, they can get quite testy as they feel like you have cut off their escape route. At one point, one of the big males got agitated because we were a bit too close to him and he let out this very menacing roar. We heeded his advice and got to stepping.

The sea lions had been nearly wiped out at one point, but have made quite a comeback and are all along the Otago coast now. We reached the Shag river and had a bit of lunch and then headed back. We ended up doing 7.5 miles with over 1000 ft of climbing. I was so impressed by this bunch and they were all super nice too! The only downside of the hike were the quite a few dead sheep in the paddock as you walk by. Dang.

It is nice to know and a big plus for Oamaru that there are such great groups to go and do stuff with. It does help to get some local connection and learn more about the area beyond the basic tourist stuff. Hopefully they can help us with our choice overload problem.

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