Friday, July 31, 2015

Oamaru: Victorian Architecture, Steampunk, and Whitestone Cheese

We’ve got it all today: a town with blocks and blocks of Victorian architecture, crazy fun steampunk, and NZ's Whitestone cheese. Zillions of pix, food last…

You just never know what you'll find when you visit a new place. Up the coast an hour from Moeraki is Oamaru, home to a stunning Victorian precinct made largely of Oamaru limestone.
 The Opera House

Much of the ornate architecture is attributed to Thomas Forrester (1838-1907):
While still in full time employment with the Harbour Board, for almost three decades from 1872 and in partnership with John Lemon, Forrester designed an impressive portfolio of ornately decorated buildings and family homes, contributing more than any other person to the distinctive architecture of Oamaru.

This narrow street felt decidedly European. 

In it we found Adventure Books, home to new, rare, and out-of-print adventure reading. I'm pasting in the website photo below because my own doesn't do the shop justice. And, there's a story (there's always a story).

Proprietor Bill, who moved to NZ 31 years ago from Texas ("Please don't hold it against me"), had his original bookstore in Christchurch when the destructive 2011 earthquakes hit. His shop all but ruined, with a bit of his collection spared, he said he thought to himself: well, that's the end of my dream. 

And then something remarkable happened. After reading about Bill in the newspaper, a person from the Victorian Precinct in Oamaru contacted him and asked if he'd like to move what remained to town. So he did, and he's been rebuilding ever since.

Finally, Oamaru entrusted him with a replica of the boat used by Frank Worsley, Ernest Shackleton's captain, to recuse Shackleton and his crew. The boat was created for the film Shackleton's Captain, which I'm eager to see. 

The bookshop was packed with titles. (I bought one by Worsley himself.)

 The light was ideal for taking in the buildings of Victorian Precinct.

On to Steampunk...
It's a good thing we spent a couple days in Oamaru, because it's also the steampunk capital of NZ and its kick-ass museum made us laugh out loud in awe and speculate that if Art had only rearranged a few things back on Division Street we coulda been right there. The incredibly friendly proprietor talked and talked.

Steampunk is “tomorrow as it used to be” fantasy. The “punk” in steampunk is a rebellion against the present day preference for plastic and the disposable way of life. For many it is a search for where society might have taken the wrong turn at the end of the Victorian era.
The punk era of the late 1970's and early 1980's gave rise to a group of science fiction authors who set their plots in the Victorian world. “Steampunk” was coined to define their type of sci-fi. It is set in a world where steam was the primary source of power, where everything was considered possible and expansion was the norm. Empires were built, new areas of the world taken over and why not go into space? – but at what cost to society? Significant influences were H.G. Wells and his time machine, Jules Verne and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Alan Moore's super heros in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The very infrastructure of steampunk culture is playful.

Oh, no! Art's entering The Portal...

 The Portal was one-of-a-kind, a light and mirror experience that felt infinite.


More at the steampunk HQ blog...

And on to Whitestone Cheese...
I floated across the threshold, house of worship not hyperbole.

Whitestone’s cheeses are named after regional place names in North Otago, this is to reflect the regional nature of our products. The flavours replicated are a result of our region’s climate, water and soils, producing the grass which is then grazed upon - producing regional specific milk.

While I browse the cheese case, Art selects a lemon cheesecake made with Whitestone’s own marscapone. Pure lemon and perfect density.
 Double cream enriched with extra cream
Where do I sign up?

Who would have thought? We've been enjoying this manuka smoked butter on vegetables since we arrived.

The tasting plate, at NZ$7, both a bargain and a treat.

Whitestone’s Windsor Blue is its queen of cheeses, though I have a deep affection for the Highland Blue as well.

And the Lindis Pass Brie—mon dieu! Fluffy, rich, smooth, and eminently spreadable.

The knowledgeable woman at the counter gave us a list of six steps to ensure the goodness of our takeaway package. We followed every one.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Alexandra in Central Otago, NZ

Driving from Queenstown southeast to the Pacific Coast (where the caravan awaits) we stopped for two nights in Alexandra, situated in Central Otago, at the heart of NZ's first gold rush.

How quickly the landscape changes. Back over the mighty Clutha River, its attendant hills a different form altogether than the snowy mountain peaks of Queenstown.

Alexandra's first bridge was designed by the county engineer and built in 1879-1882. At right is the bridge that superseded it in 1959.

The 33-km Roxburgh Gorge Cycle and Walking Trail begins here, and after a week of family fun we're ready for a hike along the Clutha River, which seems to follow us wherever we go (or are we following it?).

Does anyone know what these contraptions are?

It was a gorgeous day near 60, a welcome mid-winter surprise. At our motel, the owner checked up on us before speeding away on his bike with two friends to take on the trail. We're happy with a gin fizz and pate from the butcher we stumbled on in town.

Look at those roasted root veggies. The proprietor had a beautiful selection of meats, fresh and cured, plus cheeses and homemade soup.

Also, I learned a new word: pottle, meaning container.

Ham off the bone, gotta have some.

We also took away some beautiful pastured bone-in chicken thighs (bone-in chicken pieces oddly are never available in the NZ supermarket we frequent) and eggs.

More otherworldly NZ landscape on the way to the South Pacific Coast.

A man walks a miniature pony

Back in Moeraki, our wee caravan sits just where we stored it two weeks ago. We towed it 100 yards to the campsite we occupied earlier.

Moeraki is this place 

With the bizarre boulders