The kidney beans from yesterdays nachos become one with my billy. Fingernails raw from scraping it out (and vowing to stick with the pasta from here on out), I take a leisurely morning before heading south to Oamaru, Otago’s northern outpost.
Oamaru isn’t a huge place, but I am aware of it already – it’s famed for it’s ‘Victorian Precinct’; the old port warehouses never demolished. In the last twenty years their disreputable familiars departed and modern artisans moved in, seduced by the price and heritage. This Victorian port area is now home to a variety of creatives and galleries, and the major tourist draw to the town. Oamaru’s example is a tip for city councils: make your turds into a treat! (Or do like the Hutt City Council and demolish your unrecognised gem and replace it with personalityless shit, ensuring a continued legacy of obscurity). I park and wander about. I disgust myself by actively entering art galleries and enjoying the experience.
There’s a stonemason on site; he’s been at it 30 years. As a product of that 30 years, he’s mounted a sign answering the standard questions people ask. ‘What’s that smell?’ is high on the list; it’s seaweed and cheese, and it is vile. Folks hold their noses on the street, such is the rancid pong. Something the quaint Victorian tourism photos don’t convey.
The old Bank of New South Wales (Australia!) building houses the Forrester gallery, a small area exhibiting this guy Cleverley’s stuff. I’m no art cricket but I see what I want, this corrupted nature type vision – I can’t put it into words, but it’s a good addition to the thoughts and feelings of my mind.
‘The exhibition is great’ I tell the hostess.
‘I wouldn’t hang any of it’ she replies.
‘Oh definitely not’ is how we end that. Uncomfortable stuff is worth communicating without hanging it over the mantelpiece!
Leaving the air conditioned gallery behind, the vile cheese assaults me. But I combat it, valiantly leaving my nose unheld while I sought out Hunting and Fishing. I am seeking insect repellent; something I forgot is much needed where I’m heading.
I consume an average pie. My headache gets on my nerves – it’s probably due to lack of water. The museum is closed for refurbishment, and I don’t feel much like wandering the cheese alleys; I jump in the car and chase a large dome off the main drag. It’s another old Catholic edifice.
Oamaru: it’s pretty. But with this head, it’s time to take a holiday from the holiday. I take winding single lanes inland to Glencoe DOC Campsite.
Arriving, I am eyed warily by those already in attendance; far fewer than yesterdays site. On the south is a large canvas tent, there a while. The residents look warily over a yellow rope, across to the north, where another long-term setup slouches. A fat Labrador barks, and some kids listen to this awful song without irony on Bluetooth speakers. A yellow rope splits the campsite – there’s a little DOC sign with ‘Nohoanga’ on it. I google it. I’ll save you the trouble – it’s part of a Treaty Settlement to Ngai Tahu. For 210 days of the year, parts of campsites on crown land are marked for the exclusive use of the iwi to do the traditional nomadic gathering of their forebears. I think it a fair idea, and am curious – I look beyond the rope. These folks have gathered not tuna or koura from the river, but tonnes of beers from the super in a matte black ute. One lady whose rasp could carve stone sharpens it further until 3am, with particular attention on the word ‘fuck’. A tragic tradition develops in the wistful shadow of the old.
As the evening wears on the foreign tourists arrive, and they begin to set up along the rope-line.
I wander off, down to the river. Veins of unmaintained DOC tracks stretch along the cliffside, each leading to somewhat private river spots. Dipping my feet in the water, I feel the urge and have a wash in the cool pools in the dying light. I am incredibly refreshed, and decide to try trail running on the way back. I trip on a vine and bash my head.
Back at camp, the folks next to me are from Invercargill. The kids are fluent in both English and Maori and use it interchangeably, beating one another at padder tennis. We chat about tramping and some tracks are recommended. Another family is having a cheeky bonfire – we are invited to join. I neglect the moment and stick with my book, tuck into bed and push my earplugs deep into my brain, desperate to block the cackling witch over the rope.
Packed in the morning I consider a friendly toot farewell on my way out but my morality gets the better of me. I head over to Totara Estate, a Heritage New Zealand site – the home of New Zealand’s first freezing works.
I have a chat with the man at the desk. He tells me he’s a cobber or slusher or musher or something – I expertly hide my ignorance with an ‘awesome’. ‘All that’s left is for me to take some money off you’ he says – I almost apologetically produce my Heritage card for free entry. They aren’t busy.
There’s a video to watch – ten minutes of epic museum video cheese, complete with Shortland Street actors and stick-on beards. The style is a fun caricature of itself now and only adds to my interest. It’s a story of New Zealand meatworks – a story we see little of despite meat being one of our major exports and a major contributor to our former prosperity.
Back in the 1870s, much land was cleared for grazing. Sheep were all the rage in Australia and New Zealand, their fleeces clothing the British Empire. While Britain’s population soared and meat prices crept beyond the reach of the working family, Australia and New Zealand had tiny populations; an excess of sheep meat was a problem, not a privilege. We actually herded old ewes over cliffs abutting the ocean, such was their worthlessness. So when refrigeration came about, we were interested. The Dunedin passenger ship was retrofitted and supplied mainland Britain with it’s first taste of New Zealand sheep in 1882. Money was made.
The video ends on modern meatworks. Mechanical arms sheathed in plastic gently grab thighs and pry them apart. It’s almost lewd, until a large blade moves down with the slow, unstoppable force of robotics and cleaves the carcass in two. And there it ends. I am left with a desire to watch more meat processing – to do less is to remain wilfully ignorant of the cold, unnatural way we dispatch creatures because we don’t feel like eating anything else.
The other interesting bit of Totara estate is the meatworks building. Concrete gutters lead to the ‘blood trough’, from which 200 pigs lived their lives eating the offal and drinking the blood of the dispatched sheep.
As I leave I think about the upcoming challenges for the meat industry. Faux meat and synthetic proteins, muscle grown in petri dishes; they’re all options, they’re all out there, it’s happening – yet there’s not a word for the future in this heritage location. I mention it to the guy at the counter, I think some content on the future and those topics would be great – the video of modern meatworks is more interesting than these old brick buildings. ‘We educate’ he replies indignantly. ‘We dress up and take kids around on horse and cart on Oamaru’s Victorian Day’.
I am beginning to understand why history doesn’t inform the future – most of the folks looking at history only have eyes for the past.
Heading on down the coast, I pop by Moeraki. The famed boulders are having a reprieve from the tourists, covered in water at high tide. I stop at a picnic table, make myself a sandwich and marvel at my cheap lunch instead.
Outside Palmerston I pull into a rest stop, discovering a bin. This is the first bin I’ve noticed that’ll fit a full plastic bag, and it’s just in time – the car smells terrible. New Zealand is having something of a campervan tourist explosion, and because they are mobile, councils around the country are deciding to deal with the problem of overflowing public bins by removing them entirely. ‘Take your rubbish with you’ is the phrase, but when you’re driving two weeks, that’s a lot of garbage. As every council kicks the can down the road, the folks who haven’t yet end up footing the bill for every other district. So I feel sorry for Palmerston’s few ratepayers as I stuff in my bag – the bin won’t be there next time I come down. I am reminded of the laybys in the UK, and the enormous skips provided; maybe we should start making impromptu dumps like the UK travellers until the Queenstown council decide to provide a bin rather than leave it for the kind folks of little Palmerston.
I drive on south, through Dunedin (visit later!) and head inland to Gore. Our ‘Chicago of the South’ (?) gives me the impression it had more than 10,000 residents – there’re shops and gardens and that. It’s 3pm, and New Years Eve Eve; I want to buy a topographical map for a NYE tramp. ‘You could try the hunting shop’ says the girl in the museum/information centre, five minutes before closing – he closes at 2. I cross the road to the art gallery, with 3 minutes to closing, then decide to let the dutyperson go home on time. Instead I head to the bottlestore to pick up beer for tonight and some whiskey for the big night. A strange quirk of the Southland district, distinct from the rest of New Zealand, is not allowing supermarkets to sell booze – a North Islander has never seen a Liquorsave so busy!
I leave town, heading just outside to the Dolamore Campsite. I pull in onto National Trust quality turf, manicured lawns it seems criminal to drive and pitch on. The fee is $10 per person, run by an honour system in a slot in a door. At that price there’re legitimate flushing toilets, a camp kitchen and even a hot shower. ‘I can’t beleive this place’ I blurt to a passing caravanner.
‘Not many like this around anymore’ he replies. I am tickled, pleased as punch.
I find myself a quiet spot next to a bubbling creek, out of sight or hearing of almost all other campers. I cook, eat, read and drink – it is such a wonderful spot. It is night and day from Glencoe campsite, my jaded view is challenged by the generosity of this donation to the town of Gore, and Gore’s maintenance of a little piece of paradise for everybody. I’m in love.
I noticed the turf was wet across from me when I drove in. I keep half an eye across the lawn as I read. The caretaker squelches his 4×4 through the grass. His ute is a Gore council one – they have smartly branded the town over two lines, ‘GO RE’. Go Rural …. E. Soon he returns, with another bloke and a small digger. The digger unloads and carves into the manicured lawns. A sewage tanker arrives, the tank is pumped, and the digger re-buries the access. Doesn’t seem the most efficient way to access a septic tank, but maybe it just couldn’t handle the holiday onslaught (though only about 3 people used it while I was around).
I sleep off yesterday’s lack thereof and awake late to birdsong. Today is New Year’s Eve, 2017. That’s an arbitrarily big deal. I must do something interesting tonight. I shall tramp to to an isolated Fiordland hut and end 2017 with naught but the demons of my mind for company.