Hidden depths of the deep south

Flying south for the autumn, EastLife’s WAYNE MARTIN dealt us an ace after visiting Bluff, Invercargill, Gore and more.

The offer of four days, for free, in New Zealand’s southernmost city was too good to turn down, so I gratefully joined friends, Karin and Brett Wilson, on a recent sojourn. Our first stop was Bluff, home of the famous oysters and one of the locations for last year’s South Sea Spray Motupohue, a creative event where 16 of New Zealand’s best street artists create huge murals.

Exiting the car, the salty sea air was thick. We were in awe of the great works, and so a photo competition ensued between me and Brett, which spanned the entire four days of our stay.

After taking in the scenery on a trip up to the historic Bluff Hill lookout, we headed into Invercargill, where visiting Buster Crabb, a restaurant recommended by a friend, was a priority.

We assumed it was a crab-based seafood joint, but it’s named after Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb, a Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver who disappeared on a mission around a Soviet cruiser in 1956. He inspired one of the most famous fictional characters in the world, Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The food was first class – we had fresh Bluff oysters, blue cod, duck, tuna and carpaccio of beef. So, with generous servings under our belts we headed for nearby Riverton.

Our accommodation in Riverton was comfortable, despite the message in the guest book stating: ‘this place is bulldozer bait’. The town is beautiful, calming, and has a perfect surf break underlined with an amazing bed of green rocks, sculptured by centuries of the Southern Ocean battering its shores.

Complimented by a bottle of whiskey and another of red wine, we settled on the sand dunes at Taramea, Howell’s Point Reserve, to watch the sunset as the crisp southerly winds whipped up huge breakers crashing over massive rock formations.

After a brisk sunrise walk with my camera – which was continually running out of memory as the scenery is truly a photographer’s dream – we headed for Gore and the Hokonui Moonshine Museum. Although temporarily closed for renovations, we were, very kindly, permitted a tour. Displays by Weta Workshop and other artworks make for an entertaining journey through the history of Hokonui Moonshine whiskey production.

Just across the road from the museum is the historic (constructed 1909) Eastern Southland Gallery, one of 18 Carnegie libraries in New Zealand. A superb collection of Ralph Hotere works, gifted to the gallery by the artist, adorn the walls, along with the impressive John Money Collection, including works by Rita Angus, Theo Schoon and other renowned artists.

After taking a few obligatory photos of the cliched giant trout and giant guitar, we enjoyed a light lunch in the park then back to the bach for a few quiet drinks.

The next day featured the big-ticket item on our agenda, Motorcycle Mecca. On entry to the three-levelled classic bike showcase I was overwhelmed by the pristine condition of timeless works of mechanical art; it was as though they’d just rolled off the factory floor. Not knowing where to point our cameras, we took our time wandering among them. After a couple of hours drooling over these machines, and a bite to eat at the Meccaspresso cafe, we headed to blustery Orete Beach, made famous as Burt Munro’s test track for his land speed record-breaking motorcycle (aka The World’s Fastest Indian); it proved a most worthy pitstop.

The next day, Tautapere was on the list with a local recommendation to stop at Cosy Nook. The stop was well worth it. The picturesque rocky bay is home to weathered holiday shacks, fishing boats and magnificent scenery, reminding me of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. We also visited Colac Bay, another popular surf spot, Monkey Island and Gemstone Beach, where low tide can reveal semi-precious gems including garnet, jasper and quartz.

At Tautapare, the distant breathtaking vista of the mist covered mountains of Milford Sound stood before us, welcoming us to the so-called Sausage Capital of New Zealand. Another round of delicious Blue Cod was called for along with giant whitebait fritters.

Later that day (after realising our rental car could not float over rocks!), the very helpful team at Riverton Automotive Centre ensured we secured a ride back to Invercargill where we paid a visit to Bill Richardson Transport World. As this place is mind boggling, I’d suggest allowing a couple of hours to visit. Mostly, it features vintage trucks, restored to mint condition, as well as a fine selection of ‘30s and ‘40s coupes. However, in addition, it’s also home to the 2018 Wearable Arts competition’s winning entries.

Soon enough, we were up in the air flying back home, bidding a fond farewell to the epic deep south, with which we’d all fallen in love.

Related: Christchurch – never a dull moment