The Way South – Our Journey to Middle Earth (Part 2)

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We pick up where we left off in Timaru on our way south towards the famous Moeraki Boulders.


We arrived in Timaru tired, damp, and joyful.  We checked into a funky, old establishment called the Grosvenor Hotel. Located in a restored historical building, the inside is themed with a different art style on each floor. The room we booked was tiny and sparse, but the bed was comfortable and the bathroom was clean. We were provided with a mini fridge that had been stocked with individual servings of milk, perched on top was the ubiquitous electric kettle for the tea, instant coffee, and hot chocolate packets nestled alongside it.

See how we planned our New Zealand trip.

We could hear church bells chiming. Our windows opened to the town and we watched storm clouds rolling thru. After settling in and hanging up wet rain coasts we decided to go in search of an early dinner, having eaten last at breakfast in Christchurch, and head out on foot. On the way out of the hotel Ryan discovered the old-style lift that guests can take as an alternative to the old, uneven stairs. He was immediately infatuated and spent a few minutes fiddling with the metal-grate door that accordions open and shut as you pull it. Photos were taken, and video shenanigans attempted. But soon our stomach’s call overpowered that of the elevator of old.

The old English lift in the Grosvenor Hotel in Timaru, NZ

Finding food in an old church

After walking a few blocks we came across a restaurant called “Zest“. It was located in an old parish that had been refurbished in exposed wood and lime green accents befitting of the name. The lunch rush had gone and the dinner crowd not yet arrived. Other than ourselves the only patrons in the place were two older ladies sharing a “cuppa and a slice” and three schoolgirls in uniforms splitting a bowl of chips. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful, almost reverent. The woodstove at the center of the room quickly took the edge off the damp chill we collected on our stroll. We perused the menu and quickly settled on splitting a pizza and salad. We lingered at the pastry case that was chock-a-block full of bars, slices, cakes, and other tempting treats.  While we resisted the mud cake, I couldn’t ignore the siren call of the espresso machine and I ordered a flat white to accompany me on the walk back to the car. Seriously folks, New Zealand knows how to serve a cracking good coffee.

Pac ‘n Save is the best

Just before we arrived back at the hotel we changed tacks and headed to the parking lot across the street, hopped in the Holden, and head for the local Pac ‘n Save – a marvel of a grocery store chain that Ryan and I frequented for supplies over the next three weeks. Our favorite places in the store were the bulk candy bins (tangy stiiiicks!!!), the bakery for fresh sandwich rolls, and the deli counter for champagne ham. We also grabbed some instant oatmeal cups and yogurt for breakfast. Back at the hotel we bunked down for the night, looking at pictures and planning the next leg of the trip. Ryan tried his very first chocolate fish – marshmallow and chocolate. I preferred a less sweet option, a couple of squares from a Whittaker’s Dark Block.

The next morning was grey and cozy. While Ryan was in the shower I set electric kettle to boiling and went about preparing a “traveler’s breakfast” – instant oatmeal, yogurt, dried mango, and a white ceramic mug of instant coffee.

Coffee in the hotel

A word on instant coffee before I march on. As a lover of good quality coffee, I have a deep dark confession – I enjoy instant coffee powder. Truth be told, I suspect it’s more a matter of nostalgia than anything else; but the taste always brings me back to the first time I visited New Zealand as a student. It stirs up feelings of adventure and comfort; and holds strong sense memories of rainy afternoon tea time with friends and warming up after long hours surfing dawn patrol. Even now I have a jar of Nescafe crystals–tucked next to my burr grinder and 8-year-old Mr. Coffee–that I reach for when all I want is a single cup of something hot and comforting. Okay, back to the room at Grosvenor Hotel.

The grey morning view from our room.


We ate breakfast and we were packed up and back on the road.  Our objective for the day: find the Moeraki Boulders. On our way there we passed thru the town of Oamaru. We saw a sign declaring an observation of wild Blue Penguins and had to pull over. After some inquiry we discovered the Blue Penguins would most likely not be making an appearance. They are some-what of a nocturnal creature. But the staff at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony were most kind and helpful. They went so far as to print up a full color information booklet to take home to our niece. She had been studying penguins in school and decided the Blue Penguin was her favorite. (Thanks guys, she loved it!)  In spite of that minor disappointment, Oamaru ended up being a lovely little stop along the way. We discovered the Steampunk HQ and the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Precinct. The district provided a stroll across train tracks, and thru corridors of old limestone buildings. They house more modern cafes, bars, and craftsman shops.

Moeraki Boulders

Back on the road it began to rain. A quick 40 km and we were looking for parking along Koekohe Beach, where the Moeraki Boulders reside. The rain stopped and the sun came out. So did all the other tourists that had been waiting for their chance to photograph the unusual boulders. Ryan and I walked up and down the sand marveling at the geological wonders. Some of them large enough to fit a few travelers into! We took pictures, and dodged distracted photographers with their swinging tripods.

I found a gorgeous white Paua shell the size of my palm. I choose to take a picture and place it back on the sand where I found it.

Find it, love it, leave it – it’s the New Zealand way.

Just the best fish and chips

The short life of our quick hotel room breakfast began to make itself known. It became our business to seek out lunch. We avoided the café in the Moeraki Boulders parking lot. We assumed it to be full of tourists paying tourist prices. Instead, we set off looking for more local fair. Down a narrow, dusty road and we found ourselves in the town of Moeraki in front of the Moeraki Tavern. It looked as good a place as any. But we soon discovered it to be much more than that. The main dining area was all but deserted. The waitress at the bar recommended the Blue Cod Plate with a bowl of “chipies”. We found seating at a picnic table out on the patio overlooking the coastline. We braved the terns and various seabirds that inevitably came to partake in our feast.  What could be a more appropriate setting to eat fresh caught fish than to look out upon a sparkling turquoise harbor dotted with fishing boats bobbing at the ends of their anchors?

The best Fish and Chips we’ve had anywhere in the world.

To enhance the experience the table next to us soon became inhabited with salty old fisherman types–replete with mud-spattered gum boots–hoisting bottles of beer to salute our presence.

To this day, I claim that the best fish n’ chips I ever had and ever will have are to be found at the Moeraki Tavern.

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