Timaru: More Than a Stopover
We were feeling pressured to find accommodations, given that every hostel and reasonable Airbnb on the scenic west coast was booked. We later learned this was likely due to Cyclone Gita, causing closures on many of the major throughways. Other travelers we met in New Zealand told us to book early for upcoming accommodations. We knew we wanted to head down to Dunedin, and we had plenty of time. We found the most wonderful Airbnb in Timaru and chose to make it our home base for four nights so we could take days trips to the surrounding areas. We completely lucked out.
One word to describe our stay in Timaru: Surprising. We couldn't fathom why more visitors didn't stay here. There is a sizable downtown, right off of Caroline Bay. Tiamru has several museums, Botanic Gardens, and wonderful hikes nearby. Furthermore, it's a merely an hour and a half to Lake Tekapo--a well-known tourist destination. However, it was our Airbnb hosts who made our stay so lovely. Mornings started with a homemade breakfast spread of freshly baked bread, muesli, yogurt, fresh fruit, and spreads.
It was also when we discovered Marmite. The yeast based spread is very popular in New Zealand, comparable to Vegemite in Australia. Having never tried it, Will slathered a generous amount on a slice of bread. He took one bite and winced. It tasted like a mouthful of sodium, an acquired taste for sure. Learning from his mishap, I heeded advice to first spread butter on the bread, followed by a thin layer of Marmite. From then on, we both understood it's appeal.
Typically, on our first day in a new location we enjoy walking the city to get our bearings. It was a gorgeous day so we started downtown.
We continued down to Caroline Bay, a noted shore to see penguins at night. We walked down the Piazza steps to find a small village of activities.
The port city has a tremendous history that continues today with an elaborate carnival around Christmastime.
We walked passed the Trevor Griffiths Rose garden, which led to a manicured path. It strongly reminded us of Southern California. In fact, there were workout stations along the way.
Took a quick pitstop to test it out. It was solid.
A short drive away were the Botanic Gardens. We spent the remainder of the day literally basking. We've found no shortage of these gardens and are getting a bit spoiled by their access.
We rested on a shady bench and read on our Kindles for what may have been a few hours.
Granted it was mid-week, but we were the only ones in the park. It was certainly serene.
In Timaru, we felt grateful to have such a comfortable home base. We were able to create a bit of normalcy and routine in our day-to-day. The town, the local shops, the grocery stores, the gas stations all became familiar.
We'd make a late, easy dinners together each evening, which we'd enjoy at the dining room table. After a short while it did start to feel like home. We also got into the dangerous habit of discovering Tim Tams. Although from Australia, the chocolate sandwiched cookies are easy to come by. We've become keen on finding the best flavor. Thus far, Choc Mint is pretty high up there for us (though the coffee and the dark chocolate varieties are close seconds).
Another day was spent on one of our favorite hikes in Peel Forest. Our Airbnb hosts recommended the reserve, since it has a variety of trails. We stopped in Geraldine, a quaint town nearby, to check out their Saturday market. I was in heaven at the farmers market, followed by sampling the local cheese and jam shops. Peel Forest wasn't far, and we've quickly become jaded by the pastoral landscape.
The weather became overcast and threatened to rain. We chose Allans Track, which had significant tree coverage, and honestly the cooler temperatures were welcome. There are a few oddities that Will and I are adjusting to. For example, trails are called tracks in New Zealand and hiking is referred to as tramping. Also, tracks rarely show distance, rather, they display how long it will take. I find this to be so subjective, given that a 18-year old rugby player won't take the same time to tramp as an 80-year old man. Regardless, this tramping track was predicted to take two to three hours.
As soon as we parked, we felt like we were transported. We followed the Te Wanahu Flat to Allans Track. It was straightforward at first, with a polished walkway.
Once we reached Deer Spur, we really got into it with a straight vertical climb. I feared that their definition of "intermediate" may strongly differ than ours.
Fortunately, it leveled a bit as we walked through the podocarp forest near the valley floor. We continued to climb through the alpines.
Roughly halfway through, we ran into the only other person we saw on the track. An kind, older gentleman, originally from Australia, but has lived in New Zealand for the past 40 years. He immediately started asking us about Trump, calling him a "thug." He was relieved when we agreed, but cautioned, "what do I know, I'm just an old socialist." He admitted he is a huge Bernie fan. It's still bewildering how closely the rest of the world follows Americans politics. He raved about the comprehensive coverage by The New York Times. We chatted with him for awhile, and luckily strayed from the political realm. He gave us a brief history of the area, and explained that Peel Forest is one of the only areas on the South Island that has such vast native flora.
We didn't realize how high we were until there was a brief opening. The fog was heavy, which contributed to feeling like we were in the clouds.
Once the clouds cleared, it was a unique vantage point of the farmland.
With a closer look, cows or sheep are seemingly always present.
We headed back down the steep trail to the Fern Walk. The country has about 200 species of ferns and about 40 percent of these species are only in New Zealand.
One thing we're learning is that there is no wrong way to do New Zealand. There are endless guidebooks and must-see destinations. We're only here for three weeks, and I think it's natural to feel compelled to experience it all. But once you accept that you can't, you start to enjoy it more. I had never heard of Peel Forest, nor read about it in any guidebooks. But, Will and I agree that tramping together through Peel Forest, an unrefined track through native trees and plants was a highlight for us. And for anyone visiting Canterbury, I would highly recommend it. Of course, there are so many other places to discover on your own.