Tourism Under The Radar

Skippers Canyon

What do a record-breaking fleece, up-cycled wardrobes and Paradise have in common? All featured on the off-the-beaten-track itinerary when my mother and I headed out on a South Island road trip last week to explore some little-known Otago gems. Domestic tourism is often underrated – when Hawaiian sunshine beckons, the rain of the west coast or the sandflies of the Routeburn track find it hard to compete. Persevere with New Zealand though, and it’s surprising what kinds of unique oddities are waiting just to make your day.

The highlight of our trip had to be Tarras, home of the most famous sheep in New Zealand. After being discovered encased in a recSHrekord-breaking 24kg fleece, Shrek was received by the Prime Minister, toured around A&P Shows, authored a book, and even visited Antarctica (sort of). Visit the ‘House of Shrek’ and you’ll find a giant display that pays homage to the sheep that was shorn on an iceberg. There are shots of the sheepy crampons, newspaper clippings about the berg itself, and even the fleece that was clipped on the icy hunk. Shrek passed away in 2011, and his taxidermied fleece is due to go on display in Wellington’s Te Papa at the end of this month. Still, the two picture books and full-length illustrated biography of the sheep that weighed down my luggage on the way home mean his story will stay alive in our household for years to come.

This was a road trip, so having scoped out Tarras we hit the tarmac and headed for Wanaka. No visit to the resort town would be complete without a stop at the inland cousin of our own local centre for pre-loved bric-a-brac: Wastebusters. While we had no pressing need for doors or a pre-loved exercycle, we did spend hours perusing the books, and came away with both strange looks and some real treasures.

When you go on tour with a librarian, books feature highly on the agenda. My excitement at the Shrek displays and ‘wasties’ was rivalled only by my mum’s delight at finding a collection of children’s books by boutique NZ publisher Gecko Press in Glenorchy, on the very border to Paradise. They even had a title about a sheep: the sale was inevitable, but also for a good cause. Mum’s running ‘sheep week’ at her Auckland library to bring a taste of Tarras to the townies.

New Zealand’s an exciting place to explore, but staying at a hostel we became attractions in our own right: in the sea of foreign voices it was a novelty to meet a real life kiwi. We had great fun plotting local out-of-the-way treasures onto torn out pages of tourist maps and sending the visitors off for a taste of real New Zealand, the way we’ve come to know it – Shrek and all. Next time your annual leave beckons, don’t forget there are always more obscure sheep museums and second-hand bookstores to discover in your own (national) back yard!

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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I Scream, You Scream

icec

One of the best things about living in Auckland was the dessert. In a bustling metropolis of over 1 million people, there is plenty of choice when it comes to soothing the 7pm sweet tooth – or the 11pm sweet tooth, for that matter. In a city that hardly ever sleeps, the ice cream parlours do a roaring trade both night and day – and at mealtimes. Heading down to the waterfront and enjoying a sundae before dinner marked the threshold into adulthood for many of us, because you definitely know you’re a grown up when you can eat your dessert before the main.

Once we moved south, getting used to earlier supermarket closings and the need to pre-empt evening sugar cravings before they happened took some time. These days keeping a stash of goodies in the freezer is second nature, so when an ice cream parlour opened in Methven recently, I had to do a double take. Like black and white photos of a 1950s milk bar, it flooded me with nostalgia and brought memories of the city rushing back: one bite and I could almost smell the Queen Street traffic fumes and hear the proclamations of the street corner preachers…

This part of New Zealand is known for a different type of ice entirely – or two, to be exact. First, there’s the skiing variety, of which little currently remains, save that which adorns the snaps on the local postcards. Not quite as delicious as its creamy cousin, the snow and ice of the frozen mountain slopes have nevertheless provided hours of entertainment over the past three winters as we have rather awkwardly learnt to wield ski poles and snowboard boots in a battle against gravity.

The second type of ice is the one with which I have become more and more obsessed since living these 7 degrees further south of my hometown: Antarctica. Our local ‘big smoke’ is a gateway to the southern continent and serves as a stopover for many contractors each year. It’s being celebrated up in Christchurch these school holidays at IceFest, with Antarctic displays, talks and activities abounding. Two years ago our North Island visitors checked it out and had a great time trying on jackets and mukluks; their only criticism was that there was no snow cone machine on site. That was a valid point, but this time we’ve got a local solution to follow up a hard day’s science in the city.

As the last of the snow melts off the mountains, I’m sure the queues for the sweetened, creamy variety will grow. Yes, two scoops in a cone will do me nicely.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian