23rd - 27th December (Christmas in Oamaru)
I had thought of heading to Queenstown for Christmas as it's quite a lively and popular place to be apparently. Of course, the flip side of this is the accomodation is probably all booked up. I sat at the roadside on the only road out of Mt. Cook holding a 'Queenstown' sign for two hours, the sun was burning the back of my neck and head. There wasn't too much traffic but there were plenty of half empty cars that were going in my direction at least to the next junction about 50km away at Omarama. I decided to change my sign to 'Omarama', less ambitious. I was picked up by an Israeli girl and her dad who were heading to Dunedin. After talking to them for a while I decided to change my plans and go to 'Oamaru' on the east coast which they were passing through. The good think about hitching is you never really know where you might end up! They recommended the 'Empire Hotel' which had a couple of beds free, is a very nice place and free internet (very useful). The town itself isn't exactly buzzing but it's pleasant enough. The 'Countdown' supermarket seems better value than others I have been to, I stocked up on pizza, pasta and fruit and of course some booze. Hardys Cabernet Sauvignon for only $7, so I got two and a twelve pack of Speights old dark for $19 - that's Christmas sorted! Back at the hotel, I watched the end of what looked like a great film called 'Joe Dirt' where I discovered the phrase that I will now use at every available opportunity "Life's a garden, dig it!".
Oamaru is known as one of the few places where penguins come ashore to nest so after a fourty minute hilly walk I got to the site where the yellow eyed penguins come ashore and watched from the observation hut as 3 white specs in the distance moved a little. I borrowed some binoculars for a better look, I could see some penguins waddling about but I couldn't see their yellow eyes. I walked most of the way back and stopped at the harbour where you have to pay $15.75 to watch the 'Little blue penguins' come ashore just after dusk. About 65 penguins came ashore in 'rafts' of 10 to 12 at a time, and slowly made their way up the slope to their nests, a dim light overhead had just enough power to show them clearly without blinding them. I guess I sat there for almost an hour, freezing cold but enjoying the show. Most of them passed by about 20 metres from my seat but towards the end one walked across about 5 metres from me. They're funny little creatures - I could see why that kid wanted to take one home from the zoo last year and although I was tempted my rucksack is heavy enough already! Unfortunately there was no photographs or filming allowed.
Options are especially limited in Oamaru on Christmas eve so I went to the cheese factory, unable to bear the excitement of a factory tour, I ate a cheese platter and drank coffee in their little cafe, and bought some blue cheese to take away. Kicked around for most of the day, glanced in the estate agents window and realised that I could sell up and move to a reasonable place here and not have a mortgage anymore. I went to the tiny cinema to watch Al Gore's 'Inconvenient truth' which was quite thought provoking. There were only seven other people who all looked over sixty. Had a few drinks back at the hostel and watched the end of groundhog day. Quite a sober Christmas eve.
Christmas morning was pleasant so I went for a walk then spent some time on the internet. The people who run the hostel put on a $20 buffet lunch which was massive and included four different desserts (I had at least one of each!), there was no turkey or brussel sprouts but we did have crackers to pull. I drank plenty of beer and wine without much effect watched films and played a little pool. Managed to stay up past 01.00 in order to speak to the whole family and Richie B. which was nice.
Boxing day morning, I walked for ten minutes with 'south' written on my board before being picked up by Gizzy, a Tongan bloke in an MR2 whose English wasn't great and neither was the conversation, his stereo wasn't on so the journey was a little uncomfortable. Luckily Dunedin was only an hour away and he dropped me in the centre, next to Penny's backpackers which looks great in the very new tv room and kitchen but a bit grotty in the showers and toilets - only $18 though. Went on the $56 scenic railway to Pukerangi and back, nice scenery, tunnels, viaducts and all that but my hayfever was about the worst it has ever been and I spent most of the journey with eyes on fire and sneezing. The guide was mumbling something undechipherable through the speakers and I was just glad when it ended. Once my eyes had recovered I watched Shawshank redemption at the hostel then slept in a dorm with the loudest snorer in the world ever in it.
The next day was incredibly dull, I was so bored I even played hearts and solitaire on the computer as the free internet wasn't working. There are no English speakers in the hotel and I don't even recognise what language the majority of them are speaking but they are speaking it too bloody loud. Did some laundry. Took a bus to the tunnel beach walkway which had some nice views and nice weather. Treated myself to a chicken jalfrezi at a cheap indian restaurant but it turned out to be mostly veg and not too nice. Planning to move on tomorrow.