Take The Long Way

y 4 Waiankarua bridge2

Allan Dick drives from Ōamaru to Dunedin using all the back roads he can find. It’s a fascinating and lovely drive that takes three days!

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Given the facts of geography and topography the shortest distance between Ōamaru and Dunedin is via SH1, a journey that takes about 80 minutes if you concentrate. But after you have done it several hundred times it is no longer fun.




Join us (Audrey, Audrey’s Mum and me) for a journey that takes a lot longer, and will take you to places – some dark and terrifying – and to a little-known corner of New Zealand.

Actually the journey is from Ōamaru’s Victorian artificial walled harbour, to the tip of the artificial mole at Aramoana at the entrance to Otago Harbour, the idea being to take as many coastal byways and detours as we could.

The first leg was from Ōamaru via the coast road, through Kākānui and on to join SH1 at Waianakarua.


y 6 Hampden storey 5 Millhouse 2y 5 Millhouse 1


This is a fantastic drive, with pounding, crashing surf and sandy beaches alongside a road that pretty much hugs the Pacific all the way even though it keeps slipping into the ocean and the local council has to keep propping it up. This has been a historic issue and there have been several attempts by council to close the road, but locals revolted. Don’t expect this issue to go away.

Like so many things in Ōamaru, Beach Road is undersold and finding it from our start point at the harbour is not easy. It should be promoted as a tourist route.

Along the way there are reminders that moa once roamed and were caught, cooked and eaten here.

Kākānui is a former holiday town of two halves divided by the Kākānui River and a sizeable lagoon. Old Kākānui is north of the river, new Kākānui is south. This was once famous, luscious, Kākānui hothouse tomato territory with glasshouses to the horizon, but supermarket demands saw price become more important than quality and today there is only one significant practitioner of the art of growing Kākānui hothouse tomatoes.


y 11 Shag Point Harboury 10. SHAG POINT BOILDER1


Our drive along Beach Road, then Waianakarua Road, ends with a left turn onto SH1 and then over a survivor of early New Zealand road building. It’s a graceful Ōamaru stone (limestone) arch and is the oldest bridge on a state highway in New Zealand. Until about 30 years ago it was so narrow it was almost one lane and it was so steeply humped you slowed seriously for it. Instead of demolishing and replacing with a modern steel device, roading engineers split the bridge down the middle, added a metre or two and softened the hump.

Here at Waianakarua is the Mill House. Its water wheel once powered the Phoenix flour mill (McIntosh, Caley Phoenix) in the days when North Otago was a major wheat producer.  

Further down SH1 our next detour is a short one: in the centre of Hampden we turn left and drive down to the pleasant beach.

Hampden is a town that meanders in a strung out fashion along SH1 and is home to a fish and chip shop famous for its blue cod, and also Vanessa’s café, in a cosy cottage where genuine hand-made pies make it worth the visit. There’s a large modern supermarket in Hampden, but the old Four Square still stands and has had a repurposed varied life as a second hand shop, now selling old cars, trucks, et cetera.

The Mercedes campervan was hardly into top gear before we were braking for the turn-off to Moeraki Boulders.


y 14 Waikouaiti Standy 13 Trotters Gorge Roady 12 Trotters Gorge


If you haven’t seen them, the boulders are worth the 200-metre hike along the beach and a splash through a small stream. 

Moeraki township is a must. A gem.

It’s an old whaling port and there was once a branch line off the nearby main trunk railway as part of a plan to make this an important port. But the ground here is unstable and after rebuilding the line a few times they gave up. Same can be said for the road in – it slumped so many times in a hundred years that more recently the council put in a long and winding by-pass – so long, you wonder if Dunedin is at the end of it!

Moeraki is quaint, lovely, cute and still a fishing village with the FishWife, a fish and chipperie on the wharf that attracts huge crowds despite the reasonably long drive to here from anywhere.

We meet owner John Pile – a local for a long time. “There were once seven Pile families in the village.” This is probably the best fish and chipperie in New Zealand – maybe the world. Short menu, but, let’s get creative with clichés here – “chips to die for … blue cod that melts in your mouth …”

There’s also a pub here that serves good grub.

There is a significant and influential marae here and in pre-European days Waitaha had a moa-hunting site here.


y 17 Karitane Beach


Moeraki is on a peninsula, home to a lighthouse, a small collection of homes occupied by local tangata whenua and a more sizeable village, or kāinga, of homely cottages far from the madding crowd.

This is a beautiful part of the world.

Back on SH1 we detour to our planned overnight parking spot – down Horse Range Road to the blessedly beautiful and tranquil Trotters Gorge. 

Trotter’s Gorge is fantastic even though the ground moves with rabbits as we arrive. Audrey is half interested in giving chase.

Calm, peaceful night with home cooking and we sleep late. Weather forecast is good so we backtrack to SH1 and then down the long straight along the Kātiki Beach. The beach is broad and sandy and the road is constantly being attacked by the surf. It has seen a lot of ‘armouring’ work in recent years, but it will be ongoing. There are reefs far out to sea here and it’s odd to see breakers so far out in the Pacific.


y 18 Karitane Store


At the end of the long straight we turn left to Shag Point, on a No Exit road lined on the ocean side by holiday homes.

If you have the time and the energy, there are places here where you can scramble down the bank to a ‘Martian’ world of orange clay/papa, deep pools, ‘Moeraki’ style boulders and plain weirdness. It’s sensational – but tidal. At the end of the road is a DOC area with no camping because of the wildlife, but this was also the head of a small railway line that carried coal out from the famous undersea Shag Point coal mine. It went out under the sea so far, miners could hear ships passing overhead. Constant leakage forced its closure about 1970.

Coal was also shipped out in small steam-powered colliers and when you see the size of the harbour they operated from, you marvel at the skill of the captains.

Next on SH1 is Palmerston – not Palmerston South, just Palmerston. It’s the jumping off point for the Pig Root into Central Otago and it has a sizeable shopping centre, but we have decided on ‘breakfast’ at Waikouaiti.


y 19. a Seacliff Lunatic Asylum NZy 19 Seacliff


Wai-kou-ai-iti – a lazy ‘Wackawite’ to the locals – is an important place in the history of provincial Otago.

Early settler, whaler and crook, Johnny Jones, wanted to make this the capital of the new province and he did a deal with local Māori to buy huge tracts of the hinterland from them for a bag of chocolate fish. But the government decided very quickly that Jones was up to no good, had fleeced the locals, and made him reverse the deal.

There is more to Waikouaiti than the main drag – between SH1 and the beach there are a lot of streets and houses to be explored including St John’s Church, built and paid for by Johnny Jones in 1858 – so he wasn’t all bad. There’s a race course, a lagoon, a wonderful beach and some history. There’s also a house that looks like it’s owned by Harold Steptoe with all manner of stuff for sale. There is also a huge egg-producing plant here.


y 22 Orokonui


Most of the seaside places we are now going to visit are today enjoying a second coming. A hundred or more years ago places like Waikouaiti, Karitane, Warrington and Doctor’s Point were where Dunedin’s landed gentry – and there were many wealthy families in Dunedin at that time – had their holiday homes and many were quite substantial. Today these places have become attractive lifestyle alternatives to living in Dunedin, with just a 20–30 minute commute.

Replete with excellent pie and chocolate milk we hit SH1 and make a very short detour from the Karitane turn-off to have a look around the grounds of the former Cherry Farm Psychiatric Hospital which opened in 1952 as a replacement for the Gothic horror of ‘Seacliff Lunatic Asylum’ and subsequently closed in 1992.




Many of the smaller buildings have been moved away, but huge, bleak, Soviet-era architectural styled buildings remain. A few new houses are being built but the place is an unhappy mix. There is an excellent cheese maker and a great butcher in one of the old hospital buildings.

On to Karitane where our plans to rejoin SH1 at Evansdale are thwarted by some heavy works that have closed the coastal road.

But we are resourceful.

We headed in to Karitane – in many ways similar to the south side of Kākānui in that there is a lagoon and a river, but the hub of Karitane has a genteel, olde worlde feel about it. The lagoon gets a lot of use and the beach is lovely.


y 28 Scotts anchor


In the centre is the Karitane Store which has evolved from selling just sugar, butter, spuds, et cetera to the locals and has added a trendy restaurant. And there’s a fuel pump! Outside the heavily hedged old part, Karitane has a plethora of new and stylish homes.

We headed up the hill, past the old Karitane nurses’ home knowing that somewhere before Seacliff we would have to turn back. The interesting thing about this coast road is that between Karitane and Evansdale you cross the railway line about nine times.

Yep, we had to turn around and go back the way we came through Karitane to SH1 and up the long hill (with the ugly name ‘Kilmog’) between Cherry Farm and Evansdale.

At the top we turned left which brought us to the other side of the closure on the coast road and right in the middle of Seacliff.

‘Seacliff’ – taken in isolation this is a pleasant name, but its name is etched in darkness.

In the late 19th century it was chosen as the site of the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, and the main hospital building was the largest building in New Zealand and styled on a Gothic castle. But the unstable nature of the land saw much of that building demolished even before it was completed, costing noted architect R A Lawson his reputation – he designed Dunedin’s First Church among other quality buildings – and a large collection of somewhat smaller buildings was created.

In 1942 a fire ravaged a building killing 37 female patients who were locked inside.

When Cherry Farm replaced Seacliff the land was subdivided, with some of the major buildings (including a huge bluestone affair) passing into the hands of the Dunedin City Council. About 1980 an attempt was made to create a local Museum of Technology in this building and I had a couple of visits, but while it was stocked with all manner of displays, it never opened. Among the exhibits was New Zealand’s first commercial computer. It had been owned by Cadburys and had about one tenth the power of your smart phone. It took up an entire room! Even though the hospital had closed in the early fifties, piles and piles of records dating back to the earliest days were left when they should have been destroyed. 

Today many buildings still remain but all are in private ownership. Adjacent is the Truby King reserve which remembers the doctor who started the Karitane baby care programme.

This coastal road drive is spectacular – tight and twisting with serene ocean views, and there were a couple of ships at anchor waiting for parking space at Dunedin’s Port Chalmers.

We were back on SH1 at Evansdale where the former Mobil Roadhouse service station has finally found life as a brewery, and then it was on to Waitati, a small coastal town and alternative community where Mandy Mayhem (a qualified circus ringmaster) is the unofficial mayor.

From Evansdale to Waitati SH1 skirts the inland edge of a large, tidal bay. This is Blueskin Bay and at the southern side is Doctors Point – a narrow road lined with nice houses leads to a nice beach. Doctor’s Point? Because back in the day, this was where many Dunedin doctors had their holiday homes.

Back in Waitati the fine weather had turned sour. It rained. Stopped. Rained some more with the promise of more to come.

We headed along the ‘Old Mount Cargill Road’ which was the main road into Dunedin before the ‘Motorway’ opened in 1957. It brings you eventually into the top end of the suburb of North East Valley, but we branched off and headed for Port Chalmers.

This twisting route takes you around the lower slopes of Mount Cargill with the swell headed Mount Mopanui on the other side. It’s a scenic drive through a mix of bush, steep farmland, lifestyle blocks, and the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. This is a large chunk of regenerating native bush within a predator-proof fence and features a spectacular information centre and café.

By now we were nearing Port Chalmers but there were still some side roads to tour and find hidden bays and harbours.

First was the tiny township of Osborne which clings to the hillside above the Pūrākaunui Inlet – and alongside the railway line with which we had become very intimate.

Pūrākaunui is similar to Osborne, but several times larger and on the opposite side of the inlet. As a kid I spent time in Pūrākaunui at an uncle and aunt’s crib/bach and can remember long summer days, paddling in boats and exploring. Not too far away is ‘Goat Island’ – not really an island as it is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, barely a metre wide. This was once a heavily fortified Māori pā – Mapoutahi.

Pūrākaunui is just gorgeous, steep little streets, cute little houses all hiding in the bush with breathtaking views.

Next beach along is Long Beach – an ocean beach with a collection of holiday homes on flat land. A bit ordinary really after Pūrākaunui.

Then it was on to Port Chalmers where it was really now too wet and miserable to stop at the Scott Memorial (Robert Falcon Scott) overlooking Port Chalmers – we would save that for the morning. Our mission now was to (a) find an overnight parking spot (which was easy enough in the town down by the wharves) and (b) have a fish dinner at the old bluestone Carey’s Bay Hotel.

This was originally just an old fisherman’s slogger of a pub until the nineties when a wealthy Auckland man and his wife, on a yachting cruise around New Zealand, stopped in Port Chalmers. She saw the old pub, fell in love with it, bought it and turned it into a quality restaurant and art gallery – the fact that Ralph Hotere lived not far away helped with the art gallery!.

Next morning we woke to much activity! Two cruise ships were berthed, and where we had parked was where people caught harbour cruises from, but nobody minded us there.

We took a tour of historic Port Chalmers, had breakfast in a little café tucked away up an alley, and loved the place. I know the port well enough, and while it hasn’t become as trendy and upmarket as say Lyttelton, it’s got a vibe going.

The last leg of our journey was about 15 kilometres northwards along the coast of Otago Harbour to a place with a history as dark as Seacliff – Aramoana. This is a fabulous drive. It’s winding, but traffic is light and the road is wide with not a pothole to be seen. The views are breathtaking – across to the other side – Harbour Cone, Portobello, Harington Point and the blunt bulk of Taiaroa Head. Just gorgeous.

There are things to stop and see along the way – and we did so.

As you leave Port Chalmers, if the tide is out you will see the backbones of several ships/boats in the harbour mud. One is all that’s left of the largest wooden-hulled, steam-powered ship in the world.

There are actually two settlements at the end of the road: first is Te Ngaru and then a kilometre or two further along, Aramoana.

I was at Radio Pacific that day in November 1990 when David Gray went mad and shot dead 13 people. I knew Aramoana well from all the years I spent in Dunedin. I was providing the hard news interviews on the breakfast show, interspersed with Merv Smith’s chirpy chatter.

I saw that one of the people ‘missing’ was Vic Crimp who had been the mayor of the suburb of Green Island during the Abbotsford disaster, so I knew Vic well. Vic and his wife had a crib at Aramoana and he had gone there for the day from their home in Green Island. Vic was one of several people ‘unaccounted for’, while Gray was still hidden somewhere.

I was a journalist and had a job to do. I phoned Mrs Crimp and spoke to her on air about what she knew. Despite her deep concerns and worry, she was OK about my phoning. I can’t say I was, then, nor still today – I remembered that as we drove into Aramoana, and again I felt uncomfortable at my intrusion.

Aramoana was bright and shiny. We saw the boat the owner has been claiming is a boat while the council says it is a house. We saw the new house where David’s Gray’s once stood. I looked over at the Aramoana reserve – an area of seagrass and shrubs which was described as ‘wasteland’ in 1981, a time when I joined many others in Dunedin trying to convince Fletchers and a Swiss aluminium company to build their smelter here, rather than down at Tiwai Point alongside the one already there. Thank goodness the Swiss company decided the deal wasn’t good enough and left the deal.

So, I have two reasons to feel uncomfortable about Aramoana.

We walked to the end of the mole – the kilometre long breakwater built to protect the entrance to Otago Harbour. The backbone of the mole consists of sunken ships and railway locomotives covered with spoil and topped with clay. It’s an easy walk surrounded by the ocean, with birds, seals and glorious views over to the lighthouse and the albatross colony on Taiaroa Head – a huge mass of rock that is filled with tunnels and gun emplacements. But that’s another story

We headed back.

By the time we got back to the Mercedes I don’t know whose feet hurt the most – Audrey’s, or mine.



This article is kindly provided by nztoday.co.nz



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