In the spring of 2016, Henderson Productions took an extended do-it-yourself driving tour of New Zealand.   We’re excerpting portions of our trip in this blog.    Both a book and plan-it-yourself itinerary are available for sale in our Shop on

We passed through the giant fruit statues of Cromwell and orchards and vineyards of the central Otago valley region.    For a while we followed the Clyde River including a stop at their big hydroelectric dam – which was fogged in.   But the sun soon burnt it all off and clear sailing with apples and apricots so close to the road you could almost pick them as you travelled.  

The dam shrouded in early morning fog.

Earlier on the grapes and vines had been protected from the frost with huge nets and big fans keeping the air circulating.    But as we came further down off the mountains – headed first south and then east – it wasn’t necessary.    Everything was very lush and green and the obligatory sheep farms quickly turned back to cattle and venison farms.

A word about that – why don’t we raise venison?    It’s the third largest stock in NZ and it makes perfect sense.   And you should see the size of these guys?    Rick says it’s illegal in the US to sell venison.   Really?   I mean why?

As we approached the little crossroads of Lawrence a sign read “Take a Rest – It’s That Simple”.     We thought it entertaining.   Didn’t need a rest at 9 AM but did pause when we heard the fire signal blast through the small town.    Watched as within 5 minutes 4 different trucks came screeching up and guys jumped out to set off in the volunteer fire truck.   That blast was as loud as a Kansas tornado warning and driving right past it was impossible not to notice.    In any case, we saw the truck turn off around 5 miles up the road and a corresponding truck from the opposite direction do the same.    Never saw any smoke but 2 hamlets were off to save the day.

The small towns started coming more regularly in the flats with lovely manicured gardens full of blooming flowers still this late in the season.    Geraniums and roses and rhododendrons and an occasional magnolia tree with lots of annuals in blues and yellows.    Very British and surprised me with these temps – they’d had snow 3 days ago and highs in the upper 40s and low 50s ever since.

A little “world’s greatest cream horn” for a mid-morning snack.

Approaching one town were greeted with “Slow down – No Doctor, No Hospital, One Cemetery” and busted out laughing.    Perfect.   We love their quirky sense of humor down here.    Another sign in a city window in Dunedin: “We can cover puppy-ate-it claims.   Pop in for an insurance quote”   Clever. 

Switched on the radio as we started coming into Dunedin for a cross section of Flav-o-Flav, Elvis, Rhianna and the weirdest ever Dean Martin song “Houston” because, as the oldtimer dj told us, New Zealand Air has just announced non-stop flights to Houston and it “seemed as good a time as any to play that old classic”!    Oh my.   He then announced the weekly news roundup with a secondary constable from the valley as the regular chap was away on school holidays and enjoying his break.     They then spent 5 minutes talking about security at the Rod Stewart concert on Saturday night where 6 were escorted off premises for “celebrating a bit too early before the music started” and being “a bit over the weather as you would have it”.    Hence began a conversation including references to “it’s all right with that demographic perhaps but suppose it had been a younger generation” “Some have called, as you know, for a cessation of beer and wine sales once the party has begun.   Now I know you can’t have an official opinion on that but, well, what do you think?   Should we restrict the party?”   “Well, it was a relatively quiet night after all and this might not be the right venue for which to be concerned.   I was, of course, working that evening in an official capacity and can’t comment but, after all, it was a crackin’ concert and no harm no foul.”     They rounded up the 10-minute session with a short reminder that during the holidays it’s smart for neighbors to keep a lookout for their vacationing friends’ properties.   There had been “a number of inconsequential but clustered breakins” up in the valley area but “nothing to be too worried about – just a reminder to keep a lookout is all”.

Our impression from the morning radio is that the average age of folks in Dunedin must be around 60+.    Virtually no crime except 6 drunks at the Rod Stewart concert and a propensity for antique music.    The police roundup ended with the playing of “Silly Love Songs” from Wings and proceeded directly to “Mrs. Robinson”.

We spent lunchtime walking around the Octagon and Victorian buildings of Dunedin taking the recommendation of the young ticket seller at the train station to visit “The Best Café” if you want fish and chips.     HOORAY.    The real deal folks.   Right off the water and apparently quite a famous place.    It’s downright pedestrian in appearance with little café tables.    But the pleasant smell hits you when you walk in the door and the place was almost packed with a table of women who lunch, a large table of formally suited lawyers from the court across the street, a family of 5, and a couple of elderly couples (read 70+) with nary a tourist in site.    YES.  

Totally worth it.   We were entertained with the décor of newspaper articles dating back as far as 1923 about the Best Café and its series of only 4 owners.    Just stuck on the walls – some in plastic sleeves – with tape and tacks.   Yellowing with age.    Not a pretty place and we’d have walked right by if hadn’t been directed but the mixed fried fish and chips special was inexpensive and delish.    Happy campers.

What’s your experience in New Zealand?   We’d love to hear your

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