Not another stuffy old building – can we go now? Yeah, you know what it’s like when you travel through Europe and after the fifth 800 year-old church, it becomes a little tedious. It aint necessarily so downunder. New Zealand is the one country where you should NEVER judge a book by it’s cover – chances are you’ll find something totally unexpected inside that stuffy building. An example of this can be found downsouth in Oamaru, a place famous for it’s whitestone (Oamaru Stone). Look out for the many historic buildings along the main street – gorgeous architectural examples of yesteryear. I’d start at 3 Tyne Street at the Criterion Hotel and work up through the street numbers. Even on a dull day, the pristine whiteness of these buildings make you squint, thanks to the dedication of the Oamaru stonemasons who are still in abundance. Now you’ll be feeling hungry, so it’s time to visit another old building. What!! Yes. Take a stroll to the old Loan & Mercantile building. Step inside and you’ll discover the fabulous new restaurant Fleur Sullivan has converted into her latest dining venture. Two treats in one! Try it. Hey, it has to be good if Rick Stein loves it.
If you do like quaint little historic churches, but fear being accosted by some frocked up cleric, worry no further. In New Zealand you can wander through many churches quite freely. The doors often remain unlocked. Just walk in, enjoy and maybe leave a small donation. It’s kinda neat after a few hours of road travel to smell the wax and quietly contemplate – no matter what your religion. Had a purely random experience of this recently, not that I was specifically seeking spiritual guidance (though Lord knows I need it). It was a heavy door and I had trouble opening it, but once inside I marvelled at the effect the sun produced as it pierced through the stained windows – lit up all sorts of saints and angels. And not another living soul within a bull’s roar. Wouldn’t you know it, shortly afterwards I stumbled across another surprise.
At 26 Brougham Street you’ll find one of the last surviving grand homes of Nelson – beautiful Melrose House. We read about it in Cuisine Magazine (although we take these reviews with a ‘grain of salt’). Part of the house had been converted into a beautiful olde worlde cafe serving breakfast, lunch and High Teas. The ambience was gracious, but not stuffy. We drank our coffee from beautiful old Fine Bone China and received the warmest service from unbelievably lovely staff. The presentation of the food was faultless – pays to book for the high teas. Yep, Melrose House it’s the sort of place that invites you to linger. So we did. Sat around for over an hour surrounded by beautiful gardens on all sides. Another plus was not having to endure repetitive synthosized music that some cafes torment us with. Bliss.
Now wouldn’t ya know it, not every historic building here is actually a house! New Zealand has beautiful old restored lighthouses dotted throughout the country, most having been built during the 1870/1880 period. The Kaipara North Lighthouse in Northland is one of the few remaining timber lighthouses in New Zealand. My favourite is the lighthouse in the South Island at Taiaroa Head -great photoshoot. And then howabout visiting a historic Maori Marae? Now that’s something different entirely. No cobwebs here folks!