Day 55: Cheese, Ghosts, Gardens, Explosions and Journalists

The road between Stratford and Opunake: we thought it would a quiet one. Just a quick visit to some gardens here, a visit to a historic town there. How much can happen in just a 30-minute drive? Well, this is us. A LOT can happen.

The Capital of Cheese

Our exploration of the Taranaki region continues from the Shakespeare town of Stratford back to the coast in a small surf town called Opunake. But when Robin finds out there is self-proclaimed town of “The Capital of Cheese”, it is compulsory that we check it out – classic French.

Eltham was where the dairy industry in New Zealand went global thanks to a dude called Chew Chong who immigrated to New Zealand, saw that New Zealand’s milk, cheese and butter was to die for, then industrialised the dairy farming by sending the first order of butter to England from New Zealand.

Walking around this town where almost every building has elaborate architecture, you can tell that this town thrived immensely when the dairy industry started booming. But… now it is more like a ghost town. It feels like people have just left their homes and shops about 50 years ago, not taking a thing with them. Seriously, we can see shops full of stuff – creepy dolls heads, vintage fridges and cardboard displays headlined “Notable faces”. Even the “closed” signs are beginning to wear away.

Where's Robin? Where's Robin?
Not just a flat tyre but an exploded tyre! Not just a flat tyre but an exploded tyre!
An interview with a backpacker An interview with a backpacker
What? This is winter in the Hollard Gardens?! What? This is winter in the Hollard Gardens?!

The real Ghost town of Taranaki

We have a look inside an old telephone box and a local walks up to us and says: “I remember when I used to use this telephone box. And you couldn’t move for people on this street…” As soon as he came, he was gone again… into the mist. (Ok, there wasn’t any mist. It was a sunny day, but this is how we like to tell these stories).

Tarangakau’s Ghost Town has nothing compared to Eltham, which is a true relic of the past.

That being said, there’s still a few people knocking about. There’s an art class for kids going on in an art gallery. There’s a women painting on a wall, adding to the town’s murals depicting Eltham’s past. Plus, there are people in the Cheese Bar – the reason we’re here! Free cheese tastings at the Cheese Bar! Much to Robin’s pure delight, we try a few types of cheese on crackers. In that moment, our visit to the town of Eltham is complete.

-BOOM!!!-

Bursting our way through Taranaki

Next stop, Hollard Gardens, where a journalist from the Taranaki Daily News is going to interview us. (Oh, look at us. We’re going to be famous)!

We’re driving along some super straight roads (for once) and come to a bridge where the road narrows. We cross the bridge, then BOOM! The van is rattling.

Robin puts his serious face on: “We’ve blown a tyre.” He slows the van down gently keeping the wheel in control until we come to a standstill. Great. The tyre is in tatters. Robin gets the van onto the side of the road and calls out a guy to change the tyre. (We have been advised to not change it ourselves on a huge van like this).

Hey journalist, meet our crappy camper

Within 30 minutes, we are getting our tyre changed and talking to Catherine, the journalist. This is not quite what we pictured for the interview but, oh well. At least we are not dead, we suppose.

When Robin investigates the road where the tyre blew, he finds a broken cat’s eye on the bridge with a sharp piece of metal poking out. Not cool.

The maze that is Hollard Gardens

Back on the road, we are following Catherine to a better setting for the interview, Hollard Gardens. We have a chat, she takes pictures, we take pictures, and we all take pictures. Then it’s time for her to get back to the office to write obviously an amazing story about us, while we get lost in this maze of a garden.

There are two walking trails named after the previous owners who opened their gardens to the public. We walk our way nonsensically past rose bushes (still in bloom during winter), following fantails which are a small fan-tailed native bird (duh!), and seeing a few rock sculptures. There’s even free tea and coffee in the Hollard House, where we sit down and talk to a local guy with his kids. He recommends we check out a bakery in Manaia, The Bread Capital of New Zealand, before we leave the Taranaki region. We love how the locals in Taranaki are so eager to help us discover their region!

How a 30-minute drive took 7 hours

Damn, Mt Taranaki looks awesome. The rest of that, what was supposed to be, 30-minute drive to Opunake is a stunning one. The sun is setting just behind the mountain, while the ocean is in sight right ahead. We have a night by the seaside in the Opunake Holiday Park where the lovely owner has upgraded us to a cabin due to the fact it’s pretty quiet at the moment. Tonight, we listen to the sound of the waves (big surf waves at that) while we sleep tonight.

It took us a while to get here, but we can’t wait to explore Opunake tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

A completely not set-up photo of us getting lost in Hollard Gardens
A completely not set-up photo of us getting lost in Hollard Gardens Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Of course you want more! Until tomorrow’s blog post, be sure to like us on Facebook, check out the Taranaki radius on HerePin, and give these articles a cheeky read:

See you tomorrow, backpacking buddies!

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