I had another day with a rental car. My mission this time was to explore historic Southland. The goal was to go as far south as Bluff, just so I could stand at most southern part of New Zealand (even though technically it’s not) just so I could say I’d done it.
My first stop was Balclutha, which I wanted to visit for one specific reason. I was in search of weird coffee.
In the book “True Colours” – writer Dave Armstrong’s account of the 1996 general election campaign – he and his wife visit a coffee bar in Balclutha, and, he writes, “My wife orders an espresso coffee which looks like a tepid banana smoothie and has a marshmallow floating in it. Weird.”
And the week before Dan Slevin had tweeted from the road, with a tale of ordering a trim latte in Cromwell and receiving something with chocolate sauce decoratively drizzled on top of it.
I was envious of such caffeinated abominations and was hoping that Balclutha would deliver.
Well, it didn’t. I went to a cafe on the main street and ordered a latte and received a pretty good latte.
Feeling like a caffenated Schrödinger’s cat entangled in states of contentment and disappointment, I stopped by the South Otago Museum soon after it had opened for the day. It’s one of those museums that has a collection of items of bona fide significance to the region but also lots of old stuff that people donated in the days before Trade Me.
Like, what do you do with all those old baking powder tins that get donated? You build a faux grocer and stock the shelves with the tins and fading Weet-Bix packets. And then you construct a grocer out of a 1950s era shop dummy, but he has one arm missing, so you make him an amputee. Yeah, he probably lost it in WWII. That would explain the look of eternal sadness deep within his plastic eyes.
The museum also had a fearsome bottle collection, whose genesis can be traced to a yellowing flyer asking for old bottles, complete with a three-digit phone number to call to arrange collection.
So there it was – a room full of lots of bottles. Clear ones, green ones, brown ones. And also soda syphons, clay jars and a special 1970 collector’s edition bottle of Steinlager. You could probably sell that all as a box lot on Trade Me and buy the poor grocer a prosthetic arm.
My next destination was Gore. Motto: “Brown trout and/or country music capital of New Zealand”
It was lunchtime by the time I arrived, so I stopped by a pleasant looking cafe and ordered something called “Nachos – chilli beans + mince w sour cream & cheese” and another hopeful coffee. What they forgot to add to the description of the nachos was “+ carrots”. This attempt at nachos was the sort of thing you’d find in a children’s cooking book with a name like “The Kool Kiwi Kidz Kookbook!” It was bland and delicate. And nachos shouldn’t be delicate.
But it was provincially expensive so I just shut up and ate it.
I was hoping the coffee might cheer me up, but it was neither good nor weird. It tasted like a damp kitchen sponge. I couldn’t even enjoy it on bad terms and abandoned it only halfway through.
But happiness could be found in the Eastern Southland Gallery. As well as the collection of Dr John Money (almost too appropriate for the art collection of a sexologist) and of Ralph Hotere’s work, the gallery was also finishing up an exhibition of surrealist Edward Bullmore. He was a painter who suffered the curse of being really good but largely unknown in New Zealand, when when he died in his mid 40s, he was largely forgotten. But slowly people are remembering him. And if they can remember him in Gore, then all is not lost.