Beyond the brazenly wide boulevards and time-worn architecture, Invercargill is a city of nuggety charm, dogged spirit and self-belief. A gob-smacking makeover is set to dramatically change the face the CBD, with a $200 million redevelopment of the city centre. Dozens of buildings bordering Esk, Dee, Tay and Kelvin streets will soon be demolished to clear the decks for this glittering new retail precinct. But beyond this radical futuristic shake-up to the central skyline, traditions abound in Invercargill.
It’s a city of hoarders, awash in seductive curves and shiny chrome, with some eye-popping collections of motorbikes, cars and domestic machinery. They sure love and lionise their wheels. Start your exploratory at E Hayes and Sons. Operating since 1932, New Zealand's largest independent Hammer Hardware store boasts one of the nation’s private motorworks collections, headlined by the World's Fastest Indian motorcycle.
Yes, Burt Munro’s original 1920 Indian Scout. Amid the shelves of power tools, spanners, nuts and bolts, a vast array of vintage machinery displays pepper the store. The real, original motorbike is housed inside a glass cabinet, but there's a replica of the prop used in the film, that you can crawl into, while imagining blasting across Utah's Salt Flats. Remarkably, the E Hayes collection is free to admire. No purchase is necessary. No admission fees apply. How’s that for southern hospitality!
Strutting an entire block of Tay Street, a beautiful purpose-built Art Deco building boasts the jewel in Invercargill’s crown. Unstoppably engrossing, Bill Richardson’s Transport World houses the home-town collector’s lifelong passion for trucks and automobiles. After buying his grandfather’s 1933 International D1 in 1967, his abiding love-affair for big workhorses snow-balled. This mammoth museum doesn’t just gleam and groan with trucks, but classic cars, Kombis, domestic machinery and all manner of quirky gems.
There’s a vintage paddy-wagon from the Christchurch Police, circa 1925, retro paraphernalia by the truckload, vintage petrol bowsers, Invercargill’s first passenger bus, a vintage Foursquare truck and even the original yellow Mini from Goodbye Pork Pie. (I'm taking this bloody car to Invercargill!) The fire engine-red Texaco tanker is another star turn. This 1940 Dodge Airflow water tanker was restored by Bill so spectacularly, that legend has that that American oil executives from Texaco visited Invercargill to offer a blank check to Bill for “Tex the Tanker.” Bill said “No Deal.
The Ford collection is deliriously good, including 7 of the 8 pre-Model T production cars lustily displayed, dating back to 1904, along with some fine “Tin Lizzie (Model T) specimens. Bill died in 2005 but his daughter, Jocelyn, took up the reins, and it remains a beloved family owned and operated going concern, with ever-expanding collections. You could easily while away half a day within this gob-smacking storehouse of collectibles, which are so impeccably displayed.
Be sure to check out the wondrously-themed bathrooms, particularly the petrol pump replica handbasins. In the gents bathroom, you stand in front of a gleaming window overlooking the gathered crowds in the showroom floor. It’s one-way glass, I was assured.
You can further your engine fix at their sister exhibition, Classic Motorcycle Mecca, which sports an equally museum-worthy line-up of two-wheelers. Spread across two floors, the classic motorbike displays range from a 1902 Peugeot motorcycle to a 21st century Simms Corbin Custom, plus plenty of John Britten motorbikes. Just under a year ago, Transport World also opened New Zealand’s first heavy equipment playground. You can let rip and have a go driving heavy machinery, including bulldozers, excavators and skid steers in a giant gravel pit.
For a complete change of scenery, I headed to the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, where the runaway highlight is their Tuatarium. Home to about 100 of these worldly reptiles, spanning the age spectrum, the star of the show is the great patriarch, Henry. He’s roughly 120 years old, but doesn’t look a day over 20. Henry holds the world record for living in captivity. 46 years and counting. You may recall, on his last visit to New Zealand three years ago, Prince Harry meet his reptilian namesake.
For a memorable taste-sensation, hot foot it to Jane Stanton’s Seriously Good Chocolate Company, in Spey St. Her flavour range is fantastically inventive and undeniably patriotic. She designs chocolates that don’t head-blast people with a flavour hit straight away, but gradually creep up on you. Kind of like eating chilli. Her Kiwi chocolate flavours include Pohutukawa, Hokey Pokey, Pavlova, Kiwifruit, Manuka honey and Cheese Rolls.
She’s also dabbled with Bluff Oysters. Mayor Tim Shadbolt once took some of her experimental chocolate-dipped oysters to a food festival. She freely concedes they were an epic failure. Her latest venture is fusing wine flavours into chocolate using freeze-dried grapes, which has been a smash-hit. Order up some Rabbit Ranch Pinor Noir Marshmallow Chocolate bunnies. They are a party in your mouth.
Speaking of the famous Bluffies, the oyster season runs every year from March 1 to August 31, or when the quota has been caught. There's no fresher way to savour oysters than buying straight from a Bluff factory shop, or while parked up at the iconic Stirling Point sign post, overlooking the surly, heaving ocean of Foveaux Strait. I stopped off for a feed at Fowler’s Oysters, where you can buy them raw, or battered, fish and chip style. They also batter and fry lip-smacking Oyster Balls, based on an old Southlander’s recipe. I’ve always adored the delicacy, but the oysters from Fowler’s were unquestionably the greatest tasting Bluffies I have ever devoured.
If you’re hankering to wrap your lips around another Southland staple, muttonbird, make a beeline to Zookeepers Cafe on Tay St, Invercargill. The café does a great version of eggs benedict for breakfast, which includes the seabird. In honour of the city’s legendary mayor, it’s listed on the menu as “Eggs Shadbolt.” The muttonbird’s meat tastes very salty, quite pungent – certainly not a palate pleaser, in my book. But well worth trying.
Also situated on the broad thoroughfare of Tay St, just metres from Transport World, Colonial on Tay was my chosen roost in Invercargill. Offering spacious ground-floor motel units with unlimited free WiFi, full-equipped kitchen facilities and SKY TV, it was an excellent choice. My studio included under-floor heating, electric blankets and complimentary plunger coffee. Plus it’s pet-friendly.
I booked my accommodation through Booking.com who boast 56 diverse properties in Invercargill, plus an excellent filter highlighting where your four-legged travelling companions are welcome. Booking.com offers a diverse array of options from hotels and apartments to holiday homes and campsites. Whether you’re on the website or via the app, Booking.com is super easy to use with incredible deals and total flexibility, whether you need to amend or cancel your bookings. www.booking.com
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.