I've been thinking a lot about Invercargill these past two days.
With the onset of Christmas holidays we've been able to take the time to explore much more than we do otherwise in our weekends - which, at least for the moment, tend to give us just enough time to heal, but not really enough time to enjoy our surroundings to the fullest as, in case I haven't been clear enough earlier, we've been tired a lot. Moving houses with small kids can be gruelling, and setting up life in a new place with small kids can be just as gruelling, even if there isn't househunting involved.
But I digress.
This past week we've moved around Invercargill, exploring places at our own leisure and I've kept thinking to myself how wonderfully lots there is actually to do.
Please understand that I don't say it lightly. For all the marketing-type information I read up on prior to us moving here, I still expected the place to feel pretty average to me. I knew that I would probably grow to like it, just as I did with Christchurch, but I didn't expect to actually feel the way I am feeling right now, which is, in a nutshell, impressed.
Yesterday we drove down Sandy Point peninsula which on Google Earth looks about this:
It's that blob of land sandwiched between a river and the ocean at the forefront.
On the way to our spot at the beach, we passed:
* a designated bike park with jumps and trails,
* a designated forest with trails for riding horses,
* several boat, raft and kayaking clubs,
* hiking trails,
* a golf course, a football field,
* a shooting range etc
I mean, there was even an area for training sled dogs. Here, have a look at the last page of their brochure, it lists all the activities run in the area - I'm not making this up.
We were driving past and I said to The Man, "I didn't know Invercargill even had all this stuff," and he replied with, "Me neither."
It made me think about all the other things I've thought about, man, I didn't know Invercargill even had this.
A large swimming centre with several pools and recreational facilities such as sauna, water slide, kids' area etc. To those interested, kayak polo classes are available, in addition to all sorts of other aqua zumba and whatever else they do in the pool...
A designated gymnastics hall.
A publicly funded, free-to access aviary and zoo.
An adventure high-wire course.
There's also things that I take somewhat for granted in a modern town: skateparks, fenced-off dog exercise areas, museums, children's playgrounds. Being a district centre there is also a large hospital and other "perks" that come with being the main servicing area for such a large block of land.
Bottom line is, unlike Queenstown which is an exciting! place to visit but not necessarily such a wonderful place to live in, Invercargill has started to feel like a nice place to live in. More and more I am finding that it caters for such a variety of needs and interests that regardless of what my kids will get interested in, there will be a way for them to get involved in it, and I myself am already part of two writers groups, will start part-time study soon (also, publicly funded!), about to buy a house we will probably be able to pay for comfortably and just generally feeling rather upbeat.
Yeah, okay, weather sucks and so far it doesn't even feel like it's summer yet with the amount of cold wind and rain that's been getting around. Our hazelnut tree has actually decided that winter is coming and she has shed a lot of her leaves, which prompted us to bring her into the shelter of the house a bit more. Fortunately even the locals are saying that the weather is shocking, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that this is not a norm, because if it is, I will most probably never need singlets in my wardrobe, unless it's for indoor use.
Another thing I have noticed, though I am not sure if the impression's correct, is that - I think - Invercargill has decided on a different tourism demographic than the nearby adventure "capitals" of Queenstown and Wanaka are drawing in.
Rather than trying to "compete" with them and creating adrenalin-fuelled adventure activities which, to be honest, will probably never stand on the same leg as Queenstown due to its topography alone, Invercargill has put funds towards developing things that attract 50-60 year olds instead.
You know, as in, the people whose children have (finally!) left home and who are now free to do things for themselves and have the money to do so.
There is a large transport museum which has such a variety of done-up vintage cars that to the men entering its doors (where they will probably spend hours!) they should give a few clean napkins to go, so that they can, you know, clean up the mess when they're done, if you get my drift.
Next to the transport museum there is also a motorcycle museum dedicated entirely to everything motorcycle related. (And that's in addition to hosting several motorcycle events that are already drawing in people from all over the country, kind of like Warbirds over Wanaka bring in aviation-enthusiasts world over.)
I walked down main street the other day when a large group of those motorcycle enthusiasts were parked out next to a restaurant, all decked out in fancy-looking gear and starting to dig in to their main meals, and I thought, well, kind of makes sense, doesn't it. These people, unlike backpackers of Queenstown who leave large chunks of money on all things adventure-related but keep their living costs to bare minimum (hence the abundance of hostels where you can bunk 6 people a room), Invercargill's motorcycle and vintage car lovers stay in proper hotels, eat out at proper restaurants and probably, per capita, leave a good chunk of money in a town that seems to very much appreciate it.
It's an eye-opening experience to see it and to start to understand the dynamics of what feeds such a town in the bottom of the world where winds whip trees into diagonally-shaped creatures.
Which, by the way, is why even before I've researched how much it would cost, on average, to replace windows in our new house or to put in ventilation, I've read up on what sorts of hedging plants would survive the winter here.
Just saying. Because, man!, we would need good hedging if we are ever to grow a garden here. Jesus!