We got up on Boxing Day expecting it to be overcast but instead were honoured by the sun still hanging around. After a run and breakfast – and a quick stock up of Jalepenos as we ran out last night and planned fajitas for dinner tonight – we headed on our way, leaving Te Anau behind us onto the Southern ‘Scenic’ route.
We didn’t get very far though having decided to walk another little section of the Kepler Track which was only about 10km out of town. This little stretch was from Rainbow Reech to Shallow Bay and it was another fairly easy walk through the forest along side the river and then down onto Lake Manapouri, a lovely spot to have lunch before heading back and on our way.
The road worked its way through the farming land with hills and mountains around us until we got to the ‘Clifden Suspension Bridge’ built in the late 1800’s in the same style as the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol – apparently a claim to fame – not bad, but ours is better and it still has traffic going over it!
Back on the road we had planned on stopping for the night at Tautapere, apparently is the Sausage Capital of New Zealand, however whilst driving through it it was evident that the little piggies may have unfortunately left town so we continued on, trying to stop at a freedom camping spot at Monkey Island which was over-run with campervans, before finally stopping at Riverton/Aparima where we parked up at the RSA club. The club was closed, as was everything else – I guess that is Boxing Day for you – but we stayed anyway and it was incredibly tranquil apart from the rain that fell in spurts, literally!
The spurts of rain carried on until about 10:15am and then subsided enabling us to stay pretty dry whilst out walking round the headland. We had hoped to a bit of a loop back through the reserve but after just over an hour and a half we had got half way along the beach and couldn’t see a path inland (….. I had also made the stupid decision not to bring the sandwiches with us and we were getting a bit close to pushing ‘lunch’ one step too far) – so we turned back, retracing our steps. It was still a lovely walk though, beautiful, rugged coastline.
After being reunited with our lunch back at the motorhome we set off into Invercargill which although we hadn’t originally planned to stop in, worked out best on timings so we didn’t have to rush. We picked up a few bits at the supermarket and had a look around – finding a Kathmandu shop with a sale – eventually parking up at the Workingmans Club for the night which was huge by comparison to any we have stayed at previously.
Invercargill surprised us, possibly because it was between Christmas and New Year but it looked like it had lost its soul. A large number of shops were closed – many looked like they were gone for good – several had closing down signs in the window and a high number were second hand shops – very sad as it is a fairly big town for New Zealand.
Our night at the Workingmans club was quiet though and I had a lovely run round Queens Park in the morning with an unexpected sight….. Emu’s! They obviously keep them in their Avery but as they are very similar to the extinct Moa which I have taken an interest in, I did do a double take when I passed them!
Leaving Invercargill we continued on our last Southern stretch down to Bluff to hit the Southern most point of the South Island.
Parked up (and with sandwiches in hand this time) we had a lovely circular walk up to Bluff Hill which provided great views in all directions before coming back down to Stirling Point again, just a shame that it was slightly hazy as the views out over Stewart Island weren’t as clear as they could have been.
Happily walked, we continued on the ‘Southern Scenic Route’ into the Catlins, which I want to say is a Nature Reserve but I don’t think it is as a whole, it is just an area of the South of the South Island. The Catlins has an outstanding amount of unspoilt beauty, possibly something to do with the huge amount of unspoilt forest which provides everything from Waterfalls to Beaches as well as Sealions to Penguins… that is if you believe them as we still haven’t seen the Yellow Eyed Penguins yet, although to be fair they are rare with apparently only roughly 300 surviving couples.
We stayed the night at Niagara Falls NZMCA …. and yes, there was a little waterfall alongside it. Apparently the surveyor who named them was having a little joke as the waterfalls are probably better described as a few boulders with water flowing over them … to be fair they were pretty and a fair few people stopped to have a look but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit them!
It was a good stopover though (apart from the sandflies which again appear to have bitten me to death) which meant that we could be up and get to Curio Bay at a decent time which was what I was most looking forwards to ….
Yellow Eyed Penguins, Sea lions, Hector Dolphins and 170 million year old petrified forest …. well the Penguins, Sea Lions and Dolphins didn’t turn up but I can confirm that the petrified forest was still there ….
The long line that you can see going from the bottom right of the above photo up through the center is a tree trunk … the only known fossilised wood. It is the nesting season for the Yellow Eyed Penguins so they are around (apparently) but generally they are seen at dusk, so unfortunately it is unlikely that we will get a chance to see them as we have only just past the longest day over here – dusk would be around 21:30.
Leaving Curio Bay we did a few pit stops along the route as there are so many places to go and see. We tried to get to Cathedral Caves but it wasn’t low tide so had to pass them by, we did however do a quick stop at Lake Wilkie which was slightly more reflective than our last attempt at Lake Mathieson but still nothing to write home about, however the Florence Hill Lookout did provide pretty spectactular views.
Slightly further round and we stopped for a walk through the woodlands and along the beach at Papatowai before having lunch … they do put picnic benches in some wonderful places!
It always helps when it is low tide as the textures and colours are that much more distinctive but the beach was beautiful and practically empty, you could walk for miles.
Leaving the beaches behind us, we got back into the motorhome and headed to see the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand… the Purakaunui Falls. It was a short detour on a dirt track but to be fair, they probably are the best ones we have seen yet in New Zealand – if you discount the ones in Doubtful Sound that is!
With enough stops and a little ‘Sightseeing’d Out’, we headed North on another slightly longer dirt track to get to the Catlins River DOC campsite which really is in the middle of nowhere, up a valley with a fair few sand flies!
We haven’t had any phone coverage for a couple of days so we had no way of booking the site to ensure that it wasn’t a wasted journey – thankfully however there was ample space. We paid our fees into the little box ($8 pppn) and headed out up one of the tracks which climbed up into the hills within the forest. We had only wanted to stretch our legs as we planned the bigger walk in the morning but it would have been nice to get some decent views after 45 minutes climbing … apparently we weren’t worthy and needed to do more as we only got a glimpse on the way back down which wasn’t really photo-worthy.
Although it was windy and with a little rain, it was very warm and close which didn’t help the sleep or the bites from itching but it was a very quiet location. We got up at a reasonable time and headed out to tackle the Catlins River Walk. We had planned to do the return loop which was 24km but one of our neighbouring campers told us that part of the track was closed and also that the track took a lot longer than we had expected as the footing was complicated … loads of tree roots coupled with a lot of uneven climbing up and down. We were happy though and just walked out until we got to what seemed to be a good point and turned around and came back, doing a total of just over 5 hours.
It was probably one of the nicest – albeit complicated – river walks we have done. It just would have been nice to have been able to take our eyes off of the floor for more than 5 seconds at a time without fearing a broken ankle…. or falling over the edge!
Back at the campsite at a reasonable time, we packed everything up and headed for Owaka to empty/refill before a quick detour via Nugget Point. Nugget Point was another possible viewing point for Penguins and Seals …. we got the seals at least but we are definately hitting the wrong time of the day for the Penguins… either that or they are a figure of their imagination!
The views out beyond the lighthouse were fantastic despite the fog coming in and taking over the coastline which was a shame as the drive north along the coastal road was stunning.
Last stop of the day was the A&P Showground at Balclutha which was $10 a night. We were the only people there which was surprising as it was a great little quiet spot on the edge of town. It rained a fair bit over night, briefly stopping at about 7:15am, enough to lure us out – me to go for a run and Keith to do his exercise – only to let the heavens open again for about ten minutes to give me a good soaking …. keith managed to find a sheltered spot – oh well, the clothes needed a wash anyway!
After a quick trip to the Supermarket to get a few essentials – wine, beer, etc – we headed North stopping at Tunnel Beach for lunch and a walk.
Tunnel Beach used to be part of the Cargill family land – a local politician in the 1870’s – and he commissioned a tunnel to be built for his children to go down through the rock to the beach. The white Sandstone rock is beautiful just like the Jurassic coast in the UK and the tunnel is still there, leading you to the following beach and views…
Heading north again we passed through the outskirts of Dunedin before wiggling our way round the coastal road of the Otago Peninsula until I stupidly decided to take a right turn and head up into the clouds to have a look at Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle. Unfortunately we couldn’t see much further than about 50ft in front of us so although I am sure that the castle itself is lovely, the views would have been spectacular on a clear day so we decided to give it a miss today. We continued on the ‘high’ road, wiggling our way North until we re-joined the coastal road, passing through a little village called Portabello before finding our little field out the back of a hall to stop in for the night. Apart from the seagulls, birds, one other bus and the possible Sealions, Albatrosses and Penguins I have a feeling it is going to be a very quiet night!!
We did jump on the bikes and cycled up towards the Royal Albatross Center but my back is playing up on the bikes so we needed to turn back.
I know a little early but Happy New Year everyone. 2018 seems to have flown by and not only did we have an amazing summer in the UK, we also said goodbye to Mika and gained a new member of our family – Hattie, with whom we are looking forward to lots of new adventures in 2019… once we are done with NZ that is!!