Southern Shore of New Zealand
01.01.2011 15 °C
As we continue our southward journey in New Zealand, our next city to explore was Invercargill. This is the largest town we’ve been through in the south island save Richmond. Our first stop in this city, as usual, is the visitors information centre. We have found that the people in these information centres are an invaluable source of information plus they have toilets!! In the visitors information centre in Invercargill they have a delightful small museum that has the great bonus of being free. They showed samples of antique furniture, provided information on fur seals, sea lions, penguins and albatrosses, and also explain the story of a ship wreck that occurred in the 1800’s around Auckland Island (which is south of South Island NZ and nowhere near Auckland the city on North Island). One woman and fourteen men survived the shipwreck and had to survive for 18 months in cold, harsh, and previously uninhabited conditions before they were rescued. In addition to these exhibits they also have a live exhibit of the lizard like animal that is native to NZ, the Tuatara. Since we will not be in areas where Tuatara currently live, it was great to see this exhibit. Something that we found very interesting in Invercargill is that almost all of the stores were closed. (Grocery, petrol and large department stores were open). We found out that ‘the Kiwi way’ is that the week between Christmas and New Years is a holiday week thus the reason why the town seemed like a ghost town. Actually, we rather liked this idea. What great family time this enables for Kiwi families! In addition, there is very limited boxing day sales or after Christmas sales. There just is not the same consumer ‘push’ around Christmas that we see in North America.
The same day we arrived in Invercargill we drove to Bluff, which is New Zealand’s oldest continuously inhabited European community. The land had been purchased from the Maori in 1824 and has had inhabitants ever since. Bluff is also the end of highway 1 which starts at the northern tip of the North Island. Being in Bluff was a special moment for us for it signified that we have travelled from the extreme top of the main land NZ to the extreme bottom of the main land NZ. It is quite an adventure completing a trip like this and being at this southern point made us feel a bit of pride in accomplishing such a feat.
Looking out on the Southern Ocean from Bluff; View at End of Hwy 1; Sign post at the bottom of Hwy 1.
After one night in a unit in Invercargill we headed east to an area on the southern end of the south island called the Catlins (kiwis say ‘Kate-Lynns’) which is national park. Here we camped for three nights at McLean Falls Holiday Park. On our drive to this camp spot we did do a side trip to Waipapa Point which has a light house that is sheathed in two layers of kauri and rimu . These native NZ woods are quite durable and, at the time the lighthouse was made, cheap to obtain so it was a good choice for protecting the light house buildings. After setting up we went to the Cathedral Caves which is only about 5 minutes from the campground.
Cathedral Caves; Cathedral Caves Again; Back to the Car; Looking out of the Caves; One of the Openings; Down the Coast; Gwen and Paul
Our first full day in the Catlins saw us travelling to Nugget Point after a quick gas-up in Papatowai. The point features a light house on a cliff with a viewing platform. From the viewing platform we saw many New Zealand Fur Seals on the rocks 30m below and in the distance, a small number of dolphins leaping out of the water. From the lookout you can see interesting rock formations that are similar to the pancake rocks we blogged about on the west coast, except that these rock formation have their layers running vertically.
Ayden and Claire at Nugget Point; Nugget Point RockFormations
Hopping back in the kiwi car we headed off to Surat Bay. The beach on this bay is wide, very long, and has beautiful views of the ocean as well as the surrounding country side. Surat bay is known to have sea-lions, so we thought we’d better try to see the swimming mammals. As we arrived on the beach, one lady on the way back to the carpark said that if you go about a kilometre down the beach around the corner there were lots of sea-lions. Excited, we started off with a quick pace. The view of the bay was lovely, but we had wildlife sighting on our minds so we kept up the pace. Once around the corner we saw a large smooth wide beach, but no obvious sign of sea-lions. We headed to the other end to see if our vision is just not that acute. Have you ever walked toward a destination, only to find that 10 minutes later, it does not appear to be any closer? Well this is what we experienced and there were thoughts of turning back, but we also did not want to leave without being sure, so we walked on, and on, and . . . Perseverance does often pay off as Gwen and Paul saw a bull sea-lion, that we first thought was a log of the driftwood variety. It was probably over 3m long and close to 1m in width. Walking a little further, we discovered a few more sea-lions including two that were playing around in the water. Viewing these huge mammals sleeping and frolicking was a delight for they were in their own natural habitat doing what they love to do. Paul timed the walk back as he was sure it was more than 1 kilometre down the beach. At a good pace it took us 45 minutes to get back to the carpark. His estimate is about 4.5km one way. So not only did we get to see some amazing wildlife, but we got in a good bit of exercise to!
Surat Bay; Life is Hard.; Surat Bay Again
On the way back to the Whistling Frog (our campsite---the name always makes us thing of folks at the frog house in Georgetown!) we stopped off at the Puraukanui Falls. This is a 10 minute walk through forest that reminded us of many of the walks in the Corromandel Pennisula. It was a 10 minutes well spent...you will probably agree from the pictures below.
Friday morning we headed to the west end of the Catlins and visited Curio Bay. This was a fantastic trip for seeing interesting things. The bay has a 170million year old petrified forest. This is beach where you can see trees that were knocked down in a flood and buried almost immediately. They absorb silica from ash before they rot. The silica gradually “fills” the tree and takes on its shape and the wood then rots away underground over many years and leaves fossilized remains of the trees. After touching and photographing these trees we then turned our attention to two sea-lions. One was lying on the beach while the other was swimming and playing in the water nearby. We were within 10 m or the large beasts. After this we thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to see the worlds rarest penguin?” Low and behold heading 300m down the beach we had the amazing opportunity to see and photographed two yellow-eyed penguins. what beautiful creatures! The yellow-eyed penguins are about 45cm long (a foot and a half). There are only 300 left in the world according the signs posted near the beach. We don’t know how long ago that figure was determined, but regardless we were lucky to see two of them in the wild.
170 million year old log; Gotta Touch It!; At the Sea Lion Around; Standing on a Petrified Forest; Yellow Eyed Penguin, Curio Bay; Another Yellow Eyed Penguin; How Ya Going?; Not Bad, How You Going?
You might think that that was a lot of wildlife, but we weren’t done yet. 1 km down the coast is a bay called Porpoise Bay. This bay is known for the Hector dolphins that swim around in the sheltered waters of the South Sea. People say if you wade into the water, often the dolphins will come and swim around you. Since it was about 14 degrees and, as the Kiwis like to say, “windy as ”, none of us wanted to get dressed in our togs to see if this would happen. Instead we parked our car facing the bay and ate our lunch while spotting numerous dolphins swimming in the bay. Cool as!!!
In the Catlins internet access has been a rather large challenge. We had heard that in some of the small i-sites in the tiny towns you can get dial up internet access. Anxious to book a tour at the Cadbury Chocolate factory in Dunedidn, our next major city on our tour, we stopped at the next i-site we saw. Although we had no luck accessing internet at the i-site, a gentleman named Jim overheard Gwen’s request for internet and said we could use his computer at his home across the road. Craving internet access and chocolate Gwen said sure. We headed over and Paul decided he should go in the house with Gwen to make sure Gwen would be safe. Gwen got on the computer and Paul looked around and counted 4 rifles and 2 handguns mounted on the wall. Clearly, the laws are different in NZ than in Canada concerning the storage of weapons of mass destruction!! Jim seemed like a nice old fellow and not even once tried to go for his weapons, so Gwen merrily emailed and applied for a booking of the Cadbury Chocolate factory. Content, we bid Jim farewell and took off for home. Along the way back to the campground, we decided to drop into Niagara Falls, NZ since we had to drive past it. Guess what? It was raining, so after waiting in the car for 10minutes Paul donned his gumboots and raincoat and made a dash for the falls. Once there he was sad to see that it had rained so much in the past week, that the river flooded and the falls actually only fell 15cm. (Probably only fall about 1m if no rain.) Bit of a disappointment, but had to try it. Upon arrival at our campground we saw our tent half fallen over and one of the awning tent poles had been bent like a bow. We are not kidding when we say it is VERY windy in the Catlins!!! Other than the bent pole, there was no damage, not even rain in the tent! Paul managed to straighten out the tent pole so we are good to go! Our last adventure of the day was a visit to McLeans Falls just 3km from the campground. It was a nice 20 minute rainforest walk to the wonderful falls. These falls cascaded down 10m to an intermediate spot where it cascaded another 3m and ran over many rocks at the bottom. A very nice view and the kind of walk that pays off well for the short effort it takes to get to the end.
McLeans Falls Gwen and Paul; McLeans Falls
This day ended with us bringing in the New Year in a unique way for us...we are in a tent, in a different country surrounded by nice strangers some of whom are generous enough to play their music so loud that everyone in the campground can hear it!! Don’t worry; this was quickly put to an end. So here are cheers to fond memories of the year 2010 and wishes for a new year that brings many new memories to cherish. Happy New Year!!!