Southern Scenic Route to the Catlins
So you know how I said Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world? Well, the Southlands seem to be trying for that title as well, or at least the windiest, judging from the few days I spent there.
Coming from Milford Sound, I stopped at Te Anau for the night, drove onto the Southland region, which (as it says on the tin) is the region on the South Coast of the South Island. There's a rather nice Southern Scenic Route that went through the key points I was aiming for so along I went on it.
My first destination was the Clifden Caves, promising a bit of a random self-guided spelunking/potholing adventure. The i-site didn't know anything about it, although my NZ Frenzy guidebook rather usefully has GPS coordinates.
But as I was nearly there, a sign pointed me towards the "Clifden Suspension Bridge". In Bristol, we have the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, so I had to check out whether they looked anything alike.
What do you think?
Anyway, onward to the Clifden Caves.
Good thing for GPS coordinates, because the entrance was quite literally just a hole in the ground across from some cows in a field.
Inside it was rather cool as caves go, with various formations, including this funky one that made me felt like I was in some giant creature.
It had been raining a bit, so it was quite wet in the cave and I had to wade through a bit of water in some of the tunnels. This probably so made this underground pool rather difficult to get around. I had to cling to the wall and managed to successfully not fall in!
One of the most exciting things I heard near the end was the sounds of an underground waterfall in the caves. Sadly, it was on a branch off the main route that only experienced cavers with equipment could get to. If you do get to see it, please let me know.
Some other blogs also mention that there are glow-worms in the caves, although I didn't see any, despite switching my lights off at various points while I was in the caves, mainly for the novelty of being in complete darkness.
Anyway, about an hour later...
Back in into trusty campervan, and it was still before noon, so heading onwards on the Southern Scenic Route.
Driving through New Zealand's southernmost city of Invercargill, I then drove onto the town of Bluff, the southern most town in New Zealand. On the way there, the winds were really strong and it was a little scary keeping control of trusty campervan as I drove along onto the southern start of State Highway (SH) 1.
Anyway, in Bluff, I just wanted a quick look see, and the town itself didn't look too interesting and I didn't see anywhere to buy the tasty oysters that I tried at the Ortega Fish Shack in Wellington, so I headed up the hill onto the lookout point.
The wind was even more crazy and I was rocking away as I drove up, as well as struggling even to walk when I got out. But managed to get a panoramic shot, with a storm fast approaching.
Cue for a quick exit... followed by another few hours of through very strong winds and rain.
By the time I reached Curio Bay (my primary destination in the Catlins) it had gone 7 pm and completely dark, with no one at the campground office. Rather than stay at an empty campground, semi-exposed to the unrelenting winds, I checked onto the Rankers.co.nz website and found that I could 'freedom camp' at the nearby township of Waikawa, which was on a sheltered harbour.
Having driven about 350km that day (not to mention my underground adventure and battle with the elements) and there wasn't much to do for the evening so I just sorted a simple dinner in my campervan. I'm totally embracing the back to basics living.
The next morning, I awoke to a beautiful sunrise on the harbour.
I headed back to Curio Bay to try and see the yellowed-eyed penguins but had probably missed them heading out to see at sunrise.
Instead, I found myself watching the ridiculously powerful waves crashing against the cliff and tidal shelves, forming a mini waterfall from the pools as the waves retreated.
I was also taking a few photos of these two oystercatcher birds that seemed rather indifferent to my paparazzi actions...
Suddenly, they both just took off and it took me a few seconds to realise that a big wave heading right towards me. My own flight response kicked in and in the nick of time I threw myself up on a large rock and just avoided getting all wet. Note to self: check out what else is happening around outside of the camera lens view.
The penguins were due to come back to shore at sundown, so I went to do the Waipohatu Waterfall trek.
But before starting on the trail, first check out this old machine just in a corner near the start. It's random little curiosities like this at various places that give New Zealand's sights an edge.
Anyway, off to the waterfalls...
The trek itself was a rather nice rainforest style trek that I'm pretty used to.
Having come from the Southlands, the waterfalls themselves weren't overly impressive, but as they say, sometimes it's the journey and not the destination.
Daily exercise done, I headed back to Curio Bay and got there about half an hour before sundown.
What I couldn't see much that morning as the tide wasn't out, was the 'petrified' Jurassic forest from 180 million years ago - this is one of the most extensive and undisturbed examples in the world. The tree fossils were pretty cool, and you can actually see the tree rings in some of the stumps.
Darkness starting coming down pretty quick and I spotted a couple of yellowed-eyed penguins.
It felt pretty special seeing these beautiful birds in their natural habitat, but also nice that they were accustomed enough to human presence that they pretty much ignored us and carried on with their dusk-time activities. Waddle, waddle, waddle, hop, hop...
Given my very limited schedule, I had to push on and carry on driving up the coast.
I think I aimed for a campsite somewhere in the middle of the Catlins but when I got there everything had shut at 6 pm because it was winter and there didn't seem much point staying so I carried on driving thinking I would just stop when I got tired and find another campsite.
Then the storm hit.
First there was the heavy rain pelting against my campervan and the winds that continued to rock my campervan. This was followed by sleet and then light snow.
I pulled into a sheltered park by a boathouse on the Catlins Lake. Although there was a 'No camping' sign, I figured that 1) it was alright given the circumstances, and 2) no one else would be crazy enough to be out in this weather to tell me off anyway.
Next morning, as I was heading up the coast, I had a look see at Nugget Point Lighthouse, which was another postcard-pretty lighthouse.
I was probably more taken in by the view from the lighthouse of the massive 'boulders' in the sea, looking a bit like an aquatic Stonehenge.
I carried on through Dunedin to refuel and restock at the local supermarket, and then went to Fleur's Place in the seaside town of Moeraki. I had never heard of it, but apparently a while back, when Rick Stein was given a choice of going anywhere in the world, he chose to come to Fleur's Place.
My take on it? The fish was really nice and fresh, and the accompaniments were simple and tasty, but didn't hit perfection with me. Nonetheless, it's probably still worth a long-ish drive if you're in the area as it was a great way to dine on very fresh fish by the sea and the atmosphere is great as Fleur herself still goes around the restaurant taking orders and checking up on diners.
Since I like to be a little different, rather than spending time at the Moeraki boulders signposted from the main roads, I decided to instead check out the boulders at 'Shag Point' nearby.
Similar to the Moeraki ones, but these were on a beach behind some houses on the cliff that I had to clamber down a rather slippery (thanks to the recent rain) grass/dirt slope.
Back into the campervan, just in time too as the rain and wind starting coming in again.
Drive. Find campsite. Dinner. Chill. Sleep.
Tonight's stop (after about 350 km of driving) was at the Kurow Holiday Park. This place was seriously like something out of the 70s, but I'm all for retro, and give me a roaring wood fire and I am happy.
Well, that and my fickle mistress for the night... ;-)
Phew... that was a long and eventful three days.
Thanks if you're still with me.
Next: Mt Cook/Aoraki - magical
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