07 Feb and we’re heading into The Catlins area. Out to the coast again and first stop was Kaka Point – lunched at a lovely picnic area overlooking the sea. No Camping signs everywhere along the roadside.
Onward to Nugget Point – we’ve been there before and it‘s still a long dusty gravel road in to the carpark. It’s a wonder it hasn’t been sealed by now seeing as it is such a major tourist attraction.
Walked to the lighthouse – lots of photo stops along the way – cliffs, rocky shore, and seals.
Impressive new viewing platforms at the lighthouse and we lingered enjoying the views. The big ominous clouds that have been following us reappeared but thankfully the rain held off for our visit.
Drove on to Owaka and thence to a free camp spot along the shore of Owaka Lake for the night. Nice spot.
Returned to Owaka in the morning then back to Tunnel Hill to walk along the old rail route through the hand-built tunnel – brickwork up and over the arching ceiling quite impressive.
U-turned back towards Owaka and took the side road to Newhaven near the river mouth. Finally found a place to park and went for a walk down the estuary to Surat Bay, keeping a look out for sea lions that rest in the sand dunes here. Sure enough we did see one! But when asking around no-one else had seen any more further along the beach, so we returned to the truck for lunch.
Next point of call was Pounawea on the other side of the estuary. Beautifully ‘manicured’ lawns and park areas along the water frontage. Went to look at an old ‘scow’ boat lying mouldering in the estuary – the walk continues around the headland in a loop but after a glorious morning, it was raining and miserable again, so we headed back to our lakeside camp of last night.
A slow start next day but eventually we set off for Jacks Bay, looking at a couple of other listed camping areas along the way. Did the walk to Jack’s Blowhole…got there and realised it is another place we‘ve visited before. The track in has been changed – it used to cross more open farmland. No holes ‘blowing’ today, however, the sea is actually very calm and despite being high tide there were not enough big swells moving through the caves into the chasm to make an impact. Even so it‘s still an impressive sight looking down into the void.
Back for lunch and I was lucky enough to spot a seal lion surfing into the beach on a wave – it was like a black torpedo in the green curve of the breaker. When it ran out of water it practically ‘ran’ up the beach and settled in the soft sand at the edge of the beach. Where was the camera when I needed it?
We considered overnighting here but we couldn’t find a flat enough spot in the designated area so decided to head back to Hina Hina Hall that we‘d seen earlier in the day. A quiet night with only one other motorhome for company.
Back to Owaka township in the morning to fill with fresh water and drain the grey water tank. Then visited the Info Centre and also paid a small fee to look around the museum. Was very interesting – shipwrecks, rail line history, logging, early settlers, military and general memorabilia. Several videos and photo clips to watch. Neville tells me he’s now ‘museumed out’…we’ll see!
Left town and drove to the Purakaunui Falls carpark for lunch, then walked to view the falls. These falls feature in heaps of postcards and publications advertising The Catlins area – but they obviously take the photos in the winter when there is plenty of water in the river to cascade over the whole area of the rockface. Still a pretty area though and a nice bushwalk.
Spent the night at a nearby DOC camp at Purakaunui Beach – lots of people camping there but a large area so plenty of room for all. Lovely beach, tall colourful cliffs and a high viewpoint for photos.
Raced out of the camp in the morning on the heels of another vehicle so that we wouldn’t meet any oncoming cars on a blind corner along the narrow road. Strategy worked and we were soon back on the Scenic Highway. Stopped a little further south to walk to the Matai Falls and the Horseshoe Falls, just a little further up the track. Both picturesque but once again water flow was pretty low.
Drove onward to Papatowai and stopped at Picnic Domain for lunch. Afterwards we went for a walk along the beach to some rocks near the headland where fossils have been found – we had a good look, didn’t see anything but the tide was coming in so maybe they were already covered by water. The return walk took us through a thick forest area back to the Domain.
A DOC camp here at Papatowai so that was our resting place for the night – a nice spot with lots of trees and bushes separating areas with well tended lawns. It had a big kitchen area for backpackers to use and a toilet block, however, the toilet block was one of the dirtiest I’ve seen in a while – didn’t look like it had been cleaned for weeks! Just as well we have our own ‘facilities’.
Before moving out next morning we nipped down a short path from the camp to look at the ancient Rata Trees growing along the estuary shoreline – they get wet’ feet when the tide comes in but it doesn’t appear to harm them.
On the road again, stopped at Florence Lookout for a view over Tautuku Beach then onward to walk to Lake Wilkie. A little boardwalk over one arm of the lake – nice reflections on the surface but a bit ‘ripply’ today.
Continued along the Scenic Highway – bypassed the Cathedral Caves as it‘s ‘spring tides’ at the moment and we heard that the water levels are too high to walk into the caves. So the next stop was at McLean Falls. A longer walk to see them but well worth the effort. They are the highest falls in the area and this time there was a lot of water coming over the 22m drop. Spent some time waiting to get some good photos – young people climbing all over the rocks taking selfies, selfies and more selfies!! But it was an impressive area to sit and wait and marvel over the force of the water passing by and continuing down over more and more rockfalls.
Back to the main road, then turned left towards Niagara. There‘s a Club Park there almost next to Niagara ‘Falls’. Name is a local joke as the water is just a flow over rocks that changes the water level from the estuary – the early settlers couldn’t take boats upstream any further from this point so they had to offload here – so the saying was “it might as well be the Niagara Falls” and the name stuck.
Drove to nearby Waikawa and found a Council freedom camp there overlooking the estuary – decided to stay there for the night. Later we walked up to the local settlement – not much there but a local museum…oh well we might as well have a look inside! Displays telling the story of a once bustling port town and I enjoyed looking at the early settler family photos on the walls, the old costuming, who married who and whom; which made the museum more ‘personal’ to the locals. By the time we got back to ‘camp’ the area had pretty much filled up around us with ‘sleeping quarters’ of all shapes and sizes!
Next day we continued on to Porpoise Bay and parked on top of some cliffs overlooking rugged cliff scenes and looking south towards Curio Bay. A few people were swimming in the Bay so we stopped and saw a few of the resident pod of Hectors Dolphins cruising in the distance. Apparently they often come in close and interact with people in the water, but no such luck today.
On to Curio Bay where there is an ancient fossil forest of trees and ferns from the Jurassic period 180 million years ago fused into the rocks. They become accessible at low tide – tree trunks lying on their sides where they fell, clusters of stumps sticking upright – a fascinating walk around the rock pool shelves.
Back up the stairs and across the road from the carpark there was a short walk through a ‘goblin’ forest which was also interesting – we wondered if this was what the forest preserved on the rocks could have looked like.
We then struck a horrible corrugated gravel road to Haldane and thence out to Slope Point which is the most ‘southern’ part of mainland NZ. It’s actually 7 kms further south than Bluff! So much for the saying “from North Cape to Bluff”. You walk across a farmers property to a Geodetic Marker and a signpost that points to the Equator and the South Pole.
Headed back to Haldane and Otara then out to Waipapa Point to look at the oldest ‘wooden’ lighthouse left in NZ. It was built in 1884 after the passenger steamer SS Tararua struck a reef offshore on 29 April 1881 and 131 lives were lost (only 20 survived). This is the largest loss of life from a civilian shipwreck in NZ. There are nice picnic areas and pathways around the lighthouse – plenty of visitors and a tour bus pulled in while we were there. It’s known as a sea lion viewing area and ‘surprise’ there were two ‘huge’ ones resting on the beach covered with sand that they flick over themselves to protect their skin from the sun. Cameras were clicking like mad!
We spent the night at Fortrose at a free camping area along the tidal inlet of Toetoes Harbour. Lots of campers taking advantage of the ‘invitation’. We took a photo near the Golf Course of bushes growing almost horizontally evidence of how fierce the winds are most of the time here. We have been lucky during our journey down the coast that the winds have been westerlies so the seas have been calm and cliff watching has meant we could stand upright. It hasn’t exactly been hot and very ‘summery’ but we got to see the places we wanted to without getting wet and the days the sun did come out it was magic. So as we leave Fortrose it marks the end of our travels through The Catlins.
(23 Feb) Big discussion in the morning – do we head straight to Invercargill or not? Out with the maps and we settled on doing a loop up to Gore, then Lumsden and around the Winton area. Took a back road to Wyndham then Edendale where there is a huge Fonterra Processing Plant. Now back on SH1, we turned north to Mataura and thence to Gore. At last a bigger town and bigger supermarkets and better prices. Decided to stay at the Gore A&P Showgrounds – only $5/night per van without power. Showers available for an extra $3 donation. It was a popular place.
It rained most of the night and continued throughout the next day. We stayed put to have some ‘time out’. Caught up on emails and some reading and watched people coming and going. At least the rain was washing off some of the dust and dirt from the motorhome.
Moved out next day and drove to nearby Dolomore Park where there are lots of walking tracks and a camping area. Still showery so didn’t linger and continued on to Mandeville. Stopped beside the Vintage Aircraft Exhibit where there was an old Steam Engine outside on display – took a photo but decided to give the planes a miss for another day.
Travelled through Riversdale and on to Lumsden to spend the night at the NZMCA Park there. Bought our weekly ‘fix’ of fish’n’chips’ at the township. Had more rain in the evening and even some thunder and lightning for good measure.
Next day we drove to Winton and then continued on to Otautau. Spent the night at a free spot just south of there at an Arborteum Domain. Went for a walk through the park the next morning – some of the trees were planted in the 1950’s. Land was originally a farm that was confiscated during the war so a flax processing mill could be built here. It closed and the land was given to the Forestry. They planted lots of specimen trees to see which ones grew best in the Southland conditions. Now the Council are in charge and it’s a Domain they are continuing to develop with new plantings and pathways for all to enjoy.
Drove back to Winton via Fairfax where there was a display of old rail carriages and an engine that you could walk around – photo stop.
Turned east at Winton (passing through “Browns”) to check out the Dunsdale Picnic/Camping Ground – a really big area of mown lawns with water on tap and 2 toilet blocks.
A small river with a 1 hour walkway that follows the riverbank upstream to another footbridge and then back to camp down the other side. A pretty walk, thick forest covered with hanging strings of moss on the branches, some large trees and even a small waterfall about 5 mins from the start. It was a bit off the beaten track and not many campers there – but well worth a visit just for a picnic and the walk.
It rained overnight and the morning was pretty cold so we put the heater on to warm up over breakfast.
We drove into Invercargill (29 Feb) to spend a few days getting chores done – refuelling, replenishing supplies, ‘house’ cleaning, doing the laundry, maintenance chores, haircuts etc. etc. We checked into the Amble On Inn Holiday Park at the edge of town – we made a good choice as it had the cleanest and best amenities we have ever encountered at a van park. I even saw the owner doing a second ‘clean’ of the bathrooms in the early evening to keep things spotless. We will certainly be recommending it to others in our travels.