We’ve had a lovely lazy morning today – we’ve been getting up early every day to get on the road and get exploring, and we’ve stayed in DOC campsites for two nights with no electricity or showers, so last night we stayed in a lovely little campsite in Riverton – we’re the only ones here! So we had the place to ourselves, with a lovely big kitchen and TV lounge and hot showers – we stayed up late watching TV and Skyping Mum and Dad, and did some laundry, and cleaned the inside of the van a bit, and generally had a bit of a sort out. We’ve stayed in bed most of this morning – Chris went out early to put laundry in the drier and make a big plate of toast, so we sat in bed eating toast and watching as the sun burnt the mist away. We’ve got a lovely view over the sea now. We’re just getting packed up and showered, and then heading off to Te Anau next.
Catching up – we’ve spent a couple of days in the Catlins, stopping at every walking trail and waterfall and lookout point – it’s been lovely. The Department of Conservation here are really switched on with their signposting and information – the walking trails are generally really well kept and have got lots of information along the way, we’re really enjoying them! We went out to Nugget Point, and walked out to the lighthouse – brilliant walk, the last few hundred metres are along a walkway with drops off the sea both sides! On our way up there we passed a bird viewing hide at Roaring Bay, and read the signs that said yellow-eyed penguins nest on the beach there, and the best time to see them coming in is after 4pm. We carried on with our day, walked up to a beautiful waterfall called McLean Falls, walked around Lake Wilkie, stopped at the Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai which unfortunately was closed for winter, but looked very cool – lots of spinny whirry things – and then realised it was about 3pm and Chris suggested we go back to see the penguins! So we went back, and waited patiently (lots of other people popped their heads in, didn’t see anything, and left again!) and after about 40 minutes were rewarded with a little penguin surfing in on the waves and waddling up the beach – shortly followed by another – we saw about 8 in the end, really cool!
We had only planned to stay one night in the Catlins, but we wanted to see the Cathedral Caves which are only open at low tide, and when we went to look up tide tables we found out they were closed on Saturday, but open on Sunday at 8am. So we stayed at a DOC site in Papatowai (totally civilised – flushing loos and running water and everything!) and got up at 6 the next morning, and got to the gate to the path to the caves, and waited… and waited… and were joined by about five other cars… and eventually a lady showed up and very apologetically told us all that the sea was too rough to get to the caves, and we’d all have to come back another time!
So, we decided the Cathedral Caves weren’t meant to be, and we meandered out through the Catlins towards Invercargill, via a stop at Slope Point – the most Southerly point of the South Island – 20 minute walk through fields of sheep to a very dramatic view of the sea, and a little lighthouse. We walked back to the van, fired up the stove and had a late breakfast of BLTs, then drove on towards the main road. We drove past a tiny church in the middle of nowhere, and simultaneously realised it was Sunday and there were four or five cars outside – so we did a U-turn, and went and parked and wandered in – the service had started, there were six or seven people there, so we just sat down quietly at the back and were made very welcome. We chatted to everyone after the service and they loved that we’d just been driving past – they got out the visitors’ book and got us to sign it, and told us about their last English visitors (in 2006!) and gave us a few tips about where to head for next, which we duly followed, and went out to Waipapa Point to the scene of NZ’s biggest civilian shipwreck – awful story, a ship sank there over the course of a day, just offshore, and everyone on shore could see it happening and couldn’t get out there to help – 131 people died. Just awful. There’s a lighthouse there now, which was built in response to the wreck.
We carried on to Invercargill after that, which is the big city down South – we got out and had a walk around and found a cafe to sit and have a coffee and read the papers – but it’s just a city, really, lots of shops and cars and not very inspiring after all the scenery we’ve been driving through! We went to the supermarket and stocked up (apart from wine… weird licensing laws in Invercargill, no alcohol at supermarkets, you have to go to a liquor store!), and got petrol, and then drove down to Bluff and took a photo at the signpost there, and then drove to Riverton and settled in for the night.
So, that’s us up to date, and now we’re off into the wilderness again for a couple of days and probably won’t have Internet access again for a bit. So we’ll be back when we make it to Queenstown!