29 March 2012

Southern Scenic [The Catlins, New Zealand]

"The Catlins is a major highlight of the Southern Scenic Route. Situated off the beaten track, the Catlins encompasses the area between Kaka Point and Fortrose. You will journey through rural heartland and podocarp forests, past rugged coastlines, hidden lakes and stunning waterfalls. The natural landscapes are enthralling and the wildlife is extraordinary"... so says the Official website of the Catlins. And their description is pretty spot on. The Catlins packs a real punch; a small but diverse and beautiful area of New Zealand, with some really amazing scenery.

A few of the main sights; the Cathedral Caves and the petrified forest, are only accessible at low tide. Unfortunately for us low was at 8am or something ridiculous, so by the time we got up and got moving we had missed it. But no major drama, we just decided to spend two days in the Catlins and enjoy things at a more leasurly pace. Just as well we did, though, as there is a lot to see!

Our first stop was Nugget Point; a rocky section of land which juts out into the ocean. On the very tip, along a winding path, lies a white lighthouse. And beyond that a fierce ocean dotted with large, protruding rocks. Pretty freakin' cool.

We then visited Surat Bay with the hope of seeing some Elephant Seals, but had no luck. I think maybe because of the stormy weather? I'm also blaming the weather as the reason we didn't see any Hectors Dolphins down the coast further at Curio Bay. That or maybe we were just unlucky. Either way this area is full of wildlife, and on a good day it is (apparently) quite amazing.

Having missed out on the low tide attractions, we decided to hit Jacks Blow-hole, obviously most blowee at high tide. There was a decent trek to get there, but it provided spectacular views out over the coast, so really worth it. The blow-hole itself was OK. If I told you that it was 200m from the shoreline, or that it is 55m deep, 144m long and 68m wide, you might be mislead into thinking it's AWESOME! But actually seeing it; it's kinda dull. Even though the sea was crazily rough, there was no blow coming from the blow-hole. False advertising.

There are plenty of walking tracks and waterfalls in the Catlins, and we visited lots of them. Here's a few photos for ya'all... Just FYI, my favorite was McLean Falls

At around 8pm that evening we made our way to Cathedral Cave. There are two MASSIVE holes in a vertical rock face, which you can walk in to for about 30 or 40 meters. There is not a lot in the back, but we had fun exploring. There were two drawbacks - the cheap buggers charge you $5 each just to drive up the road (or am I the cheap bugger for complaining?) and the walk down (and therefore back up) to the caves is very steep and very long.

That evening we camped at the DOC site in Papatowa, about 15kms back up the road from the caves. We got a relatively early night and rose early the following morning to catch the low tide.

At the southern end of the Catlins is Curio Bay, which would have been a beautiful spot had it not been for the horrendous weather. The wind was crazy, and the sea; just plain scary! But it did make for some cool photos. The main reason for stopping in Curio Bay was the petrified forest - basically the remains of a forest that was covered in volcanic ash and turned to stone. I don't really know why I thought rocky trees might be interesting? ...it wasn't. The area was kinda cool, with a rock shelf keeping the ocean at bay until the tide slowly crept in, and enormous (mutant!) seaweed washing around in the waves. There was one thing that totally redeemed the petrified forest... while wandering around we spotted a penguin making his way out into the ocean for the day. He must have slept in or something as the rest of his clan was long gone; they usually head out to go fishing just after sunrise. It was really cool to watch him make his way down the waters edge, especially jumping over the obstacles of the petrified forest. Julia got a little video, check it out.

So that wraps up the Catlins. From there we headed down to Invercargill and Bluff, but more on that later.

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