Deciding to make the most of our last free weekend before the ski season kicked off, Zara (a friend from work) and I decided to check out the Catlins which is a region of beautiful coastline and wildlife filled bays stretching from Waipapa Point in Southland to Nugget Point in South Otago.
We left after work on Friday and drove to Invercargill and stayed with friend's for the night. Having loaded up the car the next morning with supplies as we weren't sure when we would find civilisation again, we set off along the coast. In a way the drive is a bit like the Great Ocean Road in Australia, but it's far more remote in New Zealand, most roads are unsealed, and there aren't so many tourists. We spent all day Saturday exploring these unsealed tracks and coastline, stopping off at Waipapa Point where we pulled into a layby to take some photos, and climbed out of the car only to be greeted by some noisy Sea Lions playing in the sand dunes! We then drove onto Slope Point, Curio Bay, Porpoise Bay, and ended up at Papatowai for the night. We had booked into 'Hilltop Backpackers' but were told that the heating wasn't working very well so they said we could stay in their farmhouse which they also rented rooms out in. We drove up to the farmhouse to find a sign on the door saying, let yourself in, pick a room, dump your bags down, help yourself to tea and coffee, and make yourself at home. Now where would you get that in the UK? We never saw another sole until later that night when a guy came round to collect our money, so we had this whole house to ourselves for the night which was great, surrounded by rolling countryside, the sea and coast on one side, and two pet sheep that kept trying to break into the house when they were hungry!
After a lovely cosy night in the our farmhouse, it was time to set off again and finish the coastal drive. We made stops throughout the day at Purakanuai Falls, Jack's Bay and Blowhole (which wasn't as impressive as the Lonely Planet made it out to be!), Surat Bay, Cannibal Bay, and Nugget Point. We stopped off at Cannibal Bay (it was given its name by a man who once found human bones and assumed that cannibalism had taken place there, nice..!) to take a short walk over to Surat Bay, and to also check out the Hooker Sea Lions that supposedly use the bay as a breeding ground. We were a bit disappointed having almost completed the walk to Surat Bay and back again and hadn't seen any sign of any Sea Lions, figuring that maybe they were all out at sea feeding. Then I caught something out of the corner of my eye, a very large Hooker Sea Lion who had been sleeping in the sand dunes and had just came out to see who we were! After my last close encounter with an angry Sea Lion in Dunedin, we decided not to get too close and just watched him from a far!
Then at Nugget Point (named after the rocks that surround the coastal point, apparently they are shaped like gold nuggets!) we saw a multitude of fur seals frolicking on the rocks. But the highlight of the trip had to be just as we were about to leave and head home, we stopped off at spot where a Yellow Eyed Penguin Colony could be found, we thought we would not see any though as we were quite early and the penguins like to spend most of the day at sea and don't come in until later, but we arrived just in time to see a couple of Yellow Eyed Penguins come ashore from a hard day at sea feeding!! After watching the penguins come ashore and dry themselves off waiting for the rest of the colony to return, we decided it was time to head back to Queenstown taking the inland route from Balclutha back home.
I had seen all of this wildlife already before, mainly in Dunedin a few months back, but that was with a tour guide, this weekend away was amazing because there were so few of us there, it wasn't touristy and commercial, and its just so great to get so close to all this wildlife!