The Catlins - SE corner of South Island
Jan 20, 2019
|I can’t believe it is only Day 3 only … we have done so much already. We are loving New Zealand; the scenery is beautiful and the people lovely. Our 9 am departure becomes 8 am, as we are all ready and we know it is a long drive.
We are heading to the southeast corner of Te Waipounamu, which is Maori for South Island. Everything here has a Maori name as well and they are really hard to pronounce and spell.
We are taking the scenic route along Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by the Remarkables Mountain Ranges. It is absolutely breath taking. Everything is so pristine. No where, either on the highway or in the towns do you see any garbage on the side of the roads. Homes are immaculately kept and even the hedges out in the valleys are neatly trimmed.
Our first stop is at 9:30 as it is time for a coffee, and we find the Five Corners Café. It is very quaint, with a modern rustic look. I order the Long Black, thinking that is a large black coffee. Turns out it is a double expresso and very strong. Note to self ... “order an Americano next time.”
After coffee we head to the town of Te Anau and the Bird Sanctuary through rolling hills and sagebrush. While we had hoped for a Kiwi sighting the only ones there are wooden. What we do see is the very rare Takahe, a flightless bird. Here they have only four and it is hard to find them in their pen and even harder to get a good picture.
From here we move on to Fiordland the area from Lake Te Anau. This is sheep country but really New Zealand is totally sheep country, especially in the south. There are 1 million people in the South Island and the sheep out number them 30:1.
We finally get to the sea about 1:30 in the town of Orepuki. The restaurant, only one in town, is busy and they ask us to come back in 20 minutes to have space for the 8 of us. We decide to head down to Gemstone Beach which is only 500m away. Here, according to Bob, you can find Jade and other gems washed in from the sea. We try to believe that the green rocks, once polished, will be Jade.
There are plenty on the beach and the craggy cliffs are very much eroding away. Best to stay clear.
We have a fantastic lunch at the Orepuki Beach Café, which isn’t actually on the beach. The food is great, everyone raving about their Seafood Chowder and Carrot soup. I have a fabulous Blue Cod and chips.
We head out for our last leg toward Okawa via Highway #1. Interesting it is not like ours, again only 2 lanes, one in each direction. We are going through Diary farms and sheep ranches and more rolling hills. This area looks like Abbotsford without the mass of houses and the traffic, which is practically non-existent. Where is everyone?
Near the end it gets pretty windy and Rich, who is driving, says that he has driven more bends today than in months in Texas. It definitely has taken us a bit longer than expected. Not surprising as they have road signs that say, “New Zealand roads are different, allow extra time’.
We stop for some groceries, only to find there isn’t much choice in Owaka, which a very small town. Then the last few kilometers to Tiromoana. On route we are held up by sheep being herded up the road. Their owner is on an ATV but most of the work is being done by the sheep dog. He is masterful at moving them along.
I see now as I am trying to catch up on the blog that I have posted that picture in the first NZ post… oh well ...scroll back.
Tiromaona is amazing! A massive house up on a hill, surrounded by sheep fields and overlooking the bay. How fantastic for our next two days. No where as far as you can see do you see any civilization. Tonight, as we have minimal options for groceries, we decide to take the 4 km back to town and dinner at the local café, Lumberjacks. It is nice little find and the food is lovely. The young women who owns it turns out to be from Yorkshire.
Our first task the next morning is to find the huge BBQ they have on the property as we have bought lamb from the owner of the house. It is as bit of a trek, but we realize if you go by ATV it is just over the hill from the house but by car not so close. It is a huge fire powered BBQ in a lovely spot on the river, but it has definitely seen better days and not been used or cleaned in a long time. A bit disappointing but there is a pretty substantial BBQ back at the house.
We now head out on today’s adventures to the many bays in the area on a wildlife scout. Our first stop is Jack’s Bay and the Blowhole. It is 100 metres inland from the sea and a 30-minute trek with fantastic scenery. Sadly, we have missed the timing and while there is plenty of water rushing in and out from the sea, we are not getting the Blowhole effect.
Next stop Purakaunui Falls. In the parking lot there is an entrepreneurial woman who has set up a coffee wagon and we decide it is time for a little stop. She makes fantastic coffees and we take them away heading down the path to the Falls.
For those of you who have been to Margaret Falls in the Shuswap this is a very similar experience. The pathway is surrounded by huge trees and many species of fern. The tall one that looks more like a tree we find out later is the Silver Fern, one of the symbols of New Zealand. Really very different from our ferns at home.
The falls, while not too high, is wide and beautiful. We take the opportunity for many pictures here in this tranquil setting with perfect temperatures. Now we head back to the coastline to Ka Ka Point for lunch. Having called ahead we still arrive at the same time as another group of 8 but they are pretty quick, and the food is good. I again have a delicious Fish and Chips made out of the local Blue Cod.
As with all New Zealanders the staff are incredibly friendly, and the server takes the time to write down other sites in NZ that she thinks we will enjoy. We gladly take the advice and head on down the road toward Nugget Point but not until Bob decides to attract every Tern in the territory by feeding them bread.
Nugget Point is a long high stretch out to a lighthouse. The path is fairly narrow so not appealing to TJ who is afraid of heights. Here we can see dozens of Fur Seals sprawled out on the rocks and frolicking in the sea. They are way down, so we don’t get the up close and personal perspective but the views to see are stunning.
Our last stop of the day is Roaring Beach, here we are in search of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin. We have come in time for the return from the sea and hopefully we can catch them. Turns out we come across the volunteer ranger who’s job it is to come every evening and count them returning. Why because there are only 14 left!
We also find out that they return between 4:30 and 9:30 … so we could be here a while. They head out about 6 am for a 60 km swim out to hunt for fish, which takes 4 hours one way. When they return, they bob their heads out many times until they are sure the beach is clear and then take about 15 minutes out of the beach drying off before heading to their nests.
After 1 ½ hours of no penguins we decide to pack it in. John and I head up first but when none of our group follow we head back down. Of course, Murphy’s Law, a penguin returned just as we were out of viewing site. But we do see one on each side of the beach on our return.
Very sad that they are almost extinct. We find out later that there are only 6,000 left in the world with 250 mating pairs on the New Zealand mainland.
Tonight, it is big lamb cook out, with steak for us non-lamb types. The lamb eaters are in heaven and eat to their hearts content. In the end we have a fair bit still left.
The next morning after breakfast we head back to check out a little shop in Owaka called the Kiwi Collection. A very eclectic place with some cool things. And in the back, the man cave, has an old fire truck and a sawmill area. We purchase a wooden Kiwi … now we just have to see a real one.
The shop owner suggests if we are not in too big a hurry that we check out Cannibal and Surat Bay where we are guaranteed to see Sea Lions. It is an 8 km narrow dirt trek to Cannibal Bay, but it is worth it. Right away we see a big Sea Lion sleeping on the beach, tossing and turning, almost waving at us with his flippers.
Farther down at the end of the beach are two more. The giant bull that is blocking the entrance to the path over to Surat Bay. He is busy throwing dirt on himself to cool off. We go up the bank for a better look only to find out another sea lion is in the bush. A kid from another group gets to close and he charges out roaring to get back.
This forces us to forge through the bush farther away to get back to the path. Only Gail, Bob, Jan and I head to Surat Bay. We have been told that there would be plenty here in the water, but we see only one way down the beach and one out front who is in the water. He rides the surf over and over coming in closer to the beach. We watch for a long time, but he never gets too close as there are people on the beach.
We hike back and luckily the one in the bush is now in the water. The big bull however still sits at the end of the path but at least we do not have to go through the bush much.
Now we are off heading north. We decide to take a more direct route and forget about going to Dunedin as it is almost lunch time already. The route is farmland, and everything is pristine. The homes while small are all well kept.
Gas stations are few and far between and gas is expensive, over $2 a litre. Yikes. We make a lunch stop at the Top Nosh in Tapanui and are able to sit outside in the sun. All the cafes however are starting to get a bit samey and a lot of fried foods.
As we head back north toward Queenstown the scenery is very much like the Okanagan. Rolling hills, rivers, lakes, fruit trees but not yet vines. The lands are covered mostly with sheep as we head along the Clutha River valley from the sea to our night stop in Cromwell.
Our stop are cottages right on the lake, big and very new but a little lacking in décor. After dropping our bags we are off to Mt Difficulty winery, one that was recommended to Bob by the fellow that looks after his vines. We have a bit of a time finding it and between getting there, getting back to town and back to our hotel we do at least 6 U-turns.
The Roaring Meg wine is delicious, and the winery has a lovely view. Like most of the wineries in this area the speciality is Pinot Noir, which we taste first. Gail and I purchase a bottle to enjoying later. They have been making wine since 1998 and the one we taste is their 20th anniversary edition. With the north facing slopes they get all day sun. The steep mountain shelters from the rain so almost a little desert.
After our tasting we head back into town to the historic centre. Here they have maintained many of the original buildings from the last 1800’s on Melmore Street. It is very well done, and we wander around for almost an hour before it starts to spit slightly. The rain doesn’t last long and by the time we get back to the hotel the sun is out.
We have drinks outside and lounge around so long that we decide just to head right to dinner versus back to our rooms to change. The place is not cheap and between dinner and drinks we drop over $800. It is as fun night but expensive for sure. Time for bed as we have an 8:30 departure for another long day’s drive.