Thursday, March 8, 2012

An abundance of nature's wonders in the Catlins

The sparsely populated Catlins is located on the far south eastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island. Named after Captain Cattlin who bought a section of the land from local Maori in 1840, the rugged coastline and mountainous landscape dare you to explore one natural wonder after another - each time thinking that this must be the reason that people visit.

We booked ourselves in at Nadir Outpost at Slope Point - which stakes claim for the most southerly accommodation of mainland New Zealand; nestled in the hills with sheep ambling past our window and, it seemed during our stay, a permanent gale blowing outside, we felt a million miles from anyone. I was lucky to witness a sensational sunrise from our accommodation, I awoke to a pink hue which intensified as I dragged myself out of the warm bed and into the Baltic morning air with the ten thousand curious sheep (there are definite benefits to pulling your jeans on over your pj‘s when it‘s that cold), well worth the effort to see a rainbow, which landed just at the point that two rolling hills intercepted; it was simply stunning, but gone in seconds, and  while I was quick enough to grab my camera, I wasn’t fast enough to whip out my tripod, which was necessary to do any real justice to the beautiful start to my day.

We stayed for 2 nights, and although we didn’t see every single sight the Catlins had to offer, we left feeling that we’d ‘done’ the region and could tick it off our list. The Catlins is remote, and we’d been forewarned to take enough fuel, food and cash for our visit as they’re not particularly readily available once you get there. We travelled from North to South, which for some reason seemed to be the opposite direction from all the guidebooks I consulted, but that seemed to make no odds, and there seemed to be an equal number of people travelling in each direction..

The first attraction we hit after entering the region was Nugget Point, where we took a short walk to a lighthouse adorned headland to warn passing ships of the picturesque rocky protrusions in the swirling waters below. The path is quite open in places and the drop down the sheer cliff faces to the rocks below, where we spotted Yellow-Eyed Penguins frolicking,  made me glad that the littlest hobo is generally happy to walk next to us and hold hands - I suspect I would feel quite nervous taking a more inquisitive toddler down this track… a theme that developed as our time in the Catlins continued - there are some nerve-racking paths around, but I am fairly confident that's the reason this place is so beautiful.

We munched our lunch in the car (the littlest hobo managed to contain her disappointment that chicken nuggets hadn't materialised from the sea...) in what is becoming our standard fashion when the weather isn't conducive to an outdoor picnic, with the littlest hobo using the car as a jungle gym while we urge her to sit still until she's swallowed her mouthful. A coffee stop is an unwritten rule in our travel day, so when we unexpectedly passed a curious looking collection advertising coffee, we did a u-turn and ordered our daily caffeine fix. I'm glad we did because it turned out we'd stopped at the Lost Gypsy Cafe - a  collection of ingenious inventions made from trinkets that others would most likely toss out with the trash, self-labeled 'fine acts of junk' all gathered in a groovy old bus. We grabbed our coffees and spent half an hour or so looking around. We would have paid the extra $5 each to look around the gallery, but little kids weren't allowed in, so we continued on with our journey.

Hobo, meet gypsy....
With the satnav claiming we still had a few hours to go (luckily we have now realised that a gravel road en route means that Gipps, as it is affectionately known, assumes that you will drive at 10km per hour) and the day drawing on, we debated whether we should really do another stop, but the weather forecast for the next day was rain, rain and more rain, so we pulled off the main road and headed to McLean Falls - in spite of it being the furthest walk of all the falls, we could hardly drive by a place with such a cool name. We weren't disappointed... while the walk was challenging at times and I wished more than once that I'd invested in some hiking boots, when we got to the top, the falls were spectacular.

Mclean Falls - she's not keeling over with boredom, honestly!

The next morning brought the predicted rain, that started soon after we rose, and continued all day. We headed to Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay, where we sat in the car looking out into the bay at the choppy waters in the hope that me might spot a dolphin through the heavy rain that was lashing the windows. When a lull came, we made a dash and spent a short while clambering around on the rocks at the petrified forest - we weren't lucky enough to spot any of the local wildlife (sea lions and penguins frequent the area) but the fossilised logs and rockpools were interesting to explore.

We gave up battling the downpour and made a beeline for the Niagara Falls cafe - I couldn't believe how many good write ups I'd read about this place, and we had to give it a try. The cafe is in an old school house and sells local crafts alongside the cafe - it was a great environment to sit and warm up/dry out while we watched the animals wander by the windows and a stream of hungry locals and tourists arrive for lunch. The food was delicious and filling; I ordered a bowl of seafood chowder and I struggled to finish it.

We battled over whether to do our next activity, as it was pouring with rain and we weren't very well prepared, but I am so glad that in the end we braved the rain because we had such a huge adventure at Cathedral Caves.

You can drive for half an hour in the Catlins without seeing another soul on the road, but at the same time, you will find that as there's an obvious tourist trail, you will tend to the the same people as you move from one of nature's great wonders to another. Having said that, it's certainly not crowded, and you can be standing with ten people around you one minute, then turn around to find you are all alone with only the bird song and the crash of waves to keep you company the next. There is undeniably a disproportionate number of sheep to people in the area - so much so that at long last and after several long months (since our trip to Ireland, to be precise) the littlest hobo has tired of shouting 'baaaaaaa' in a somewhat startling manner every time she sees a field full of the fleecy coated little creatures.


There are lots of short (ranging from ten minutes to an hour) walks, which make it really attractive with a toddler, and some of the tracks are even stroller friendly too. I would definitely advocate a trip to the Catlins on a South Island tour, and there's too much to see in one day. We found that two days in the Catlins was perfect - we had something to do the whole time we were there, and left with a sense of having seen plenty in the area too.

1 comment: