There’s no better way to kick off the month of February to welcome summer than to go camping! It has been a very mild and wet start to summer, even the sheep farmers are whining about it. Thankfully for our short 2 day/1 night camping trip to The Catlins we had sunny and relatively warm weather. Below is one of the simple maps we used to find our way through the Clutha region (I added the stars next to each place we visited on this trip).
The Catlins are located in the southeastern corner of the South Island. Being this far south, the long summer days allow for more time to explore. There is still a little light in the sky after 10:30pm! The Catlins encompasses an area with rolling green rural farmsteads, podocarp forests, dotted with hidden lakes and waterfalls, and ending in rugged coastlines sculpted by the rough southern seas. These coastlines, despite the harsh conditions, are home to myriads of birds, fur seals, and the rare yellow-eyed penguin. On this trip we did have the fortune of seeing some fur seals, but no penguins. We are hoping our future trip down to Stewart Island will give us the opportunity to see some of New Zealand’s rarest bird life.
We left early on February 1st and took the scenic way down to Curio Bay, which would be the starting point for our 2 day trip. The main road that parallels the coastline in The Catlins is known as the Southern Scenic Highway. Off of this main road is numerous dirt roads that take you to all the sights to see along the way. On our way to Curio Bay, we made a stop at the Niagara Falls Cafe. After a quick bathroom break and enjoying possibly the most delicious brownie we have ever had, we hopped back in the car for our first “sight-seeing” stop. Only a few hundred yards away from the cafe is the “other” Niagara Falls, where the cafe gets its name. Now we can say we have seen the Niagara Falls of the Southern Hemisphere. Ha!
Curio Bay was our first stop. It was important that we arrived here during low-tide because we wanted to be able to see the Petrified Forest. With the tide out, we were able to walk among the fossilized stumps and logs that were embedded in the Jurassic age rock. There were white caps out to sea and the waves were quite rough that day due to the strong winds, but it made for a spectacular atmosphere to explore the area.
Along the jagged rocks at the ocean’s edge were masses of thick, rubbery, brown and green kelp. This was our first time seeing this kind of seaweed up close and able to touch it. To me, it almost felt like the material of a neoprene wetsuit. These immense kelp shoots are very well attached to the rock to withstand the continual pounding of ocean waves, and yet they are super flexible and moved thru the water like cooked spaghetti. It never fails, I compare things to food when I decide to write when I’m hungry.
After Curio Bay, we drove a short distance to Porpoise Bay. This is a large cove that has calm waters and is a great place to see the very rare Hector’s Dolphins playing in the gentle waves. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any at the time we visited, but the beach looked like a great place to relax on a hot, sunny day and be on the watch for dolphins.
Our next planned stop was to the Cathedral Caves. Not to be confused with Cathedral Cove, which we visited during our trip though the North Island. These caves can only be accessed during low-tide for a short time each day. Since we spent our time at the petrified forest during low-tide, we missed the opportunity to visit Cathedral Caves, so we are planning to go back down on a day trip to see them. Just up the road from the caves is McLean Falls, which made up for missing our on the caves. There has been so much rainfall lately, which makes for great waterfall pictures!
On our way to our campsite, we stopped at a lookout point at Florence Hill overlooking Tautuku Beach. What a pristine and beautiful beach! Just a little too cold to be jumping in the water!
Our last stop before we camped for the night was a short 20 minute hike up to Purakaunui Falls. This was another full-flowing waterfall due to the recent rains and we enjoyed every minute of exploring the area. At this waterfall, I played around with some longer exposure shots to practice my camera skills. I’m pretty pleased with the results, and had to do very little editing, but next time I will definitely bring my tripod to make sure I get the best quality with a long exposure shot. My hands are not as steady as I think they are, even at 1/4 second!
The DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite we stayed at was located at Purakaunui Bay, and was quite remote. We drove what seemed like forever down narrow, winding, dirt roads. The camping area was right off the beach with sheep pastures all around us on the high green hills sheltering the mouth of a river that was slowly making it’s way into the South Pacific. Out of all the the campsites and holiday parks we have camped at in New Zealand, this one was definitely a favorite despite no powered sites or showers. It’s all about location! We even spotted a few surfers, with wetsuits of course, taking advantage of the waves produced by the strong winds that had blown all day.
After cooking a simple dinner on our portable camp stove, I relaxed and did some reading inside the tent since the wind was picking up. Michael chilled out in a camp chair down on the beach. In the twilight hours, he called me out of the tent to come meet him on the beach. There, lumbering out of the grass and making its way to the ocean, was a massive fur seal! We were hoping that was a good sign for seeing some wildlife the next day.
Day 2 included only two stops: Jack’s Blowhole and Nugget Point Lighthouse. We were able to sleep in and had a relaxing morning before hitting the road, but I regret not bringing any instant coffee or tea. We will remember that for the Kepler Track trip next month. If it’s one thing that New Zealanders know about, it’s good coffee, even the instant stuff. Yum!
We hit the road and headed for Jack’s Blowhole. The hiking track traverses through private farmland but was well marked and had amazing views of the coast. It was overcast that day, but the wind had subsided and the rain hadn’t arrived yet, so we were still pleased with the weather turnout. The blowhole is 200m inland from the coast and is about 55m deep. It was formed when the roof of a large subterranean cave was eroded away and fell in. Sadly, we were a little underwhelmed due to calm seas and slack tide, but the hike there and back was beautiful regardless. We later found out that visiting the blowhole during a king tide with rough seas yields the best results.
The final stop was at Nugget Point Lighthouse. This was the place we finally saw some fur seals and their pups hiding from the waves among the rocks below. We were quite high up on a cliff on the track that led to the lighthouse, so I am glad I brought a telephoto lens and some binoculars so we could see them better. And boy, are they noisy! Screaming like banshees!
After awhile the rain started rolling in and we took that as our cue to call it a day and head for home, but not before stopping for a Thai dinner in the town of Balclutha.
Now, during this trip, there were plenty of cliff ledges and sketchy places to lose your footing. Being a loving and protective husband, Michael is always kind enough to remind me to “be careful” and “don’t get too close to the edge” of wherever I am standing. But this trip I had the chance to snap a couple pictures of Michael not heeding his own advice. If you follow us on Facebook or Instagram, then you are familiar with this photo of Michael at Curio Bay. He honestly never saw the ‘Beware of Cliff’ sign and thankfully wasn’t that close to the edge…but it’s still pretty funny to see his reaction once he realized I caught him on camera.
Going through our pictures from this trip, I found yet another instance of him standing in a place that he probably shouldn’t be. What a naughty boy!! In the end, we had some good laughs and made some great memories while keeping each other safe. I’m thankful for a husband who can do both.