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Published: August 4th 2009
The most southern point of mainland NZ
The tourist dollar seemed to wane somewhere between Te Anau and Riverton and it had definitely disappeared by the time we reached the boundaries of Invercargill. In fact, Invercargill on a Sunday was officially closed. There was little evidence of the much fabled bad hair and checked shirt comments (which have since been withdrawn from all good travel guides presumably on threat of being sued)…………… indeed there was little evidence of anything and certainly no evidence of any chance of an alcohol refreshment after our journey. We checked into the YHA on the main street and went for an exploration of town. The first impressions were that it was a “real” place - a sort of big Greymouth -but for a town of 50,000 population, there didn’t seem to be many facilities unless you were after purchasing a ute or a tractor. We thought we’d figure out the next stage of our journey into the Catlins, but the car hire places were closed. The options seemed to be a Catlins Coaster bus through the area we wanted to travel or the inland route on the more cost effective Atomic Shuttle. The former seemed disproportionately expensive.
All pubs within vision were
The Petrified Forest
closed and the shops were closed. We tracked down a supermarket for some provisions and were advised that no booze was available anywhere under the jurisdiction of the Invercargill Licensing Trust on a Sunday. An internet search seems to indicate that the times have relaxed in the last few years, but the Invercargill in the days before The World’s Fastest Indian hit the cinema screens was an acquired taste. We found salvation in The Highlander, serving up a pint of imported Belhaven that was best avoided in favour of a Speights. The locals advised of the local domination of the ILT, who were firmly in control of the majority of licensed premises, takeaway alcohol and pokies. We set off into the deserted afternoon, spotted a book exchange for the next day and survived a slight altercation with a skateboarding 10 year old demanding 70 cents from random passers by.
We had a night out with a couple from Auckland, who we’d taken Monteiths with at the Railway Inn in Greymouth and bumped into an Irish lad, last seen coping admirably with his kayak on Milford Sound. We awoke and made plans to leave, but were thwarted when Thrifty had
no cars…………..not one! A couple of phone calls at the Tourist Info Centre proved no more productive, so we settled for a view of the Tuaturas - a lizard apparently closely related to the dinasours, who had a passion for living in the Southland region. The Irish lad came into view again and the time was passed to be shy………………we left town 30 mins later in a 1982 Mazda 626 on the promise of filling up the tank with NZ$20 and drove into the Catlins.
Our first port of call with our new found friend was the old timber lighthouse in New Zealand - Waipawa Point - before we arrived at the southern most point of the mainland at Slope Point. A mere 4803 kms to the South Pole, it felt like the wind came straight from it. There were some cracking examples of trees pointing away from the south wind - the salt in the air allegedly kills all the foliage on that side. Curio Bay offers a petrified forest on the beach and the Tourist Info Point offered a fine homemade venison pie. An extremely helpful person by the name of Cecilia Mckintosh sorted us out with
a newly opened backpacking establishment called Falls Backpackers, for which she just happened to have the number when Surat Bay was fully booked. A dream destination on a farm near Purakaunui Falls all to ourselves, with free eggs for brekkie and calves looking in. It was at the time a living example to the 1930’s, complete with original polished floor and kitchen, that had been dragged on a truck from near Invercargill. We timed a visit to Cathedral Caves for low tide and walked amongst the hookers at Surat Bay………..that’s Hooker Sea Lions …………..who lounge in the sun on the beach just by where our intended backpackers meets the sand.
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