Early morning delights and late night frights.

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January 30th 2011
Published: February 1st 2011
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29 January 2011

Prior to falling asleep we had agreed that, providing it was light, whoever awoke first would wake the other and we would make the most of the day and get moving. The call of nature woke me at about 6:10am (I must be getting to that age) and so I woke Lou, and we made the short walk from the van to the rather grotty public convenience. With that taken care of we got in the van and started moving as quickly as we could, mainly so the engine could provide us with some warmth, as both of us had cold feet from the damp grass despite the short distance we had walked.

We only had one stop in mind this morning before we reached Dunedin, and it wasn’t far down the road. With our early start, we weren’t surprised to be the first and only people when we pulled into the car park to visit the Moeraki Boulders (Te Kaihinaki)

This sight is one that neither of us had heard of until we spoke to the Helpful Tourist Information Lady in Timaru. We disembarked from the van, and walked through the maram grass onto the beach in the early morning wind. The beach itself was a sight to behold, with small Pacific waves breaking and plumes of spray feathering out behind them in the brisk wind. The sand, whilst dark and volcanic, was firm underfoot and the huge swathes of seaweed on the beach evidence of the wind and ocean’s power. Turning to the north, the boulders were visible up the beach from the second we set foot on the sand, and whilst not much from a distance the closer we got the more impressive they became.

These giant boulders are almost perfect spheres and, from what I understand, it isn’t fully understood why they have this unique shape. One arrangement looking like a nest of dragon eggs that have stood waiting patiently in vain for the brooding parent to return for so long that they have turned to stone, as their kin went extinct.

Another was patterned like a stone oversized football; heaven help the mortal trying to kick that ball!

There were even a few that appear to have exploded, revealing their contents, rich with veins of pale rock running through them.

Seeing these ancient monuments in the bleak wind on the deserted beach with nothing but the sound of the waves and each other was fantastic way to start our day. If this is the reward for arising early we may be converted, although if this is to be a habit a few more layers of clothes may be in order as trudging around in shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt in this wind isn’t the warmest activity.

We were now headed for Dunedin, and we had already agreed that we would pay for a site for the night for two reasons - one it isn’t as easy to find suitable freedom camping spots in cities and two, we needed to get access to some power and charge various computers, cameras etc and do some washing.
The overcast and actually rather chilly weather had cemented this idea. Whilst driving south on highway 1, I saw a sign for Shag Point and decided that we should take a detour. I could try and explain that it was in search of birdlife but, lets be honest, it was more to say that I visited somewhere with the name “Shag” in it.

Anyway, we drove out past a few ramshackle houses, complete with ancient cars parked outside and more than a few heaps that had gone the way of the rust fairy. We then entered the Matakaea reserve at the end of the road - which until we arrived at it we had no idea was there. On entering this area the signs informed us that the area was a former mining site and as such you should stick to the paths as there may be former mine shafts and pits that are not marked and it could be dangerous. This warning was accompanied by directions to see seals and penguins.

We pulled up at the first of two car parks, again the only people present, and thought we’d venture out into the wind, which had increased in strength, in search of wildlife. We were talking as we came over the last little rise in the path and as we did so about 20 fur seals turned to look in our direction and half of them made a dash for the sea. The others started making noises at us - feeling pretty guilty at disturbing them we stopped our chat instantly and started snapping with the cameras instead. With us quietening down the seals returned to their previous actions, which ranged from lying about on the rocks, to fighting (or maybe play fighting) with each other. Some were messing about in the kelp in the channels of water between the various rocky outcrops upon which they were perched. After a few minutes of watching we moved around the corner and yet more seals revealed themselves to us. The count was now edging towards 50 fur seals, a true privilege to see so many specimens of such a rare creature.

Buoyed by our unexpected success with the seals and the amazing sight of the boulders, all before 8:30am, we couldn’t help but try our luck and go in search of the penguins, around the corner in the next little car park. We got there and parked up eager with anticipation, especially as from the road we could see a rock with a large number of birds upon it. We bounded out of the van in that direction (albeit much more quietly than we had the first time, having learnt our lesson) the birds we had seen were the eponymous Shags, not penguins but were impressive nonetheless.

After viewing these birds the signage pointed us in yet another direction to attempt to view the penguins, so off we trundled. We were by now more than a little chilly but we were going to go and check it out anyway. We walked the path but alas it was not to be, the penguins already off fishing for the day as the best time to view them is late in the afternoon as they return.

We returned to the van and put the heater on to defrost from the biting wind, as we headed back out onto the road in the direction of Dunedin. As we drove South the rain that had been threatening to soak us started to fall, and being in the van with a days worth of sights under our belt already was the best place to be.

We stopped in Palmerston for petrol, notable only for the sign outside the garage which read “A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour”.

Onward we went in the wind as the van tried its best to swerve into another lane at every opportunity - a good job the lanes are wide and the roads are empty.

We opted to take a more scenic route than the main highway veering off the main road in the direction of Karitane, which led to a climb up a headland and yet another stunning outlook point at the top. We travelled the coast road until we briefly joined the main highway again, before once more taking another detour from the road that the Friendly Tourist Information Lady had suggested.

This detour took us way up onto the headland just North of Dunedin, before winding the way back down towards Port Chalmers. The waters of Otago harbour were visible through the wind and rain, and were topped by white horses despite the relative shelter of this piece of water.

The road into Dunedin itself led us past the still under construction Forsyth Barr Stadium which will be one of the venues for the Rugby World Cup later in the year, and is the only stadium in NZ to have a fully closing roof.

We made it to Dunedin centre and stopped for a some supplies at a supermarket, before heading to the campsite we had selected to be our base for the night. We checked in and checked the watch, not even 11am!

We got on with the chores, got some washing in the laundry and started to catch up on some admin as we had a few blogs to finish and publish etc. Four hours later, we had clean clothes, had eaten lunch and finished writing, so we decided the next item on the agenda for today was a wander around the shops of the city centre.

We organised ourselves to take the computers, as there was no internet at the site without paying for it, and got on the bus into town (a pleasant change from driving) We set about trying to find some cheap but warm clothes. After a few shops we found ourselves in a shopping centre where we came across a place with a decent sale on, the next thing Lou had something to cover her legs and a couple of things to keep the warmth in her arms, whilst I had a hoody for ten bucks, bargain. We then discovered a shop which can only be described as in the vain of TK Max or Matalan, where I purchased some jogging trousers. A whole new outfit for about a tenner, not too bad if I do say so myself - now it won’t win any awards in Milan, but inside our van it may well come out with the top prize.

From here, we managed to then spend a couple of hours in a McDonalds utilising their free internet before catching the bus home at 7:10.

A quick meal of pasta Bolognese, and that brings you right up to date - I am writing this at just gone 10pm on the day that it occurred.

Lets hope tomorrow brings as much fun and interest as today, although my fingers could do with a rest.

30 January 2011

I didn’t manage to finish the blog on the same day as I had planned , but more about that later….

Another early morning, but this one started with a hot shower from the campsite, a much more civilized way to start the day. This, combined with the other facilities, meant we weren’t in need of the engine to heat us up as much this morning so our start on the road was comparatively late, about 7:45am.

We made some pretty good progress in the much improved weather, heading south along the main highway at almost the speed limit. An hour or so of this brought us into the Catlins Conservation Park, the scenic route through Southland.

Our first stop of the day was Nugget Point and it’s lighthouse. The drive out to the point through the little hamlets lining the Cornwall-esque coastline was delightful. The last 10km along the unsealed gravel road wasn’t quite so much fun, but was far from terrible. Arriving at the end of the track to the car park, which clearly states “No Camping” it was clear that the lure of the beautiful vistas, and the public toilets, mean that this sign is ignored by more than a few, many still in the throws of slumber.

We disembarked and walked the 900m path through the small quarry that was the source of the stone for the lighthouse at the end of the now solid path. I’m sure in the late 1800’s the men and horses that had the task of hauling the stone had a significantly less sure track and no doubt a few were lost to the cliff and the rocks below. Those same rocks are inhabited by fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals, but it would require a far keener eye than mine to be able to distinguish which variety we could see far below us.

Reaching the end of the path, there is a viewing platform suspended in parts (which Lou wasn’t keen on standing upon) offering spectacular views of the rocks below. We marvelled at this feat of engineering, for a short time, but marvelled for longer at the awesome beauty of this place.

Climbing back into the van out of the morning wind was delightful and we headed back onto the road for our journey southward. We returned whence we had come along the gravel turning back onto the relative peace of the sealed roads, and headed on in the direction of Owaka, the Catlins’ biggest town. Now this may be the case but blink and you miss it - I would dare say that, although it is described as a town, St Merryn is a far more populous hamlet than here!

We drove onwards through the winding roads of the Catlins, which were very nice but I have to say either the scenery that we have already seen was better or we are becoming numb to the beauty here, as we barely gave it a second look. We passed the turn off for a variety of “attractions” that didn’t interest for one reason or another - no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t going to get Lou into the Cathedral Caves, a set of caves only accessible two hours either side of low water, by wading from one entrance to another.

We turned off the main scenic route once more, in the direction of Waikawa, another of NZ’s finest one street towns. Through here in the blink of an eye and onwards in the direction of Curio bay. Our destination was actually one bay before Curio, and was named Porpoise Bay. Here we stopped for lunch, a mighty fine concoction of homemade burgers, and salsa which was a bit heavy on the chilli, so had yoghurt added to it. It may not sound good but tasted great!

Porpoise bay was a little bit of a let down, for a start it doesn’t house porpoises, but rather Hector’s dolphins (it would seem the kiwi’s aren’t good at naming things - more about that in further instalments), as well as sealions, blue penguins and occasionally whales. It is also home to a small surfing scene but, armed only with a pair of board shorts, the Southern Ocean even now at the end of summer wasn’t appealing. None of the wild life made an appearance, so onward we headed.

Next stop Slope Point. This is a place that I had not heard of previously, but is home to the most southerly point of the South Island, of NZ. It is also therefore the most Southerly that either of us have, or quite possibly ever will, travel!

We parked the van in the small lay-by with the other campervans and cars and headed out through the farmers fields to reach the small signpost telling us where we were. As we turned back to return to the van, it struck me that we had reached a turning point in our trip. Many people would think the moment when you pass the halfway point would be the significant factor but, for me, as long as we were heading South we were still heading away from home and as such there was LOTS more to come, now we have turned a corner and we are in every sense on the return leg, and heading in the direction of home. I have to say that this saddens me as I could quite happily carry on roaming with no real desire to return (sorry family) but I know that Lou feels differently, and although it wasn’t something that we discussed I know that if she registered this symbolic event it would make her in some way happy.

We carried on from here to another lighthouse on Waipapa point. This treacherous point is the scene of many a shipwreck and the every worsening weather clearly showed us why. When we walked the short distance to the lighthouse itself, although only on a point no more than 5m up from sea level at best the wind here was so strong we could barely stand. I have been walking up on Trevose Head in winter in some strong wind but this biting Southern Ocean gale was an easy match to this in both strength and temperature.

This spot is also another wildlife bonanza, with the possibility of seeing yet more fur seals, and sea lions. The latter of the two being a rather vicious creature apparently, with warnings not to approach if they are present. Across the bay there was a creature meeting the description but I cannot be sure, and walking that distance in the cold and fierce wind had little appeal.

We headed onwards again in the trusty van, which by now was jumping around the road, like the kangaroo’s of the previous antipodean country we had visited, in the gale force winds.

This hideous weather meant the remaining drive to Invercargill, which on the map was straightforward on a nice straight road once we rejoined the highway and would allow us to make up some time on our planned route, was far from simple. When we did finally make it, the first item on the agenda was petrol as the wind had made the needle drop faster than a gap year tourist jumping out of a plane.

With this task completed our next stop was the city’s one and only McDonalds, as it is a place that we can now rely on for free internet in a land where it would seem charging for access is the norm, and something that we aren’t keen to encourage.

A few hours here allowed for some respite and the opportunity to recharge the driving batteries for me as Lou had started dozing on the last section of road and there was no way I was getting any relief from the wheel for the rest of the day. I would like to add that we do not much indulge in food in these establishments merely the tea or coffee or something similar to allow us the use of the facilities.

From here, we headed on towards our destination for the evening, Riverton. The trip here was uneventful save for the continuing gale, and reaching our destination we were pleasantly surprised to find a town with more than two shops and a crossroads. This place really has the potential to be beautiful in some nicer weather but being located on the Southern Coast it receives more rain than even Plymouth, and as such we saw it the same way that most visitors do - cold and wet. We headed for an eatery straight out of the Lonely Planet and went for the recommended option of Seafood Chowder times two. It was just the tonic on this stormy evening.

We now only had left the simple task of finding a spot to camp for the night. With the weather worsening (although it was pretty hard to imagine it getting any worse) we consulted the map. The map showed a place called Cosy Nook Fishing Village, and I decided that any place with a name like that must offer some shelter, so that was where we headed. The drive there was horrific as the van was buffeted around the road as if it was no more than a Corgi toy version being played with by a small child. This meant that the speed limit of 100km/h was so far away from our speed of roughly 40km/h that it took a while.

Eventually, having driven past some houses, we rounded a sharp corner after crossing a cattle grid, and below us was a small bay with some shelter. It would seem that this off-the-beaten-track little hamlet of no more than a dozen houses in total had been name aptly, and in doing so had attracted other campers seeking shelter from the storm. We pulled in by the solitary small hut containing the long drop toilet that we are now accustomed to, and had a few games of cards in the failing light of day.

This was all it took for Lou to need to sleep, but the concentration of the drive meant that I was still awake and not ready for slumber quite yet. Indeed it was a full two hours later when I felt I was ready to put head to pillow. It was at just this time when my head hit the pillow that I noticed a change in the thrum of rain drops atop our van. They had suddenly started pounding into my side of the van, a 180 degree switch. I thought little of this as I attempted to sleep (if indeed you can “try” to do something that is, by its very nature, an absence of conscious thought) however tonight I was not going to be allowed the pleasure of ignoring this small fact.

With the change in direction of the rain of course was also the change in direction of the wind. The storm front must have passed us finally on its journey East into the Pacific, in doing so
Nugget Point LighthouseNugget Point LighthouseNugget Point Lighthouse

and the path up to it
reversing the wind direction as the centre of the cyclonic system passed us by. This meant that the shelter that the bay had offered us was now moot, and the van began once more to shake. At first the buffeting was a gentle sway but as the system passed further away from us the wind increased in velocity, causing the van to once again feel like the aforementioned kangaroo, despite being parked.

This meant Lou awoke from her slumber, and with small whimpering comments of “I don’t like it” I finally relented and agreed to move the van to another location. It would appear that others had the same idea, as no sooner had I begun to clamber forward into the front seat lights on various other vans popped into existence.

It was thus that we found ourselves back on the road in pyjamas on the highway heading west, hoping that we were moving away from the storm and towards some shelter. There is nothing to tell of the fight with the storm to keep the extremely slow moving van on the road, save that it was a tiring process at the end of a long day.

We finally outran the storm at some point, I’m not really sure where as the road signs were immaterial. After this delightful moment the pace with which we started moving increased, and it was not long after this that we found a spot in one of the many little lay-bys which once again harboured other vans. I can safely say that this time there was no need to “try” to sleep the engine went off, as did the lights on the van, and our lights went out at the same time.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


The path backThe path back
The path back

don't fancy dragging stone along that!

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