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Published: October 28th 2006
Our drive along the Southern Scenic Route beginning from Fiordland and ending in the beautiful Catlins region, was undertaken in two stages. It began before our Stewart Island excursion due to a slight hiccup in the ferry reservations, so with a day to burn, we covered the coastline west of Invercargill on a whistlestop tour of the recommended sights. On our return from Stuey, we spent two more days of solid touring along the eastern section before reaching the major city of Dunedin.
We would definitely say that the eastern section has a far greater abundance of jaw droppers but can't dismiss the western coastline - the rugged beaches backed by the mountains of Fiordland, are an awesome sight.
The western scenic drive began for us in Invercargill following State Highway 99 to Te Anau. The road follows fringe country through the Southland region passing by the little relaxed town of Riverton, one of the oldest and most laid-back in NZ (once used as a whaling base). It's now a self-proclaimed capital of all things Paua
- the colourful irridescent shell of a type of abalone.
From Riverton, the next stop is Colac Bay another vast swathe of
sand but that's about it and then onwards to the large bay of Te Waewae Bay with its wind-ravaged cliffs that support trees bent-double by the southerly gales.
The next service town enroute is Tuatapere on the Waiau river, an uninspiring place itself but a base for some decent tramping - we decided to go and stretch our legs and do what can only really be described as a "little stroll" around the Tuatapere walkway to find a giant Totara tree.
We then made the 30Km drive (most of which is on a typically shoddy gravel back road) to NZ's deepest lake, Haroko where we got our first taste of NZ's menacing sandflies and they got their first taste of us! They're pesky little buggers and bites don't get any itchier than theirs. A quick stop was all we could fare before retreating to Lady C's bug free interior and the slidey gravel drive back to the main track and on to Clifden with its famous but not that exciting, suspension bridge. From there we headed back- our fuel guage was extremely low, so it was a nervous drive to find petrol but Lady C seems to have
The most photographed feature in the Catlins. Three layers of falls - very spectacular.
reserves, and then a truck stop style lunch fuelled us back to catch the aforementioned ferry ride from hell.
Our return from Stuey ambitiously had us continuing the tour east sea, sea-sickness effects permitting. As the ferry back was pleasant and the seas were calm. From Bluff we set off with avengance along the Catlins coast line- an area of outstanding beautiful coast backed by the Catlins forest park. This section is definitely the highlight of the southern scenic route with an incredible drive through the forest, skirting the sea stopping to see a landscape littered with beauty, intrigue and a bounty of living things. The whole eastern section is only about 150Km or so but with all the little detours and points of interest along the way it is difficult to devote less than 2 days to this richly unique region. All along the route you get more than you bargained for- starting at Waipapa point, billed as a rugged headland with a lighthouse but alsp features a colony of sea lions (the rare Hooker's Sea Lion to be exact). You travel along the prehistoric petrified forest at Curio Bay and you get thrown in for the deal,
a colony of yellow eyed penguins on cue, hopping up the routes to resting sites in the bush! Even though a number of sites were not fully accessible because of the Spring lambing season, there was still a wide range of things to see and trails to follow. We lost count of the number of waterfalls we stood over, the bays we wandered along, strange rock formation we saw and the incredible views we witnessed. And what's more it costs only the petrol you use to get around!
The final stop (for us) on the route was Nugget Point, a steep sided headland of 133m from where a collection of rocks (the Nuggets) are visible, as is a plethora of nature occupying them (with good eys or binos) such as elephant and Southern fur seals and more Yellow Eyed penguins if it's timed right. We then headed into the fading light of dusk to the student city of Dunedin.
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