Catlins Day 1: Waterfalls, Penguins, and Widgets

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Catlins Gateway Motel

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Saturday, January 2, 2010

So, the waiter lied to us. It rained throughout the night, and we woke up to cold and drizzle. Matters improved somewhat throughout the day, and we didn't get rained on much.
We focused on sights around the northern part of the Catlins coast today. These included several waterfalls, a nice cafe, a great gallery, and Nugget Point.
The first waterfall we visited was the closest to Owaka and the smallest of the day. Barrs Falls is a small but attractive falls a short drive off the highway and a short walk from the parking area.
The next two sets of falls are better-known and much larger. Purakaunui Falls was a nice fan of water across a wide rock face, and McLean Falls was the star of the day, being impressively tall, with an equally impressive amout of water coming over it. All three were well worth the not-too-long walks.
Remaining falls in the region include Matai and Horseshoe Falls, which we're saving for tomorrow.
At the base of the road to McLean Falls is the Whistling Frog Cafe. We got a very nice meal off of them, and heartily recommend a stop if you're passing through.
Heading back toward Owaka we passed through the settlement of Papatowai, home to a fantastic stop. For lack of a better term I'll call it an art gallery, but that doesn't do it justice. The artist's shop is an old converted bus, which has some stuff for sale and more stuff just to look at. He builds various whimsical contraptions, many hand-cranked or water-powered, that delighted everybody present. For $5 you can go through the 'theatre' to see more and larger inventions in the same vein, and I felt it was $5 well-spent. As one of our fellow patrons put it: 'what a mind...' It's known as the Lost Gypsy Gallery and is pretty unmissable on the west side of the road...look for the whale mailbox.
After a brief rest back at the motel (Catlins Gateway Motel, incidentally, which is new and comfortable), we headed to Nugget Point. A rocky headland jutting out into the Pacific, it is home to an 1800's and still-functioning lighthouse, and provides opportunities to view yellow-eyed penguins, seals, and sea lions. We saw an adult and a chick penguin very clearly from the road, heard them and several others calling, and saw three down on the beach from the viewing blind. Better viewing than our paid tour yesterday! Going in the evening (around 7:00) helped with that.
After that we took the gentle track out to the lighthouse, where you can see the Nuggets themselves (blocks of sandstone jutting out of the sea), and fantastic vistas of the surrounding coast. The area reminded me of the Northern California coastline, particularly around Point Reyes.
Our final stop of the day was at Tunnel Hill just out of Owaka. It's an old railway tunnel through, well, a hill, and is a neat quick stop.
Tomorrow they're again promising good weather, which we're hoping for. It's on to the southern part of the Catlins and into Invercargill for us.
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