Come Hell AND high water

Trip Start Apr 20, 2010
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Trip End May 20, 2010


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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, April 26, 2010

Last night we awoke to rain and wind and it continued all night long. Staying in our amazing room at Yellow House our Starry Suite had a fabulous glass roof over the sitting area and all night we heard the rain pounding it.  The entire suite is surrounded by glass which is just amazing I am sure when it isn't raining (although we did not experience much of that) but it was amazing in a different way in the rain.  I hoped that with that much rain at night it would be gone during the day but we woke up at 7 am and still raining…Little did we know what we were about to face and what was happening on the rest of the south island.  Here in NZ they do not have the TV system that we do and our constant contact with radar and instant weather.  Here most of the news and info is received via their newspaper (which by the way is GIGANTIC and very wide) and very little info is available on TV.  In fact TV in general here is really a hodge podge of American TV mostly that is several weeks (and often even seasons) behind us.  That is OK for us as we are not here to watch TV and Jym still gets a bit of a fix watching a whole lot of nothing. Anyway…weather…it is not like you just pop on the weather channel.  So we have basic information which is provided via the newspaper or often the B&B owners have some info on road conditions or weather but it is very vague and uncertain.  We decided since it was raining so hard we would have to forego the Albatross and the Penguin tour and just head south.  I wanted to see some of the waterfalls on the Catlins coast and although I recognized this would add time to our journey I thought it was worth a shot.  We continued to drive in the rain hoping it would stop but it did not.  We approached the first stop on my journey which was the Nugget Point Lighthouse.  The hike to the lighthouse was a bit slippy in the rain and we were soaked but it was worth the effort.  It must be just stunning in the sunlight.  We saw many sea lions and seals playing about down below us.  The cliffs are steep and we were way up and since it was raining so hard I didn’t carry my good camera.  Luckily I had my stylus tough and was able to test the "waterproof" capabilities (we also tested the “shockproof” capabilities when Jym laid it on the roof of the car under his coat then forgot and knocked it to the ground!...It still works…so that gets an A)  As we hiked down from the lighthouse and onward back the road we drove past a house that had a studio for art and crystals.  Jym was excited as he loves the whole crystal thing so we stopped.  We met the artist and crystal expert Janice who is just an amazing person.  She invited us into her home for coffee and the view from her livingroom was just unreal.  I cannot imagine living such a peaceful existence.  She does healing sessions with crystals and alternative treatments.  She was so fascinating and it was truly an experience for Jym. He was so excited he could not stop talking about it. It was still raining quite hard when we left.  It also cut into our time severely so I knew we would have to cut out a few things.  We decided on 2 waterfall hikes and the journey to Curio Bay (a fossilized Jurassic beach…with penguins!)  First we stopped at Parakanui Falls.  Normally these falls are just stunning but after all the water and rain they were a torrent of water.  So much power.  I was shocked at how much water was coming over the falls.  The next hike was to Matai Falls and that too was a bit steep and wet so slightly slippy but the falls were well worth it.  The hikes reminded me of being in Costa Rica.  It was a rainforest area..very lush and green and the trees and foliage just screamed Costa Rica to me...except it was freezing cold so I knew I was NOT in Costa Rica!Soaking wet we made our way to Curio Bay.  I knew at this point we were in trouble time wise but I thought we could still make it out in time.  It was getting dark already and was about 5:00.  It was windy and cold and pouring but we made our way down onto Curio Beach and walked along the petrified forest of logs and there they were…all coming up from the sea… the yellow eyed penguins.  I probably saw 6 of them and they were just amazing…again it was dark so cameras were not exactly helping and it was pouring so I had to rely on the camera in my eyes which is apparently taking better pics than the camera…They hopped along from rock to rock and called out to the other penguins already safe in the hills.  The sound was amazing as all the penguins called back.  You couldn’t see them but you knew they were there.  There were a few other crazy tourists on the beach with us and we all watched as 2 penguins sat under a tree and made what sounded like laughter.  One woman said “It sounds like they are laughing.  Why would they be laughing?”  Well probably because us idiots are soaking wet and clambering out onto the beach at dark in the cold to look at them!  I felt it was all well worth it all to see that.  We left and tried to head out toward our final destination…Te Anau…the gateway to the fiords.  It was dark and I knew we still had quite a journey ahead.  Our GPS was not getting any satellite reception so we were on our own with my bevy of maps. To make it worse the Catlins and southern scenic route have no petrol stations and no restaurants…in fact you don’t even see homes.  In our haste we had not eaten since breakfast and there was no where to stop.  This would turn out to be the least of our worries.  We drove for 2 hours or so and it was then that I noticed the GPS was trying to kill us.  First we landed on a railroad track and then in an industrial park dead end and then finally in a maze of dirt piles.  We could see the road but couldn’t get to it.  Finally we figured it all out on our own and low on gas made our way into Invercargill.  The city was bigger than I expected and we found a petrol station and unfortunately the only place open for food at that late hour was…you guessed it…McD’s.  I sucked it up and we had a quick “dinner” before heading out of town.  The GPS said we would arrive at 9:30 at Te Anau which was late but seemed reasonable.  We again ventured out into the darkness and drove onward for 2 hours.  During this time we passed no signs of civilization…no petrol stations, no homes…just darkness and road.  We could not see what was in front of us or beside us and all I had was the GPS to see when their were rivers or lakes near us.  As we drove we noticed that the road was flooded in several places.  As we approached Te Anau and were about a half hour out we began to really experience the reality of our plight.  Several times we were directed to turn onto roads that were completely flooded.  To make it more horrifying there were no signs saying that it was and we almost drove into it several times.  I cannot describe how terrifying it is to know that you are surrounded by a terrain that you are unfamiliar with (even during daylight) and the roads you are on are questionable at best…often not paved and only gravel…but also often the ONLY road from A to B.  You cannot see what is around you and there is no light except from your car headlights.  There is no one for miles…no other cars, no homes, NOTHING. It is something that you cannot even imagine in America.  You are hours from a town.  There is no communication out there…no phone, nothing.  Just you and the darkest darkness you can imagine…oh and rain…a lot of it.  Pouring torrents of rain.  Thankfully due to that lack of communication I referred to we were oblivious to what was happening around us.  Water levels on both sides of the road were coming up and at one point there was a raging rapids between the road and the sheep fence and I knew that did not belong there.  We were shocked at the amount and power of the water that was making its own trail.  We had come up to several “flood” signs but had no choice but to press on.  With how fast the water was rising we could not go back as the roads that were once passable likely were no longer and then there it was the “road closed” sign.  This was our road into Te Anau.  The ONLY road into Te Anau.  There was a detour sign which we followed and not a half a mile up the Detour road we were faced with a river crossing the road.  On the GPS I could see that there was a river on our left and the road we were on was merely gravel.  We had no choice but to drive through it.  I know you are all thinking DUMB…Never drive through high water.  But you cannot imagine having no choices.  In Orlando when a road has water on it you turn around and go onto one of the 75 other roads.  Not here.  Here the roads are barely paved and there is often only ONE road.  This was a detour road (a detour that stood to take us an HOUR out of our way…if it was even passable at all).  I could only think that we could not go back and we could not go forward and if we stayed there we could be carried away in the darkness by the rising flood waters.  There is nothing I have…no words to even describe that feeling. It is truly you against the nature.  When they say this land is wild and untamed they are not exaggerating.  The choice to go forward through the flood water turned out to be the only choice we could have made.  Following the road we eventually came on a crossroad.  We went toward Te Anau as our GPS directed….45 minutes in the darkness and we approached within 10 minutes of what we hoped was the town and cones blocked the road. It was now almost 11:00 PM and we were so exhausted after driving for over 13 hours that day and having little to eat.  We were soaked and agitated and now more cones.  So Jym decided he would drive through them.  We made it a mile up the road where we came upon the ultimate blockade. I could see there was no road left just a steep drop in front of us into a raging river.  We again turned back and headed south again another 45 minutes journey out of our way.  We arrived at the B&B Dunluce at almost midnight.  I felt terrible.  This is where staying in a hotel has its advantage…if you disturb the night clerk no big deal but a B&B is someone’s home and the other people staying there are bothered as well.  But luckily they got out of bed and let us into our room.  I do not even know that I cared about the room and we just went to bed.  We had no clue till morning what it was we had survived…oh come on now you have to read the next entry…
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