Hitching to the waterfalls...

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
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Trip End Feb 27, 2006


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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Lonely Planet had described my next backpackers as "exceptional," so I was looking forward to spending a couple of nights there. Hilltop, situated on top of a hill (obviously), turned out to be a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere. It was the definition of 'cosy,' with just 4 dorm beds and 1 double room, and the view across the hills and out to sea was breathtaking. Sheep and lambs hovered all around the garden's fence, and the relaxed, rural feel of the place was a joy to behold.

Eager to take advantage of the nice weather, I soon set off walking down the hill and headed towards the beach. A farmer pulled up by the side of me and said "I'm going as far as the shop," which indicates the relative isolation of the backpackers. I climbed in and asked about walks in the Papatowai area, although I already knew of a few that I wanted to do. He recommended a 3 hour bush walk that included a stretch on the beach - it sounded ideal. So he dropped me off near the entrance to the track and I thanked him for the lift, although we had only travelled about 300m!

The walk, for the first hour or so, passed through forest area...muddy forest area! Actually, it wasn't so bad, and I must admit it was quite fun trying to skirt around the puddles without getting wet. There were a couple of little crossings across logs that tested my balance, and my mind turned to The Crystal Maze where the 'log' used to turn around while the contestants tried to cross! Thankfully I escaped unscathed, although I planted my feet into swamp like mud on a couple of occasions (and nearly lost my trainers due to my habit of not tying my laces!).

Suddenly I saw a chink of light and I walked out onto another deserted, golden, windswept beach. I have been surprised by the numerous untouched beaches in this region, all of them beautiful and peaceful. So I had a stroll along the sand for a couple of kilometres, pausing for a short while as usual to take in the scenery, before completing the circuit via another interesting bush walk.

Back at the Hilltop, I thought I had the quaint cottage to myself until a couple from Perth arrived. Luckily they were very friendly, and supplied me with 2 glasses of white wine which was very nice of them. The guy was originally from Lancashire, and we had a lot in common, most noticably the fact that we both went to the same University at Lancaster, although he studied there in the late '80s. Not only that, we were both members of Bowland College and lived in the Tower Block! Small world. Also, all 3 of us had an interest in cricket, so there was a lot of talk about the recent Ashes series. They were great company.

I woke up early the next morning as there were a lot of things I wanted to see, but some of these sights were only accessible by car. Therefore I had to try my luck at hitch hiking again, but I was confident of getting a ride as people are less inclined to ignore you on the quiet roads (guilty conscience!). So after breakfast I walked down to the 'southern scenic route' that connects Dunedin to Invercargill, and parked my bum at the side of the bridge.

Just 3 cars passed in the first 20 minutes, but I was in no rush, and it was a calm day weatherwise. It was an ideal place to hitch hike as cars were obliged to slow down to cross the one lane bridge, and sure enough a campervan pulled over within minutes. Patrick, from Ohio, was a jovial young fellow whose only plan was to head up to Christchurch, and he was keen to see the sights on the way.

The first stop came about 12km up the road at Matai/Horseshoe Falls. My love of waterfalls should be clear by now, and I didn't want to miss out on them just because I didn't have a car. We arrived at the Matai Falls after a 15 minute bush walk, and they were definitely more impressive than the Barrs Falls near Owaka. Another 5 minute track led us to the Horseshoe Falls, which were similarly beautiful. It was nice to have another person with me so that I didn't have to mess about with the timer on my increasingly temperamental digital camera!

The Purakaunui Falls were my main priority though, and their tiered nature made for a stunning sight, and a definite highlight of my Catlins trip thus far. Unfortunately, I was now more than 20km from Papatowai and Patrick was going in the opposite direction, so once again I had to hitch hike. He dropped me off in a decent spot though, so I knew I wouldn't have to wait long.

The traffic was very slow, but it wasn't long before a minibus full of Kiwis pulled over. They'd been at a conference in Dunedin and were doing a quick journey around the lower half of the South Island. They were very friendly, but for some reason the driver thought I was a Geordie! When I said I was from Yorkshire, one of the others immediately said "Geoff Boycott!" Is he really the most famous Yorkshireman?!

They stopped at Matai Falls, so I set off walking the rest of the way, though they said they'd pick me up again later if need be. Walking down the hill from the Falls provided some great views, but just a couple of kilometres later another van pulled over...but he was on the opposite side of the road and I wasn't even hitch hiking! It was a young Kiwi who asked where I was going, and said he'd do a U-turn and take me to Papatowai! Unbelievable! "Friendly" must be one of the most used words in this journal, but it is usually very apt. Alex was from Auckland and had been working nearby, but had been persuaded to go to Stewart Island via the Catlins before he returned home...and he was glowing about the scenery he'd encountered which was a huge contrast to Auckland.

I arrived back at the backpackers before midday having seen what I'd set out to see, and I'd met some nice people along the way. I can definitely see why people hitch hike, although it usually involves more hassle when you have all your belongings with you. I just had a day pack, so people were more likely to pull over.

Feeling upbeat after a good morning's work, I had lunch and off I went again, this time in the opposite direction to the "spectacular, sweeping" Tautuku Bay. I didn't appreciate how far away it was, and it involved a lengthy climb up Florence Hill. In fact, I contemplated turning back once I'd reached the lookout on top of the Hill, but I was greeted by such a great view that I wanted to carry on and go for a walk on the immaculate beach.

It turned out to be a 4 hour return trip, but it was definitely worth it as the beach was one of the best ones I'd seen in New Zealand, with huge waves crashing onto the sand. The immediate backdrop of dense forest provided an unusual contrast. Indeed, the beach was only accessible via a 10 minute bush walk, adding to its appeal as a remote, undiscovered getaway.

I had to rescue a petrified lamb at the hostel, as it had somehow got into the garden and was baaing away with no way of escaping! I opened the gate and tried to usher it out, but instead it ran around the front of the building and tried to jump through the fence! It was very cute, but I was pleased when it spotted the opening at last and went to join the others, leaving me to settle down for the night after a busy couple of days in Papatowai.
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