Catlins Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill

Trip Start Dec 01, 2009
Trip End Jan 23, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hmmm, we must be enjoying ourselves, because the blog is getting further behind!  When we last left off, we were feeling disappointed not to have more time to see Dunedin. We'll have to return there one day, for sure.

But this time, we journeyed further south, toward the southern tip of New Zealand, and the coastal beauty of the Catlins. This area is known for being less developed, more ruggedly beautiful, and also for having more "weather"--that is, wet, grey, windy days. We managed to experience all that the Catlins is known for! Though it would have probably been a tremendous treat to see this region on a sunny day, it was still quite picturesque with the dramatic big swells on the ocean, and with waterfalls flowing more heavily than at other times.

To see the Catlins, one must veer off the main highway, and opt for the Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill. This road winds in and out of hilly terrain, closer to the coast, with occasional views of the sea, but also many opportunities to divert from the road and walk 30-45 minutes into the forest to find waterfalls.

Our first stop was at a place called Nugget Point. It was windy and chilly and with a slight drizzle (bring your slicker and ear muffs!), but not enough to keep us from walking the 1km path to the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula.  Along the way we could see seals on the rocks below us. The young ones make sounds like a terrified infant: a little disturbing to hear, but completely normal. The large rock formations just off the bluff are some mighty big nuggets, enough to affect the tides significantly.  To the southwest, the winds and waves were powerful, but on the northeastern sides, the waters and winds were much calmer, with slowly swirling kelp beds raising and lowering on the undulating waves.  Sea lions relaxed on the rocky outcrops at the base of the nuggets, clearly unbothered by the weather that put us wimpy humans into protective gear.

Further on, we stopped for a light lunch then a 15 minute walk down to Purakaunui Falls.  This is one of those scenes that appears in postcards, a cascading beauty that tumbles over many shelves before reaching a pool at its base.  We wanted to scramble onto some rocks for a better view, but as it was rainy, the rocks were extremely slick, so we decided not to land ourselves in deep wet mud, and settled for the image taken from the viewpoint. I could imagine sitting quietly there with no sense of time, meditating in tranquility and feeling the world become more present and alive with every drop of water pouring over the edge.

Next along the road was a walk to Matai Falls & Horseshoe Falls. You'll see a couple images near Matai, including Mark climbing out on a tree limb where he could get a clear view of the cascade. The character of these falls was less of the gentle tumble, and more of the curtain-like pour off. Mossy branches on overhanging trees added to the sense of tropical majesty.

The longest walk took us to McLean Falls. Along the way my eyes scanned the forest canopy and understory, becoming more familiar with the distinguishing shapes of the native plants all the while listening to the sound of birds, the rush of the river, and soon, the thundering of the falls. I was surprised not to have heard much about this one. It's massive in volume compared to the others described here, plummeting down in several tiers. It's big enough that one can only see one tier at a time. Hiking further, the next tier comes into view. But even as segments, it's a powerful and awesome sight.  

Be sure to click on the video of the falls below. There's just such a difference between viewing a static image versus seeing and hearing a constantly moving thing like a waterfall. If only we could share with you the refreshing feeling of the air, and more of the forest sounds that are too subtle for the camera's little microphone to capture!

One thing about the Catlins that is both unusual and also valuable, is the fact that there are very few human settlements along this stretch of coast. Driving back to the highway from McLean Falls we stopped for a cuppa and a little treat at that locally uncommon sight: a fun cafe and lodging facility. We were about to feel like frustrated customers after our hot beverages were long finished and we were still sitting patiently for another 15 minutes or more, when our server came out to inform us that the rhubarb crisp Mark had ordered would be out of the oven in another 10 minutes.  The whole dish was prepared and baked to order...tart, steaming, and absolutely scrumptious!

On the map was a reference to Niagara Falls...New Zealand's version. It's another diversion off the main highway, so we were a bit disappointed to find that it was someone's keen sense of humor...this spectacle is only a few inches tall! The laugh's on us since we followed the map out there!
From there, we made our way to the next of the larger southern towns, Invercargill, where we had reservations at a holiday park for the night. Rainy skies were settled in at this point, and the region surrounding Invercargill is a relatively flat low-lying coastal area. On a clear day, one can look south to Stewart Island. On another visit, we'd like to get out there. It's a largish island that is a predominantly protected landscape with no roads (and not surprisingly, more native wildlife), but long distances of hiking tracks and huts all along the way.

The next day we caught up on a bit of photo editing and blogging--the two preceding this one--a useful way to spend a rainy morning. We felt sorry watching folks who had been camping in tents (we had rented a room) scramble to pack up their accommodations in the deluge.  

In the afternoon, the rain subsided and we needed a good stretch, so we headed into Invercargill proper, and wandered through their botanic gardens. We can't seem to get too much of these treasures. The size of the trees shows careful planning by the first landscape designers. I wondered how big the trees were when those folks last laid eyes on them. In our time, they are massive, and it's easy to think of them as old statesmen, with a protective eye watching over the passage of time. The rose garden had interesting information plaques, describing the origins of the different varietal families, including "Alba" with its "unrivaled" fragrance. I quite agreed with their assessment. Although I love Mom's favorite variety, "Mr. Lincoln," Alba's simple white flowers had such a fresh, sweet aroma, I kept sticking my nose into them and inhaling deeply, while Mark patiently waited for me to come along. We were both delighted to see one segment of the garden was both attractive and completely edible, with chard of various colors (called silverbeet here), cabbages, lettuces, and many other delights.  I could go on and on about the variously themed flower and plant arrangements, but I might bore most of you kind readers. So, I won't tell you about all the plantings.  If you'd like to know, you'll just have to come to Invercargill yourself!  

One non-vegetal treat of the botanic gardens is the fact that it contains an aviary--a relatively recent addition to the park.  Many rescued birds from the southern hemisphere live there, including the unbelievably colorful rainbow lorakeet, lovebirds, different types of pheasants & parakeets, and a common bird in Australia, the gala.  This particular gala behaved as though he thought I was mating potential...he came right to the edge of his enclosure, puffed up his crown feathers, and did a fantastic little dance for me.  When Mark came over, he'd quit, so it seemed that at least he know who the girl was!  I was feeling a bit like the ornithology nerd that I am, smiling gleefully at all the birds I'd never seen before outside of a bird guide.

We also had read about the native large lizard called the tuatara.  Apparently these critters sit motionless for time periods longer than most humans have patience for, but we were we walked by their glassed-in homes, they were coming out of their burrows, turning their heads to look at us, and chasing the occasional insect prey.  Mark really liked a sculpture made to resemble these creatures.  Looks like he was ready to cuddle up with it as if it were a child's stuffed animal.

After our nice walk through the park, we returned to our warm, dry abode for a good home-cooked curry meal and glass of NZ red, then turned in early, ready to drive north and toward the lakes and mountains that the south island is so known for.  Sleep tight!
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Heather & Tomas on

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