Follow by Email

19 March 2012

Trip to the Catlins

On Saturday (the 17th of March) I had my first official day off since starting my job (not counting my trip to Queenstown which was, officially, work and didn’t allow for much time to explore).  I had planned to take a trip to the coast and perhaps drive through the The Catlins.  I didn’t expect the weather to be absolutely perfect—unseasonably warm (for ANY season, here, apparently) at 24 degrees (75 F) and a cloudless sky.  So, I packed a lunch and some warm and waterproof clothing and prepared for an extensive exploration of the area. I took with me a couple of travel guides of the area and tried to make sense of endless list of recommended routes and stopping points.  In the end, it seemed simplest  just to follow The "Southern Scenic Route" out of Balclutha and see where it took me. 

As I drove, the landscape became more and more stunning as I wove through the green rolling hills, covered with trees and cows and sheep, back dropped, as they were, by a color of blue that I’ve rarely seen in skies.  I tried to take some photos but the road is fast and windy and whenever I’d see a particular photo-worthy view, it would be too dangerous to pull over and at the next pullout, the view would be obscured.  So with that whiny disclaimer (after all, with scenery like this, it was almost impossible to go wrong with the photos) I will proceed to describe what I saw and share some of the 300 ish photos that I did manage to take. (One LAST whiny disclaimer: the only camera I have is the 8 MP one on my Android phone.  It’s not bad but it’s not that good, either).
The Southern Scenic Route
For orientation purposes, this is a map of the route and the area:
For a key to the map, click here.  I started in Balclutha, just north of the number 25 on the map and went down as far as the number 6.

As I said, the day was perfect and just driving along the highway afforded breathtaking views of the countryside.

 Just before coming to the little town of Owaka, I stopped at a cemetery to catch a few shots of the dahlias.

Since I had already fortified myself with a large, late breakfast, I decided to motor on through Owaka and stop on the way back.  My ultimate goal was to get back up to Nugget Point by about 5:30 or 6 PM because 2 hours before dusk is supposed to be prime penguin-viewing time.  So on I went and just past Owaka I wound my way up a hill and, lo and behold, at the top was a pull-out .  I looked behind me and saw this:

It just kept getting better and better!  Along the way, there were dozens of places where one could turn off to go to various points of interests or hike along one of the many tracks into the forest, along the river, or out to the coast.  At that point I had to prioritise.  There were a few waterfalls that, by their description in the travel guides, I would not want to miss.  And, of course, there were the penguins.  So I made the relatively random decision to travel down as far as McLean falls, partly because the track to the Falls sounded so lovely and partly because there is a place there called “The Whistling Frog CafĂ©” which sounded like a nifty place to stop for lunch.  Having said that, I made one more stop at the Florence Hill Lookout, which was right there on a lefthand pullout, so I couldn’t resist.

The Lookout is between two peninsulas

There's a peninsula to the south

and a peninsula to the north
and cows in between!

It was an overlook just past the town of Papatowi.  I couldn’t take a photo of the sign leading into town (too dangerous) but it’s “tagline” said “Where forest meets sea.”  The view from Florence Hill Lookout exhibits that quite nicely.  In fact, there it is…thick groves of trees right up to the sandy beach.

With that, I got back in the car and continued the  beautiful, winding drive south to McLean Falls.  One of my guides says, “The 22 metre falls on the Tautuku River are often described as the most spectacular in the region.  The walk to the falls, though uphill, is not too steep and is very pleasant.”  I wasn’t disappointed!

The trail took me through a very “wet” forest (the temperature was several degrees cooler and I was surrounded by ferns).  

A very odd tree growing every which way, sort of reminded me of the trip through the rainforest in Mexico
Sun shining through the trees

I saw bits and pieces of the falls at first,

and then I reached the top and saw this: 

After I returned from seeing McLean Falls, I headed back toward the main road and found The Whistling Frog.   

and had a scrumptious bowl of seafood chowder (with fish, shrimp, mussels, and a variety of other delights) and a “lucky” flat white.

The cafe was also filled with really funky artwork which was for sale (and so it seemed tacky to photograph it).

Having decided that this was as far as I was going to go, I took a moment to plan my trip back.  One of the “must sees” was Purakaunui  Falls but before stopping there I decided that Lake Wilkie sounded interesting.

While on that walk, I heard a variety of  very interesting and very unfamiliar bird songs.  I hope to convince my dad to come over sometime and help sort out what these birds are!  I couldn't see them as I’d left the binoculars in the car, this time. 
Lake Wilkie
On the way back up the road, I saw some of the coastline from a different perspective.
 and stopped to take some photos of the rocky cliffs plunging into the sea.

The beach at Paptowi
 I took a short detour to the beach at Papatowi
and then I made my way to Purakaunui Falls.

The guide calls this “a true icon of the Catlins”,and “one of New Zealand’s most photographed waterfalls.”  I took quite a few, myself, and picking just the right ones to include was not an easy task.

More ferns on the track to the falls

My next stop was Owaka, a cute little town with some beautiful gardens and a few odd quirks.  

  Someone apparently had a teapot collection that got out of hand.  It has now become Teapotland.

Coming from Montana, it’s fascinating to see roses and lilies in bloom this time of year.  Remember, it’s pretty much autumn, here, now.  It would be the equivalent of seeing these in bloom in September in the Northern Hemisphere.  Maybe some places, but not Montana!

Ok, so I know you’re anxious to see the penguins.  Unfortunately, due to the quality of my camera, this is a part of the trip you’re just going to have to trust me on.  Some of my family members will remember my trip to Malawi.  We took a river cruise and waaaay off in the distance were some elephants.  At that time, I didn’t have a decent camera either (I need to get a decent camera, don’t I?) and the running joke forever after was I would point to a tiny black dot in the bush and say, “Look, can’t you see? It’s an elephant! There are elephants!”  The fact is, there really were elephants, but you really couldn’t see them in the photo.  Same with the penguins.  They really are there, and I really saw them with the binoculars, but you really can’t see them in the photos.

After leaving Owaka, I followed the signs to Nugget Point, which took me to the “penguin hide.”

Penguin "hide"
 It was a short walk down to the “hide” which was full of tourists. One thing about brilliantly beautiful weekend days is they DO attract lots of tourists.  The problem is, penguins are quite shy and of course they must know they are being watched by dozens of people, even with the hide there!  Anyway, the tourists were looking at a pair of penguins in the grass up on the bank, which I got a good view of with the binoculars, then we saw another one waddle out of the water to join them.  There it is, see?  That tiny speck just up in front of the brownish blobs (which are rocks and seaweed).

 And there, in the grass, there is a grayish-white speck?  That’s the pair of penguins.  By this time the other one had found it’s way up the grass and it’s standing in the bottom right corner of the picture—a whitish blob just in front of the shrubby plants.  You’re just going to have to trust me on this one…or better yet, come see for yourself!

"The Nuggets" which, in the setting sun, look like nuggets of gold
Having achieved my one goal for the day, I made my way to the Lighthouse at Nugget Point.  Nugget Point is named for the “nuggets” of rock that sit out in the water.  Along the walk up to the end of the point, and the Lighthouse, there are steep, plunging cliffs off to the side and, with binoculars, I was able to see cormorants (which they calls “shags” here), fur seals and elephant seals.  Again, they were too far for the camera to pick up. However, I did photograph some quite excellent views.

A butterfly on a sign

Down below the track, around this little pool of water, there were some seals resting.  You might just be able to make out some dark blobs just on the edge of the water.

Seals, see?

Another view of the Nuggets

Incredible blue water
By this time, the sun was starting to set,

 and my phone/camera’s battery was about dead.  So I got back in the car and made one more stop at Kaka Point, which is a tiny beach town about 25 km outside of Balclutha.

Kaka Point

And with that, I turned my car back toward home and put my very tired body to bed!

I have many more photos, some good, some not so good.  And there are many more to be taken, preferably by someone with a really good camera and some photography skills.  However, this should give you a rough idea of the spectacular day I had in the Catlins and the stunning surroundings that are very close at hand to my new home.  I’m open for visitors!  Just let me know in advance so I can take time off work.  


Joe Canner said...

I will definitely bring a nice camera if I come. Thanks for whetting the appetite!

RuthAnn said...

I think a nice little GOOD camera should be next on your shopping list? Love hearing and seeing your travels.

RuthAnn said...

She needs that camera soon!