From Dunedin to the Catlins

January 24, 2012

The Weather Turns

Leaving the Otago Peninsula and the hospitality of Edna was a wrench, but our journey continues. Like Bilbo and Frodo we had a quest to fulfil. This was to get on the Southern Scenic Route towards the Catlins and enjoy the views.  The weather tried its hardest to get in the way with some torrential rain, hailstorms and winds that made Bertha rock her socks off. We also discovered we were entering a land of no mobile signal and thus no internet except for $2 per 15minute access at an information centre.  We may have been cut off from the world for the last three days, but we have instead connected with nature.

Dunedin Done

We were forced to don long trousers and hoodies for the first time in over 6 weeks as we awoke on the Otago Peninsula.  The sky was grey and, as we learned later from the local radio weather forecast, there was a Sou’ Westerly blowing in cold air and taking the temperature down ten degrees for the next few days.

Wrapped up for the weather we found a parking spot for Bertha in the City (not bad at a $1 (50p) an hour and left her on her own for four hours while we explored the city.  Dunedin was a mixture of deco and Victoriana with a Scottish twist and looking at the rail station you could be forgiven if you thought you were in Edinburgh. You can see why the Scottish moved to this part of New Zealand, the climate seemed very ‘North of the Border’ to us.

Dunedin has some fine deco buildings, but sadly the weather and the addition of 21st century signage meant my poor camera was unable to capture the city.  As it was chilly we decided on a visit to Dunedin gallery which was small, but had some interesting exhibits.  I especially like the way they mixed modern art right next to some of the 19th and 18th century pieces.

We utilised the free wifi to upload the blog pictures that was on offer in the hexagon (Dunedin main centre) provided by the local council while having a much deserved latte in one of the reasonably priced coffee bars dotted around the main square.  Nice touch Dunedin, we like free internet.  Dunedin was torture for John as he was unable to sample the free NZ produced whiskey tastings on offer as he was driving.

Every Saturday just outside the railway station you will find a farmers market which is well worth a visit.  We breakfasted on a Lebanese bread filled with fresh vegetable and spices, stocked up with some very tasty cherries and other goodies from the small stalls.  Finally we had a chance to restock Bertha’s vegetable rack with fresh produce before setting off on the Southern Scenic Route.

Catlins Bound

Leaving Dunedin you pass through Brighton which unlike the UK version has beautiful white sandy beaches.  You then head inland a little and pass through Milton. Milton  was forgettable unless you are a farmer in need of a tractor, tools and equipment.  You then reach Balclutha and enter the town over a  slightly interesting bridge.  We headed for the tourist information centre and realised firstly it was Saturday and secondly that as it was Saturday the centres shut at 3pm.  Note to self and fellow travellers if you are in search of one of those very handy local detail maps get there before three on Saturdays and Sundays.

There are a few routes out of Balclutha and I managed to pick the wrong one.  I didn’t notice (my first navigation error on this trip I might add) until we were 20km towards Queenstown.  Ooops.  A quick turn around and thirty minutes later and we were back on the right road.  I blame the tourist office being closed!!

Not a Bad Pitch

We headed down to Owaka and onto Parakaunui Bay DOC (Department of Conservation) site.  The little picture of this site looked inviting, placed right on the beach and we thought maybe they were talking it up with a pretty picture.  What we didn’t realise was that there was about 8km of hilly, bendy gravel road to get Bertha up, down and round to get there.   She, and John’s superb driving got us there safely.

As we turned the last corner we spotted the beach.  We found a perfect spot, in fact just about the same spot the DOC camp guide picture was taken from and got Bertha positioned so we had a view of the bay from her rear window.  Parakaunui has to have one of the best camping views for £3 a night.

There are also some beautiful walks along the beach round the rocky coastline from here which we indulged the next morning complete with our long trousers, North Face jackets and sensible walking shoes as protection from the weather. This weather, you should note, dos not in any way deter the surfers from donning their wetsuits and diving into what felt to us like a freezing sea. Which we watched from the comfort of Bertha’s heated rear cabin.

The next day we backtracked on ourselves a little and visited Parakauni Falls.  The falls are accessed by 7km more gravel road, but John was a dab hand at getting Bertha along these by now so it was a breeze.   They were probably worth the journey, but they didn’t set us alight.

From there we headed back through Owaka (for the second time) and dropped into the tourist information centre.   Here we got some great tips and that elusive local map from the wonderfully helpful staff there who also informed us that the

DOC site we had stayed at featured in the Narnia film (not sure which one, “the one with the lion in” she told me, admitting she had never seen it). So its not all Lord of the Rings here in New Zealand after all.

Little Nuggets Come to Those who Wait

We headed from here to Cannibal Bay (named thus as human remains were found among the sand dunes there ) which is no doubt beautiful.  However, as we arrived the heavens opened and there was no way we could walk 10 metres from the van without getting soaked.  We headed instead for Nugget Point and hoped the weather would improve.

The journey there did not see any improvement and 12km of mostly bumpy gravel track later and we were in the car park being blown from side to side watching people return from the 10 minute walk to the lighthouse lookout looking decidedly drenched and windswept.  We decided to keep the van doors firmly closed and cook lunch in the hope of some respite in the next hour.

The plan worked and just as we were sipping our post lunch tea the grey skies parted slightly and the rain stopped.  We donned the waterproofs and legged it to the lookout.  While the rain had stopped the howling winds hadn’t but we could cope with that as we revelled in the views up and down the coast and watched the angry seas batter the rocks below us.   Well worth the wait.

A quick trip back through Owaka (for the third time) and we were headed to the Catlins.  Our plan had been to stay at the other DOC site in the area and then do the five hour hike up the Catlins River, but the weather was so appalling and the forecast no better we decided to drive on and headed for Curio Bay and Waikawa in a vain attempt to dodge the grey sky.

The journey, was beautiful even in the rain, the sleet and winds. The scenery changed significantly from the previous couple of days and was still remarkable.   Particularly beautiful was the Maclennan Reserve and the views from the Florence Hill Lookout.   We then turned left and headed towards Curio Bay.   We arrived and found a volunteer run campsite right on the bay with the promise of dolphin, penguin and sea lions so we decided to make this our home for the next two days and have a break from the travelling, and the weather.   As I write this we are on our second night and we’ve not been disappointed, as you’ll see in our next, hopefully more exciting post!

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