Monday, May 30, 2011

The Catlins - New Zealand

Our next adventure was to explore the Catlins region between Dunedin and Invercargill which is made up of farmland, forests and bays.  The scenery was totally epic as we drove along the unsealed roads somewhat carefully always surrounded by fields of sheep.  On the Saturday before Easter Sunday we headed on the coastal route to Nugget point where there was a glorious lighthouse lookout point.  We could see seals having lots of fun on the rocks far below the path and there were lots of islets making up the spectacular view from the lighthouse.  The journey was stunning as we headed to Pounawea where we thought it would be a good idea to charge up the battery in a campsite with the van having been parked outside Al’s for a couple of nights. 

The campsite was in a great location right on the coast with a long beach trailing round as far as you could see with the usual driftwood making up the scene.  As we carried further along just as it was getting far too dark to take a decent photo we saw a moving grey lump on the beach which would have been another sea lion.  Because it wasn’t too easy to see where to run to we decided not to get too close this time.  When using the campsite facilities that evening we met our first Maori (native New Zealand) family who were cooking away in the kitchen.  They were cooking a strange mollusk called a Paua and were making some type of stew with it.  It was slightly larger and flatter than an oyster and was black.  They mentioned that they usually mince it to eat it.

Nugget point lighthouse

The view from the lighthouse

The following day we went for another stroll along the beach before heading out.  Having left our campsite in Pounawea we stopped for lunch where we saw yet another sea lion dragging his belly back into the water from the beach.  We stopped off at Jack’s Blowhole which is an hour’s walk to a sea-carved cave which is completely open inland and forms a big hole in the landscape.  The walk was nice and the blowhole was interesting to see even if the waves weren’t too impressive today.  We only stopped for a little bit before we turned around and headed back to the van.  

Kate on the beach with not another person in sight
The sea lion (circled) making his way back to the ocean

Sheep saying hello

The windswept trees during the hour long coastal walk to Jack's Blowhole

The sea rushing into the inland cave

We had originally planned on staying in our first DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite.  These are publicly owned sites which are much cheaper than private ones but with limited facilities such as a smelly long drop toilet and perhaps a BBQ but generally don’t offer an opportunity to charge the battery.  Unfortunately, the bridge that we needed to get there was no longer in existence so we opted to stay at a well-priced campsite in Curio Bay with basic facilities.  The area is a hotspot for penguin watching and even as the sky quickly turned grey and the rain came down there were still people shivering and pointing away in their anoraks.  We couldn’t stand too much of this, so after seeing a couple of distant penguins we headed back to our campsite.  The next day was a great opportunity to see the area in all of its glory.  There was a convenient lookout point where the waves were crashing heavily against the rocks sculpted by the sea.  Even in the hot sun the immense wind made it bitterly cold so we absorbed the view over breakfast from the comfort of our campervan after taking a few pictures.

Waves crashing high against the coast

The coastline at Curio Bay

Waves crashing at Curio Bay

Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula - New Zealand

The following day in Dunedin we had decided to visit Cadbury world in order to do the guided tour of their chocolate factory.  I had been to a Cadbury World in the UK when visiting family and was well impressed although would have been closer to the age where chocolate factory tours are appropriate.  We made our way their only to find that it was overbooked for the day, pretty gutted but we booked ourselves in for the next day.  Instead we headed to the library for their free internet to check if Al had replied but still nothing. We then took a wander around town until we reached the Otago museum which was free and had some excellent exhibits.  My favourite was the part dedicated to the native species of New Zealand including those extinct such as the gigantic moa bird.  There was also an interactive exhibition dedicated to faces and how we interpret them which was interesting and engaging.  

'I am old' vanity plate was worth posting in our opinions

Me becoming a giant turtle in the museum

Kate in the one of the face exhibits

Following this we went to our next attraction which was according to the Guinness World Records the world’s steepest street.  Needless to say we parked at a street nearby rather than testing the handbrake to its limits.  The street did seem unusually steep but we were both expecting it to be steeper as it wasn’t too hard to climb with a bit of effort.  Even so it was nice to have done it and get the photos but we wouldn’t be buying the t-shirt.  Our final activity in town would be the Art Museum which included a work by the impressionist Monet and surprisingly also had a Lowry.  We both quite enjoy our art and there was some excellent stuff in the permanent section.  The modern art section was a little bit disappointing but you could argue that it’s a subjective thing.  We stayed on another night at the campsite with the intention of using the free internet at the library the next day to check if Al had responded to our request on Couchsurfing.  He fortunately had done and was willing to let us park up the van for a couple of nights.  

Messing around on the World's steepest street

Kate climbing the street
Today was Cadbury World day.  Having visited the Dunedin Art Museum we made our way to the Cadbury factory.  Instead of being as exciting as we had hoped we decided that the Cadbury World tour fee would have been better spent on chocolate as the visit consisted mainly of walking between televisions in the factory and them showing a DVD of how things are done in different sections which was a bit odd considering that we were here for a factory tour.  We didn’t actually see very much chocolate making at all other than what was shown on the DVD’s, perhaps because the staff had done all their work for Easter and were now relaxing for a few days whilst the Easter Bunny did its bit.  They did have a chocolate ‘waterfall’ which was in one of the old silos, it was basically a metal chute which released about a ton of chocolate in three seconds which was quite cool to see if not a little random.  All in all the factory tour was interesting in some parts but a little bit of a let-down. 

Kiwi art: We saw some Maori with similar facial tattoos

The beautiful train station building in Dunedin

Donning our hair catchers before the Cadbury tour

Some of the Cadbury cars taken after the tour

Our next job was to head out of the city and find our Couchsurfing host Al who lives just outside of Dunedin.  Again he had mentioned that he wouldn’t be there when we arrived but we didn’t get the ‘come right in’ treatment this time.  Instead we hung out in the van then walked Mana the dog until he got back a few hours or so later.  Having arrived back, we only had time for a glass of wine and a quick chat before heading to bed.  Because Al didn’t have as much space we slept in the van but luckily it wasn’t nearly as cold as it had been at Lake Tekapo so we had a good night’s sleep. 

Walking Mana the dog before Al returned

We said our goodbyes to Al and headed out East to the Otago Peninsula following advice from Al.  It is a windy and hilly mass of outstretched land towards the East of Dunedin.  We visited various parts, beginning at Sandfly bay which was a place where seals and penguins could be spotted with a bit of luck and the best times to see stuff is at sunrise and sunset.  The walk to the beach over grassy sheep-filled hills was nice and the beach alone is gorgeous so we enjoyed a nice long walk here.  Our next beach was Alan’s bay.  We did see our first seal during this walk but unfortunately it was dead, not a good start.  We headed back to the van and made our way further along the peninsula where Kate saw an albatross and we both managed to see some seals albeit quite far away.  It was great to see them in their natural habitat and they looked extremely happy frolicking amongst the rocks. 
Some of the many, many sheep

Sandfly bay

Alan's bay

It is just possible to see the seals frolicking on the rocks

Our final destination on the Otago Peninsula was sunset at Pilot’s bay.  There were already a Sea Lion and a Yellow Eyed Penguin on arrival albeit both of them far away without us able to get closer due to restrictions on where we could go.  Just as the sun had dipped below the horizon, a Sea Lion had stealthily clambered onto some rocks barely three feet away from where we were standing and we hadn’t even noticed him until he started making the loud unpleasant noises that Sea Lions make.  He had managed to land on his back and seemed to be having a bit of difficulty in rolling his fat body the right way up again.  He finally managed to do it and rolled his head around a few times for photographs before having a bit of a snooze on the rocks there completely unperturbed by us.  We hung around for the rare blue penguins and could just about see a few coming in but it was getting extremely dark and cold.  Finally satisfied with our Sir David Attenborough exploits we climbed back up to the van and headed back to cook dinner for Al and give Mana the dog some cuddles.

The sneaky sea lion emerges on the rocks next to us

The sea lion having a little look round before going back to sleep

Kate and the sea lion looking like a rock in the background

Mana the dog giving me a wakeup call