Invercargill, 220 Million Year Old Lizards!, World's Fastest Indian, Catlins Southern Scenic Route, Torrential Weather, Slope Point, McClean Falls, Nugget Point!
Poor old Invercargill has its work cut out- it's just not a beautiful as the rest of NZ and is pretty isolated really- but we thought it was worth checking out a sights. The main sight isn't a building or natural wonder- but a lizard that lives in the Southland Museum & Art Gallery. The lizard in question is the Tuatara and as a species has been unchanged, and living in NZ for the past 220 million years- pretty amazing really, and they really should be more famous. In the enclosures we spotted the dominant male, a couple of teenagers and some babies that had hatched a few months ago. I have to say they were pretty cool.
The rest of the Musuem and Art was also interesting, and the exhibitions including information about the local Maori, the first settlers, whaling and shipwrecks along the infamous rough coastline. There was also a special exhibtion about Burt Munroe, who set land speed records on his Indian brand motorcycle.
We left the museum after popping back in to say goodbye to the Tuatara's and then began our scenic drive through the Catlins. The weather had been windy yesterday, but that seemed to be worsening, but we hoped it would begin to settle and we hadn't really come across any bad weather on out time in NZ so far. No such luck- as soon as we left Invercargill the wind became so bad that we couldn't open Boba's doors and on top of that it began to rain!
The Catlins, like the other scenic drives, has points of interest and places to stop off at along the way. So we stopped at Waipapa point, a famous shipwreck area with a lighthouse. In the very strong wind we walked to the lookout point, and then made our way to the lighthouse. Unfortunately a Sealion was asleep next to the lighthouse, but was camouflouged by the rocks and Ajay nearly stepped on it, thus waking it up and it didn't look too pleased so we got out of there and ran back to Boba!
The next stop was Slope point- the southern most tip on the South Island. The rain was almost torrential by this time, and somehow even windier. We weren't going to bother walking down there, but since you only live once.... The wind was so strong we had to take it in turns to open the doors, and then it was hard to stay upright and walk against the wind. We made it to the clifftop- and saw the Slope Point sign, and I managed to take a picture in the wind and spray from the crashing waves below us.
Insert slope point pic here.
We drove on to Curio Bay to see some fossiled trees in the rocks by the beach- but the weather was still miserable (although it wasn't raining as heavily) and I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking at. Next.
The final stop was McClean falls, and we were planning to camp at the holiday park next to the falls so after checking in went to have a look at the falls. Again, we were underwhelmed, and made our way back to the campsite to make a hot drink, a hot dinner and warm up before trying to get some sleep.
The weather had calmed a little in the night, but it was still grim. After breakfast we stopped off at Lake Wilkie and did a short walk that demonstrated lake forest and vegetation changing to mature forest (it used to be like this all over NZ). We then checked out the Matai and Horseshoe waterfalls- better than McClean falls but nothing compares to Iguazu! At Cannibal bay we decided to have some lunch, but sat in Boba due to the wind- just as well as the tide began to come in really suddenly and we were parked on the sand so had to quickly reverse unless we wanted to get stuck on the beach!
The weather had begun to clear up, and there was even some blue sky and sun appearing. At the next stop, Nugget Point, we walked to lighthouse perched on rocks out to sea- amazing views and we could appreciate the power of the sea- it looked pretty unforgiving. However, the local yellow eyed penguins swim out here everyday for food before returning to nest at Roaring Bay- we went to look at the hide but didn't stick around as they wouldn't be returning until dusk.
We drove on to Dunedin and found a place to stay before getting some food in for dinner. Tom and I had been in contact since bumping into each other at Franz Josef Glacier, and he was in Dunedin too, so we arranged to meet up for a drink that night. It was great to catch up again and I will ask him for photos to add onto the blog as I still can't believe how small the world is!
Invercargill is not the most exciting place in New Zealand but we did stop by to check out its prime tourist attraction at the Southland Museum and Art gallery namely the Tuatara. These are lizard-like reptiles that have apparently been unchanged in physical form for 220 million years. We also saw an exhibition of Burt Munroe who was famous for his speed records on his Indian motorcyle (you may remember an Anthony Hopkins starring biopic called 'The World's Fastest Indian') and some further exhibitions covering the history of Southland and how the region and its communities have developed.
We then jumped onto the Catlins Southern Scenic route which is a coastal route between Invercargill and Dunedin that winds through a region of lush farmland, native forests and rugged bays. It probably wasn't the best time of the year to visit this region because as soon as we set off we were ambushed with some powerful winds and rain. It was the most extreme weather that we'd experienced in New Zealand thus far. There were times, where we stopped at viewpoints, when we couldn't even open Boba's doors! Nevertheless, we soldiered on and had a little adventure over the next two days.
First stop on the scenic route was Waipapa point - the scene of NZ's worst civilian shipping disaster in 1881 when 131 people drowned. We took a short walk out to a lighthouse here but were soon frightened off by a sea-lion that was manning the fort and was clearly not asleep!
We then headed onto Slope point which is the southern most tip of the South Island. Note however that it's not strictly the southernmost point of New Zealand as that honour goes to a group of sub-Antarctic islands (including Stewart Island) that lie further south of the South Island. We ummed and ahhed for about five minutes about whether to leg it in the horrendous weather across the field all the way to the point (a goog ten to fifteen minute walk). In the end we decided that as we had come this far we might as well do it so off we went. At the point we found a signpost atop a windswept barren rock - all-in-all, a suitably end-of-the-earth type scenario.
The next stop was Curio Bay where we saw fossiled trees on the beach. Pretty hard to see to be honest, and a little underwhelming, but I guess there's a lot of history there and the petrified wood is probably a geologist's wet dream.
The final stop of the day was McClean Falls which was a natural waterfall - it was ok but nothing compared to the mighty Iguazu! That night we camped overnight at McClean Falls holiday park.
The next morning we continued along the Southern Scenic route to Lake Wilkie where we undertook a short walk along a trail which showed the succession of forest development from lake edge to mature forest.
We continued onto the Matai and Horseshoe Falls and then lunched at Cannibal Bay but we had to make it a quick one as the tide was starting to come in and we had to reverse out of there before we got stuck in the water!
The weather was still a bit rubbish but bits of blue sky were breaking through intermittently. The next stop was Nugget Point/Tokata where we saw a lighthouse perched out on top of a cliff. The 360 degree views were pretty cool here and we could dark grey storm clouds moving across the horizon and also waves crashing dramatically below us against the coastline. We briefly stopped over at a penguin hide at Roaring Bay but didn't stay there for long as the penguins didn't return until dusk.
Instead we drove onto Dunedin and after checking into our holiday park and a quick food shop, we headed out for a drink with Am's friend Tom, who we had bumped into over a week ago at Franz Josef glacier, in the centre of town.