The East Cape is a pretty epic region of the North Island. I drove it over a family-themed long weekend in February, a fantastic heritage trail visiting some of my father’s places of origin. But first I had to get up there. Read more
Posts tagged ‘road trip’
Summer 12/13 roadie, days 9-10
It was time to point the car back north. Unfortunately. But we were at the bottom of the South Island which meant we were still an 800km drive and 3 hour ferry ride away from home. Plenty of road tripping left.
On this day we’d be stopping overnight near Christchurch. First we had a quick trip into Dunedin so that Mike could do some family history research which entailed a visit to the Hocken Library and a couple of cemeteries.
An hour or so north is the small town of Moeraki where we’d been recommended to stop at a seafood cafe. This was the first time I’d been into the town which is tucked over a hill out of sight of the main road. The area is more famous for the Moeraki Boulders, a few minutes away, but we didn’t stop there this time.
Fleur’s Place it turns out is very popular but we found a table upstairs – another deck with another great view. We settled back to lashings of carbs and the first proper coffee for a couple of days (ironically, no seafood).
The rustic building was purpose-built on the site of an old whaling station using demolition materials and various collected items, which definitely add to its character.
By mid afternoon we were in the vicinity of Christchurch and we took the opportunity to head into the city for the first time since the earthquakes. I’ll pick that up in the next post.
The next day we made a beeline for the ferry in Picton.
Just off State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura is a brilliant viewing spot for NZ fur seals and the car duly veered off so that I could partake of some cuteness.
South of Blenheim is a blip of a place you normally just sail on past, possibly noting the striking stone church as you do so.
And the inevitable was getting closer.
Hope to see you again soon, South Island. You’re my favourite and I don’t care if the North Island finds out.
Summer 12/13 roadie, day 8, part 2
For our second to last night of the trip Mike chose Nugget Point at the eastern end of the Catlins. Again he chose well and while not as fancy (or maybe just less modern) as our Curio Bay pad, Nugget Lodge was fantastic. The upstairs apartment gave us wonderful beach views out to the South Pacific Ocean.
As a bonus, we were back in range of both cellphone and 3G coverage. Through much of the Catlins you’re without either – which ain’t a bad thing.
The coastline here was more rugged and this provided a dramatic lighthouse setting as well as native habitats for seals and penguins. And on that note, after checking in we hustled back out into the car and up the road to see what we could find.
Given we lacked grunty viewing equipment, and given we had penguin success at Curio Bay, we decided it wouldn’t be worth returning for the evening penguin migration from sea to land. Instead our attention turned to exploring the beach around our accommodation and partaking of beverages on our fine deck.
In less than two days we’d be home and back to work. Aghh!
Summer 12/13 roadie, day 8
We bid a fond farewell to Curio Bay and got stuck into our final day in the Catlins.
A short drive away, this small settlement contains a museum which also serves as an information centre. We mainly wanted find out if Cathedral Caves were open. These are coastal caves and accessibly only at a certain time of the day, and even then it’s not guaranteed – e.g. if conditions have been stormy. Which it had been.
Turns out the caves were closed. Rats.
We had a quick nosey around the museum, jammed full of local history, and some of the other local things before mooching off.
Not really worth a mention yet here I am. Supposedly, someone way back who had seen the real Niagara Falls thought that the modest rapids on the lower Waikawa River somewhat resembled on a tiny scale the iconic North American water feature. It didn’t stop there; the sign and mentions in tourist brochures followed. Embarrassing really!
Because we didn’t have to work in going to see the caves we shot off here for a look. A few kms drive in followed by a beautiful 20 min or so walk took us beside the fast flowing Tautuku River, brown because of the rain that had been falling in great volumes. This boded well for the waterfall which was running at full noise when we found it.
As we approached the turnoff to the Cathedral Caves we saw that they were in fact open. Fantastic news – and we were still in the ‘access window’ which is roughly an hour either side of low tide. Virtually all of the Catlins attractions are free of charge except a modest fee of $5 applies once you’ve driven up the old logging road to the carpark, as you have to cross private land to get to the caves.
About 15 minutes of the walk is another beautiful bush stroll (downhill, which means an uphill trudge on the return), then it’s 10 minutes along a stunning expansive golden sand beach.
There are two caves, 30 or so metres high, formed by the sea which eventually joined them together. They were named in the late 1800s because they reminded someone of a European cathedral.
The tricky part of getting to the caves is that the tide cuts off access. And even when we were there waves were being washed into the cave entry (it’s recommended you remove shoes and roll up your pants before heading in). I possess a mild fear of deep open water and these small waves were enough to give me a mild dose of the heebies.
But the caves are amazing. They’re not long by any means – you walk in a sort of U shape in one and out the other – but it’s so impressive to see what ol’ mother nature gets up to over time.
A small town we remember for two reasons. First, the outdoor teapot collection. Yes.
Second, the doll collection in the house next door. The sight of dolls staring out the window was enough to make us hurry on our way.
I didn’t say they were great reasons.
From here we went to our overnight destination, Nugget Point.
Summer 12/13 roadie, days 7-8
The Catlins is a fabulous part of NZ and Curio Bay is a treasure amongst treasures. We had two nights in the region and the first was here.
Mike had sorted all our accommodation and even though I have full confidence in his decision making, I wasn’t sure what to expect in some of these remote parts of the country. As this was a special part of the trip he decided to splurge a little and, well, Curio Bay Accommodation was perfect. Located in the neighbouring Porpoise Bay, the beachside cottage was so nice that as soon as we arrived we were sorry we weren’t staying longer.
With little time to muck about we shot back out the door fairly quickly. A short distance away is the famed fossil forest AND yellow eyed penguin nesting ground. Real bang for your buck – not that you’ll pay a cent to see them. On arriving at the carpark we were excited about this sign:
A short path takes you to viewing platforms where you have an elevated view over the petrified forest and, depending on where they happen to be at the time, a penguin or two or more.
No penguins in immediate proximity, we went down for a closer look at the fossil forest which being low tide, was visible. 180 million years ago (the mind boggles!) the area was further south and a forested coastal floodplain, part of the super-continent Gondwana. Most of what is now New Zealand was under the sea. A series of natural events over a gazillion years or so saw the demise of the living forest and birth of the petrified forest.
Today it is one of the best examples in the world of a fossilised forest. Extremely accessible, it stretches from Curio Bay down to Slope Point where Mike and I visited earlier in the day. Unfortunately over time unscrupulous people have removed bits of petrified wood for souvenirs but hopefully the forest will stay much as it is today for hundreds of future generations to enjoy.
Yellow eyed penguins
Yellow eyed penguins are among the rarest in the world and are native to NZ. I was inspecting old dead tree trunks and rock pools and was suddenly aware of a quiet commotion behind me. A penguin had come ashore in an unexpected place near where we and the handful of other people were and proceeded to make his way through the group to the nesting area.
Department of Conservation signage asks people to keep at least 10 metres from the penguins. Everyone was respectful of this and just quietly watched the little guy make his overland journey. This was slow business as their routine seems to be shuffle forward, stop for a while to monitor for danger, and then repeat these steps numerous times.
It was a privilege to watch.
The penguin happened to go quite near to one lucky person and he would’ve taken some excellent shots. I on the other hand was further away and totally kicking myself for not bringing my zoom lens. Grrrr!!
The main observation area protected the coastline containing the nesting ground. We returned here in fading light just after 8pm which is the best time to watch the adults as they return from a day spent finding food in the ocean. A few were visible in the distance and before long there was one just in range for a few photos.
Disappointingly, we observed a couple of people go right up to the vegetation line and stick their cameras in for photos of the nest.
Porpoise Bay is a beautiful broad sweeping golden sand beach and we went for a couple of walks along it. The bay is home to some Hector’s dolphins though originally they were mistaken for porpoise, hence the name. We did see some from afar and I have a photo with two black dots to prove it.
The yellow eyeds don’t have the monopoly on the penguin population here and the guest information and visitor book at our wee place made frequent mention of little blue penguins nesting under the cottage. And that they’re often quite vocal during the night. Consequently we weren’t sure what quality of sleep we’d get but neither of us heard a thing. We did see little footprints the next morning which we imagined could well have been from little penguin feet.
After a final beach walk it was time to farewell this wonderful corner of NZ and continue our exploration of the Catlins.
We will return!
Summer 12/13 roadie, day 7
Bye Manapouri! We were going south, the most south I’d been in this country.
Another blah day greeted us but we were actually quite lucky. Heavy rains and flooded rivers wiped out a bridge or two and closed roads along the West Coast a couple of days after we went through, and other parts of southland were getting hammered by rain.
The roads were very, very quiet.
We were hanging out for breakfast when we reached this small town near the south coast. A cafe-museum-shop looked like it would do the job and it did. Mike got to try his first cheese roll of the trip, iconic Southland fare sometimes referred to as ‘southern sushi’. I noted as we drove out that heritage murals are part of the town’s aesthetic (nice job on the public loos), and the humble sausage is apparently a big thing in these parts.
Hello south coast!
The first lookout point when we reached the coast was an obvious stop despite the miserable weather. A strong and very cold southerly wind (and rain to boot) meant we didn’t linger, but it didn’t dampen our enjoyment at being in Southland.
Friends in Queenstown had told us about this and if not for that, we would have sailed on by none the wiser. You can read the sign below, but basically varieties of coloured stone get washed onto the beach after storms. We went fossicking and picked up a few that caught our fancy.
A bit further along the road, someone’s day had been ruined courtesy of the greasy roads.
The Queenstown friends had bought a section near here so we detoured to have a nosey. The island is more a rocky knob but one that you can walk to at low tide (which it happened to be when we visited) and in earlier times it was used by Maori to look for whales. With no primates anywhere around the name is likely more attributed to the monkey winches used to bring boats ashore back when supplies could only be delivered by boat.
Originally established as a whaling station, times have well and truly marched on and some endearingly refer to this as the Southland Riviera. We wouldn’t be around long enough to form any special bond with the place but it is renowned for its spectacular natural beauty so we might just have to come back. Surfing is also quite big here.
Forty or so minutes away is Invercargill, NZ’s southernmost city (and one of the world’s for that matter). We stopped only to get groceries. I do want to have more of a look here and to also visit Bluff, but this time getting to the Catlins was the main priority. Stewart Island, at the bottom of New Zealand, is on my to do list so that will be when I delve further into this area.
A little later we drove by a stream with whitebait huts dotting its banks. An eyecatching sight, I was initially foiled by the no stopping signs so we did a couple of drive-bys and I snapped a few from the moving car.
Fortrose – hello Catlins!
Fortrose is one of the boundaries of the region known as the Catlins and is another settlement with origins back to the days of whaling. We made a couple of random stops, one being an unsuccessful attempt to find the 1886 wreck of the steamship Ino. Never mind, we saw some beautiful windswept coastline.
There’s enough here to make one get out of the car for a good half hour or more. One of NZ’s last two wooden-built lighthouses was erected here in 1884 following the country’s worst civilian maritime disaster. The lighthouse has been renovated in recent years and looks great, its double skin of the native timbers kauri and totara set to remain for many decades yet. A lighthouse keeper was on site here until 1976 when the era of automation arrived, and near the lighthouse are traces of where the keeper’s house stood.
Waipapa is one example of the European bastardisation (if not total replacement) of early names, the original Maori name being Waipapapa (‘basket of seafood’).
Here we saw the first examples of the extremely windblown trees that the region is famous for.
Above I alluded to a shipwreck off the Waipapa Point coast. In 1881 the passenger steamer Tararua wrecked on a reef, resulting in 131 lives lost. Only 20 people survived. A disaster like that in a remote place like this would have been extremely challenging and consequently, many of the bodies were buried just inland from where they were recovered. This place is called the Tararua Acre and the farmer permits access to it through a paddock – just mind the sheep and their ‘outputs’.
We carried on, enjoying the southern scenery.
The southern-most point of the South Island was a must-visit. We stopped nearby for a picnic lunch first, watching gulls come and go from the cliff face. I don’t really do heights so I tend to keep a respectful distance back– by comparison Mike almost does a little happy jig along the top.
A 15 minute walk is required to get to Slope Point which was equally as interesting as the reason for the walk, with views of rolling farmland and coastal vegetation.
I warned Mike to mind the dirt as it was quite slippery. And what do I do a few minutes later? Not quite arse over but dropped to my knees faster than I knew what was happening. At least the ground was softish so the camera merely got a bit grubby, and I did no further harm to my injured wrist.
We saw more clusters of striking windswept trees, which were often planted as shelter belts for the dwellings of early settlers.
From here we went to the Curio Bay and its neighbour Porpoise Bay, our stop for the night. It’s such a fantastic place that it needs a whole post of its own!
Summer 12/13 roadie, day 6
One of life’s most appalling sounds is that of one’s alarm going off when you instinctively and to your very core know that it is way too early. It was a bit like that on New Year’s Day. We didn’t have the luxury of snoozing further as we had a two-hour-something drive south for our Doubtful Sound cruise.
The situation was not as bad as it could have been. Thoughts of this day had acted as an alcohol handbrake the night before. Also, there didn’t seem to have been any disturbances at our lodge. I had been a little concerned about this knowing it was NYE and the sort of place which attracted a younger demographic. We overheard a young woman being unwell the morning before in one of the adjacent rooms (another of life’s appalling sounds), and were expecting more of the same carnage. I wasn’t holding much hope for the young ladies on a hens night we had watched playing throw-the-hoop-over-the-plastic-penis in the carpark.
Nonetheless, we greeted the wet New Year’s Day with tired and grim demeanours. Down in Queenstown we topped up the car and while it was definitely a pie-for-breakfast sort of day, I couldn’t yet face one. Mike was made of sterner stuff.
Our route took us south and then west. It was a very quiet morning and the roads were all ours.
We made it to Manapouri, a small town (NZ’s western-most) beside its namesake lake, originally established for tourism and sustained by tourism today. Not too far away is the larger more well-known township of Te Anau, gateway to one of NZ’s flagship tourism experiences, Milford Sound.
We found the car park but given the amount of vehicles it was almost as though we were the last to arrive. However not only were we in good time to check-in, but they had a food shop with one hot mince pie left. With amazing speed I snatched it off the shelf.
I haven’t really explained the tour. Yes the Doubtful Sound cruise is less famous than its smaller more glamorous cousin over at Milford Sound, but it is very, very highly regarded in its own right. We opted for the day cruise but there’s also an overnight option. There is a uniqueness with how the tour is configured (boat-bus-boat-bus-boat) including a feature that I was really looking forward to: a stop at a hydro power station.
First up we would motor across Lake Manapouri, NZ’s second deepest lake and, just possibly, its most beautiful.
It was going to be hard to form an opinion on the latter as the weather was, shall we say, BLAH. Grey, drizzly, low cloud. Fiordland does have very high rainfall after all. But we looked at this positively, remembering what the tour commentary said when we went to Milford a few years ago: lots of rain = lots of waterfalls!
With the green light given to board, the couple hundred of us jostled on and we were soon pulling away out onto the lake.
From the sheltered outside deck we looked across to the occasional island and the hulking mist-covered silhouettes of hills and mountains lining the lake. Hard to visualise the glaciers that flowed here several thousand years ago. But easy to see the temporary waterfalls tumbling down cliff faces.
Lake Manapouri is 230m higher above sea level than Doubtful Sound. This natural differential made it a perfect place to create hydroelectricity. If extremely difficult. We pulled into the West Arm of Lake Manapouri where the top of Manapouri Power Station was visible – deceptively small on the surface
Manapouri Power Station
To get to Doubtful Sound from here at West Arm a bus ride is necessary over a road that is not connected to any other roading network. The journey takes you by the Manapouri Power Station which is integral to the story of Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound. We chose a cruise that included the unique side trip to this, significant because it is NZ’s largest hydro generation plant, and it is underground. I work in the industry which probably influenced my interest.
The power station was in the mountain, so guess where we needed to go? Minimal effort was required on our part with the bus taking us through the 2km long spiral tunnel. We reached the end and applauded the driver when he turned the bus around – no small feat!
The power station took eight years to build before it was commissioned in 1972 to supply electricity to the aluminium smelter at the bottom of the South Island. It stands as one of NZ’s greatest engineering achievements.
A road was needed from Doubtful Sound to deliver the heavy equipment needed for the power station. The Wilmot Pass is only 22km long but it was regarded as one of the most difficult and expensive roading constructions in the world. It took two years to build at a cost of around $2 per cm.
This was not the day to see the road at its best. Most of the time all I could see was fogged up windows but we did pile out at one point to see a waterfall. It’s an incredible climate and it has been documented that more than 500 varieties of moss and lichen grow in Fiordland. Sounds a lot but I’ll take their word for it.
We arrived at Deep Cove, so named because the depth of the water meant there was no anchorage possible to start with. This is the head of Doubtful Sound and annual rainfall here is about 50 metres per year. Blimey. We transferred to another boat.
So why ‘Doubtful’? This is down to one Captain James Cook who sighted the entrance in 1770. While keen to investigate, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get back out to sea and dubbed it Doubtful Harbour. I bet he’s kicking himself.
Deep Cove is 40km from the open sea and the tour aims to go right the way. This wasn’t the case today as the weather was too rough so we turned around earlier, but to compensate they took us down one of the arms. Mike was up for the weather experience and went to the top open air deck a couple of times for some horizontal rain.
While visibility was poor it produced dramatic views of a different kind into Fiordland National Park, and we saw an untold number of waterfalls, the majority of which dry up when the weather clears.
It was a big day and deserving of a big post. By the time we got back to Manapouri we were knackered and glad to be staying locally. From what we could see of the town, a quiet night was going to be a pretty sure thing!
Summer 12/13 roadie, days 4-5 contd
For the last two nights of 2012 we stayed in Arthur’s Point which is on the way from Queenstown to its closest ski resort, Coronet Peak. We chose this mainly to be near friends but it’s also a nice alternative to being in town. On our doorstep here were two well known features…
First, the iconic Shotover Jet which blasts up and down the Shotover River and which helped establish Queenstown’s adventure capital reputation. We didn’t partake – it’s quite a bit of cash to fork out on a whim – but I did spend a few minutes admiring from above.
And second, a sort of ‘world famous in NZ’ landmark are the line-up of letterboxes – keep scrolling and you’ll see why…
Top marks for creativity eh?
Summer 12/13 roadie, day 5
We had a full day in Queenstown which also happened to be Dec 31st. The plan was tweaked a little to coincide this as we figured QTown would be a bit more interesting for New Year’s Eve than Manapouri where we needed to be the next day. Our 24 hours included a mishmash of things.
Queenstown Hill walk
This is a brilliant walk for the exercise and the views. I was keen to give the old lungs a blow out in the absence of much other training on this trip. Mike and I had walked this once before, but starting from lake level which made for a hard climb and it killed our legs for a couple of days after – not the best plan before starting a four day cycling holiday. Anyhoo…
This time I swapped Mike for some female company and the need to slog up residential streets was avoided by parking at the official start of the walk. It was a puffy climb, in part due to the nattering going on. At the top the views were clear – unfortunately though the outlook was grim for NYE plans later on.
This was the boys’ activity up on Coronet Peak and in Skippers Canyon. Mike came back smiling but nursing sore ribs which made us one apiece since I had hurt my wrist in slightly similar circumstances a month before. (Hardly stellar build-up for an event we’re doing in March.)
I went to Queenstown cemetery to visit a grave for a friend. Set at the base of Bob’s Peak, there’s a nice contrast between the tranquillity of this final resting place and the sounds of life being lived at the adjacent mini golf course.
Lunch in Glenorchy
After collecting one slightly-the-worse-for-wear Mike we shot out to Glenorchy. I hadn’t been there before and it was a chance to go take a peek and grab some lunch. The 46km drive from Queenstown to the top of Lake Wakatipu was nice though appetites were building and I guess expectations were low with what we’d find. Luckily Glenorchy was a bit more than I imagined and food wasn’t a problem.
Neither was lack of wind and with the added precipitation (presumably all on its way to Queenstown), it made our visit not a long one. We’ll come back another day as there’s more to see and do here; at least now I can visualise the place.
New Year’s Eve
In a couple of hours we were due at friends. We didn’t know the plan for NYE until we got to Queenstown, and, well, I would never have been able to guess. The night was to be spent on a 1970s styled party boat called The Luanda Experience – and in theory, out on Lake Wakatipu. However, by now the rain and wind had arrived which not only compounded the ‘what to wear’ dilemma, but started to make the plan of spending the night on the water a bit dubious.
Once on board I was glad I decided not to wear heels. With a capacity of 40 people this was a good size boat for a ‘do’ but none of the three interior levels were especially high. (Acknowledging this and in the spirit of good fun, there’s an offer for women over 6 foot to sail for free on their daytime cruise!* Hannah, should you read this, we’ll have to pop back down!)
*Also, curiously, blokes under 5 foot.
We checked out the boat (excellent fit-out and sound system – groovy baby yeah!) and settled in with drinks and nibbles while the other party-goers arrived, watching the weather get progressively worse. It became obvious that a cruise was going to be a highly dodgy undertaking – the rock and roll of the boat where it was docked was enough sensation for me. And so we were the party cruise that wasn’t. The boat was located just across from the waterfront area where the public NYE event was held so we had plenty to observe while staying fed and watered onboard.
There were rumours the midnight fireworks had been cancelled but as something of a reward for all the punters who stuck out the cold and miserable night, the weather did calm down enough for the display to proceed.
It was about 1am before we left the boat and another hour before Mike and I made it back to our lodge. In about five hours we had to be on the road – ug!!
Summer 12/13 roadie, day 4, part 2
Coming here had been on the Central Otago to-do list for a while. It’s a bit out of the way and not accessible during winter, when most of our trips down here tend to be. Part of the appeal was the journey (the Old Dunstan Road); but we’d also heard the dam was a great feature in its own right.
After very much enjoying the drive up the Rough Ridge, the dam came into sight. From this first impression our reactions were the same: amazement at both size and setting.
Poolburn dam was built in 1931 as an irrigation supply for Ida Valley farmers. The location was chosen to exploit a natural basin on top of the ridge. When water filled the dam, it swallowed up five hotels still standing decades after gold miners travelled the old Mountain Road.
Today the dam is a popular fishing spot after brown and rainbow trout were released there. We could see a number of small weathered huts, many decades old, built here and there around the edge. One looked like it had been ‘done up’ recently, which doesn’t seem to be a permitted practice if the signs are to be believed.
A couple of events in recent years have elevated the profile of the dam. It was a film set in LOTR The Two Towers (the Rohan Village)*. And, somewhere at the other end of the scale, a local man accidentally drowned about a year ago when he drove into the dam (at 1am; read into that what you will).
*Bizarrely, a few days later in the trip, I turned the TV on in the motel unit and what should be on, but that movie, and those very scenes.
Over lunch we watched a small boat putter slowly across the dam. I later read that there is a large number of submerged rocks (hardly surprising given the landscape) which makes boating a very tricky and slow endeavour.
Mike had thought he might have a swim but it was a bit chilly for that. Instead we had a wee explore before seeing how much further we could drive.
Near this spot the Old Dunstan Road continued through a closed gate. Beyond here the road gets much rougher and would probably have destroyed Mike’s car. So with that, and a final few photos, we returned the way we came.