I was picked up at 7.45am by “Bloke” for my trip around the Catlins today. That’s basically the long way round to Dunedin, going around the coast rather than in a straight line. Our first stop was tourist information at Invercargill, just long enough to get a coffee.
We had to pick up another passenger there, and then off we went through rolling green countryside. Lots of dairy farms and small settlements. Owaka is the main town around the south coast: it has a population of less than 1000. Most places were just clusters of houses with 20-50 people.
Netx stop was around the corner: the petrified forest at Curio Bay. The area used to be heavily wooded (we’re talking dinosaur time now). Sheet floods of volcanis debris are believed to have destroyed the forest. It then grew back, only to be destroyed again by volcanic debris. This happened at least four times over 20,000 years. In the millions of years since, sediments have eventually turned the wood to rock. Over the last 10,000 years, New Zealand’s current coastline has been formed, and the sea has eroded away layers of sandstone and clay, exposing tree stumps and logs (http://www.doc.govt.nz/templates/page.aspx?id=35598).
Our first stop was Waipapa Point where there was a lighthouse and we were hoping to see Hooker sea-lions. No luck, but we could see Stewart Island from there, and we did see some weird looking seaweed: reminded me of the aliens from Independence Day.
Next stop was Porpoise Bay, where we had our lunch. It was a really pretty bay: beautiful golden sand and turquoise water. And with the sun shining and no clouds in the sky, you wouldn’t believe we were at one of the southernmost points of New Zealand! It is also known for sightings of Hector’s dolphins, but it was the wrong season.
Next stop was Lake Wilkie, which is getting smaller because the forest around it is reclaiming it. Then we stopped at a hilltop lookout, over a deserted lookout. Next stop was Surat Bay, hoping to find Hooker sealions. And we did! There were two on the beach, but one chased the other back into the sea by the time we walked over. He was quite happy to sit on the beach and let us watch him for a while though.
Last stop was Roaring Bay, where we stood in a hut and watched five Yellow-Eyed Penguins come up out of the water, onto the beach, and up into the bush for the night. Two of them had a bit of a tiff, and one seemed to get sent to the naughty corner too.
Bloke then drove us to Balclutha, where those of us going to Dunedin got driven by Paul in a different bus, and Bloke drove back to Queenstown with the others. I got to Central Backpackers in Dunedin by 7.30pm, and vegged out for the night.