After an amazing stay in Wanaka where we rode fat bikes, hunted for aurora australis on Roys Peak and hiked along the Rob Roy Glacier, we are on the road again heading South! And more exactly heading to the wonderful Catlins coastline!
Lost in the bush
We start hitchiking again from Queenstown. We have decided to try our luck by taking a shortcut through small winding country roads. We don’t now it yet, but this decision will bring quite a lot of new unexpected adventures…
The young German couple who gave us our first ride drops us at creepy Lumsden where we’ll stay a couple of hours in total loneliness under a heavy rain… We get the next ride with a couple of very nice chineses speaking absolutely no english and driving no better. They drop us at Gore, the biggest town around where we will spend a cold rainy night in a shabby « holiday park ». As we pop in to register, the manager, drunk as hell, looks at us as if we were aliens carrying the pox while yelling complaints and insults against the government, its taxes and the « bloody statistics » he has to provide.
« Ya d’like t’camp here ? Really ? In winter ? Oh… Well I’d’t care. 12 bucks each ! Now bugger off ‘n’ let me watch da cricket ! »
Indeed, the patch of grass that is meant to be the place where we will set our tent tonight looks like a dirty paddling pool as uninviting as it can be… This evening, we take shelter in the old 60’s dirty kitchen, together with two potbellied fishermen dressed in camouflage. Outside, the careless downpouring rain finishes to change the campgroung into an olympic pool! Dreadful!
But the following day will be the real challenge : to cut through New Zealande’s bush! The roads are not even on our map… We are overjoyed when a massive red 4WD pulls over to take us after a few long hours waiting along a road devoid of any traffic. To be honest, we only suppose that it’s red. It’s so muddy, it’s hard to tell. And it’s not better inside! Our driver is a young « digging ingineer ». Mariette shares the backseats with a big shotgun, a switchblade knife which would ridicule Crocodile Dundee’s and a couple of dead rabbits!! The ground is littered with cartridges and the back of the ute is full of dead game. Our driver drops us as suddenly as he picked us up, in the middle of nowhere. We are alone, surrounded by green fields and sheep, as dirty as if we just run a cross-country course… Hum. Well done! What now?
Against all odds, a car appears two minutes later. It miraculously stops when it sees the two dodgy and muddy hitchhikers waving like crazy in the gutter. The two guys inside are certainly as surprised as we are to find someone here. The good news is that they are heading directly to the Catlins! The bad news is that they are part of a research mission : a father and son disappeared in the area a few days ago. Hum… Our stay will probably not be very cheerful…
The sea suddenly appears after a turn, large and blue against the parstoral scenery. The Catlins, at last!! All this agitation made us ravenous, so before going any further we stop at Fortrose to enjoy the best meat pie we tried in New Zealand yet! Looks good, doesn’t it?
Catlins : Curio Bay
We are dropped at our next campground in Curio Bay by three young australians. Our campsite faces the sea, perched on the hillside of the small peninsula bordering the bay. We have to fight against the strong wind to set up our tent. It will nearly succeed several times to throw our canvas house overboard! The tent finally secured, we decide to take stroll around the peninsula, which is actually really pretty if we forget about the noisy helicopter patrolling the sky and the cohort of policemen walking around with their walkie-talkie… Creepy! Humanity is in turmoil while implacable Nature takes its course. We catch sight of dozens of Hector’s dolfins (the smallest and the rarest in the world!) playing in the waves, indifferent to human distress. Unfortunately, nobody would be found today…
To think about something more joyful, we walk at dusk to a promontory from which you can observe, if you are lucky, some Yellow Eyed Penguins, also the rarest penguin species in the world. We will see four of them tonight!! The Catlins really has wonders to offer! We are really delighted as we watch those big clumsy birds awkwardly climb out of water and return to their nests, hidden in the cliff. It’s the first time we observe penguins in the wild! Awesome experience!
Catlins : Nugget Point
After a windy night listening to the heavy surf, we travel back to the main road with a couple of french backpackers before beeing picked up by an australian and his sister, both in their fifties, in holiday for three weeks. They are absolutely lovely! We will stay with them all afternoon, stopping on the way to have a look over beautiful waterfalls and stunning lookouts!
They even make a 20km detour to drop us on our DOC campgroung at the end of a no-exit gravel road. This campgroung looks like a perfect lost paradise. Set along a beautiful bay and surrounded by impressive white cliffs, this place is surely one of the most beautiful campground to spend a night in New Zealand! The shining sun contributes to make the view stunning, but nonetheless we don’t waste much time before wrapping ourselves in our sleeping bags. The temperature is indeed freezing. After all, we are at the very south of this South Island!
Back to civilisation (in fact, the nearest hamlet), we share a good laugh with a couple of americans in front of « Tea Pot Land », an absurd place where hundreds of kitsch tea-pots mingle in a grotesque heap. The americans are very friendly and propose to take us to the famous lighthouse of Nugget Point with their big camping car. We have to drive on 14km of dirt road to go to Nugget Point and the poor vehicle is not doing very well, making strange noises and vibrating like crazy from roof to tyres! Quentin has to hold the microwave which is willing to go on a stroll on its own!
At Nugget Point, we meet our friends Jules and Charlène with whom we climbed down the vertiginous Mt Taranaki. Together we walk the short track to the emblematic lighthouse overlooking a string of sharp islets while sea lions play in the water below. It’s simply incredible!! In front of us : the vastness of the ocean at the end of which we can follow the curve of Earth!!
Our friends then drop us at Kaka Point where, after an hour of cold wait, a young german couple picks us up. Comfortably lying on the bed at the back of their van, we let them drive us to Balclutha. There we don’t have to wait long before finding an other lift. Ivan and his smart little dog Scampy are very nice and make a detour to bring us to Ivan’s favourite beach, where he’s used to practise earnestly canoe fishing. It’s a remote beautiful place, very far away from tourism industry. It’s magical! We are very happy to be here and thankful for this amazing human experience, a perfect end to our Catlins adventures!!
Tintin & Riette
What to eat in the Catlins :
- In Fortrose, the little house used as information center shares its space with a restaurant proposing amazing meat pies. Take your chance, it’s one of the best in New Zealand !
- In Waikawa, have a break at Blue Cod Blues, little caravan famous for selling the most tasty fish’n’chips in New Zealand… Hard to say, we haven’t tried them all, but that one is definitely amazing !
Open during summer only
Camping in the Catlins :
- It’s possible to camp in Curio Bay, on the cliffs in front of the ocean, or on the grass on the peninsula for 10$/person. Excellent spot, with showers and toilets, and a chance to see some yellow eyed penguins, hector’s dolphins and sexy surfers… 😉
- If you’re traveling by car, van or camping car, you can spend the night in Waikawa in a field with toilets and filtered water for free !
- There is a lot of DOC campsites along the coast, like the amazing Purakaunui beach campground where you can camp for 6$/person
What to see in the Catlins :
- If you are nearby when it’s low tide, do not miss the amazing Cathedral Caves
- In Curio Bay, look for yellow eyed penguins and hector’s dolphins, walk in an ancestral forest and admire the remains of a fossilised forest on the beach.
- Have a break at the Purakaunui Falls (10mn walking) and McLean Falls (40mn walk)
- Finally, admire the end of the world at the lighthouse of Nugget Point