A southern experience: part two

st Island sketch

The weather changed to wild winds and rain on our last day on Stewart Island. Foveaux Strait was difficult even in fine weather; but foul? There was nothing to do but wait. So, I sat for a while sketching the view out the window, hoping the small plane would not be grounded come morning. My husband and I were continuing on to The Catlins, a stunning coastal region, with wildlife, native bush, and splendid beaches we were itching to explore.


Waipapā Point lighthouse

Flying back to Invercargill was a great experience, as the plane wobbled and shuddered its way across the strait. I yelped at one surprising dip, but the pilot knew what he was doing and managed those wind gusts just fine. We said goodbye to the others at the airport and claimed our rental car. First port of call was Waipapā Point. Macrocarpa trees, normally planted as windbreaks lay flattened to our right. We were blown across the lighthouse carpark where people were gathered at a noticeboard. It told us the weather here was bleak, unforgiving and challenging. Got that. We learned that within those flattened trees, lay the foundation of the home where a lighthouse keeper and his family once lived. The macrocarpas would have towered feet above their heads back then. But long before any lighthouses were built along this treacherous coastline, or Europeans came to hunt seals and whales, Ngāi Tahu were the guardians of this coast.

We continued on the Scenic route to Curio Bay, where we’d be staying a couple of days.


This was the view from our Salt House motel windows, which were a wall of opening doors. How lucky were we to have chosen this place. The bay and surrounding area is famed for dolphins, seals and yellow-eyed penguins.  The wind was wild, the spray flying off the breakers, and surfers were the only creatures enjoying the water that we could see. We set out early for a walk the next day, the wind pushing us along the sand. Still no dolphins. We climbed up a bank and headed towards the penguin boardwalk, where in special viewing boxes were installed along the high fence. We lifted flap after flap. No penguins to be seen, so head down and onto the petrified forest viewing platform. Five minutes later, hail hit us in a squall, and we rushed for shelter in the high flax bushes.

cofBack to the motel, get in the car, and time for coffee a little way up the road. This cafe is a great place to pause a journey. But don’t expect to see a spectacle when you seek out the nearby falls, as some prankster named them. With coffee, and drier hair, we jumped back in the car, as we weren’t going to let a bit of bad weather deter us from more sightseeing, and more waterfalls.


Mclean Falls is a 40min return walk from the carpark and well worth viewing.


McLean Falls

It was onto Florence Hill lookout from there, where the wind could have whipped a car door off. My husband braved the weather to capture the spectacular views along the coast. Thanks Kerry.


From Florence Hill

The weather did force us back to the motel, where we wrote, checked photos, and had a snooze, before heading out to Niagara Falls cafe for dinner. Not to worry, the weather was purported to be finer the next day. There was still time to spot the dolphins in the bay. I wish.

It was warmer – yeah. We headed north, stopping at Matai Falls, taking a walk along the old rail line where most of it had been hacked out by hand. Onto Purakanui, which has fantastic falls, and was the place it seemed for taking selfies. I deliberately stayed out of this image. Again, thanks Kerry, for the great photo.


Purakanui Falls

We stayed at Pounawea for the next two nights, driving to various beaches and landmarks during that stay. Some roads were unsealed, winding and narrow, and I hoped camper vans had the sense to stay off them. One of the most scenic and memorable visits we made, was to the lighthouse at Nugget Point. The weather had turned curly again, and we walked the coastal path in steady rain. It made the walk more interesting in some ways, although, once again we missed out on seeing any penguins. We did see dark blobs on the rocks, that my husband swore were seals. I should have read the brochure before setting out, which said that binoculars were recommended. As the vista was a moist tonal range of greys on the day, and the photographs taken similar. I decided to do a pencil sketch of Nugget Point lighthouse to complete this post, as it seemed to be the perfect medium for the final illustration.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

PS.  Most visitors to The Catlins see many dolphins, seals and penguins. And although I would have loved to have seen some, I was not disappointed with my visit one little bit.

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