A trip to the Catlins involves a fair drive from Lumsden and I managed to clock over 700km during the two days I had off. I remember when I was 17 and I had just been given the keys to my first car, a brand new VW Polo. I just wanted to drive it everywhere. Ten years later and I’ve just purchased the first car of my own.
It may not be as glamorous as my new Polos but I still couldn’t wait to take advantage of my new found freedom. Already having driven the southern road from Lumsden the previous day to get groceries the journey along this same stretch of road to the Catlins was far from exciting. At least I had my friend Steph to keep me company and play DJ with some rather questionable choices.
I love to research where’s best to go and love looking at maps but when needing to get from A to B I seldom consider the “how” and instead just GO. “Winging it” is my style of travel and it usually works out just fine and has been the reason behind many amusing stories I’ve been able to share with you. However, following my instinct and driving to the southern tip of New Zealand, Bluff, where I planned to continue along the coast to the Catlins only resulted in a 100km detour.
We finally got to the Catlins where I realised I had next to nothing in the tank. Finding a fuel station in Southland is hard enough with my local town only installing a 24 hour pay machine less than a year ago as the previous owners only worked a handful of hours per week. This meant you could only fuel up at the most inconvenient times. Luckily, we managed to find a pump on the map and it only turned us back ten minutes up the road.
I had read about the abundance of wildlife in the Catlins and I made it my mission to spot at least a Seal, Sea Lion or Penguin. Our first stop was at Waipapa Point where a cute light house looks out to sea. I took a walk down to the beach and along to pick up some pebbles to add to my collection. Steph shouted out “look a sea lion”. “Where?!” I gasped. “Only joking” the teaser.
I could see the sign warning visitors not to stand too close to the seals and sea lions but the buggers were no where to be seen. “Now where would I be if I was a sea lion?” I thought to myself. “A sea lion!” Steph shouted. “Quit joking around” I told her. I didn’t believe her for a second but sure enough, right in front of us was a pretty hefty beast. I’ve never seen a sea lion so close before and despite the signs warning us to keep a ten metre distance, I was at maybe, half a metre and he didn’t seem to mind one bit.
After completing my wildlife mission for the day we continued along the coast over the rolling hills and past the odd building here and there. It had reached mid-afternoon and we had both got a bit peckish so looked to see where the nearest place to get food. This being rural New Zealand meant we only had a choice of two cafes within a two hour drive.
The first and highly recommended was The Whistling Frog which unfortunately was closed for winter renovations so we went to the second, Niagara Falls. By the time we got there I had reached the stage of hangry. It was touch and go. You can imagine my reaction when I realised it was closed due to a “family emergency”. I was livid.
After driving another wee while trying to find any sign of civilisation which may offer some grub, we came across a charming little museum about local life. A dear little old lady appeared after I had rung the bell and I asked if she knew of anywhere I could get some food. She told us that the nearest place, Niagara Falls, was closed due to the woman’s father dying and our best bet was over a nearly two hours drive away. We ended up buying two Moreo (Mars) Bars off her and since this very serious incident I have packed a box of cereal bars in my glove compartment. These are now nearly as essential as the emergency chocolate I keep in my underwear draw.
We planned to stop off at most of the attractions on our drive back along the coast but the weather turned nasty and as much as I am toughening up these days, I still don’t relish the wind and rain. We did stop off at Curio Bay to see one of the worlds finest fossil forests which, I have to admit, I found rather mundane and failed to get my geek on.
With the weather not getting any better and with the Moreo Bars failing to fill a hole in our bellys we decided to call it a day. Unfortunately I had run out of petrol again and it was a bit of a drive to Wyndham, the nearest fuel station. I guess running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere would have made a good story but with the cold, wind and rain, I had everything crossed. It turns out my little motor survives at least 25km on the fuel warning light as we made it with moments to spare.
A big feed was in order so we stopped off at the Moon in Gore for a huge bowl of nachos before settling down for the night and gearing myself up for the work week ahead. It was another great day off exploring more of what Southland has to offer. Catlins mission complete.