Saturday, January 27, 2007

Final post from the Loony Bin

Saturday 20th January 2007

The overnight rain (which continued into the morning) now meant that the mountainsides were pouring with water. At points it seemed that the waterfalls were coming directly down from the clouds. Impressive stuff and a complete contrast to the day that we had driven up to Milford Sound.

Ryan had bashed his car whilst parking in Milford Sound and wanted to stay in Te Anau to get it checked out. Emelie decided to stay with him, so Mathias and I decided to continue on to Invercargill alone (in Mathias and Emelie's car).

Luckily the rain had stopped for this leg of the journey and the scenery was still nice, if somewhat less impressive than Milford Sound. We were following the Southern Scenic Route. It was particularly attractive around Manapouri, with the distant mountains fading into lighter shades of grey.

We arrived at Invercargill around 3pm. The Southern Comfort Hostel was lovely, but the town/city was most uninspiring: wide, grid-iron streets, warehouse-like buildings, general sprawl. And it was cold!

It was a lovely evening chatting to the various people in the hostel. The big wooden table in the dining room was definitely the hub. I then spoke to Mum and Dad on the phone, to wish them a happy holiday, which hopefully they are still enjoying now.

Sunday 21st January 2007

We set off quite early, with a double-header shopping dash (Countdown and Pak 'n' Save) prior to hitting the road into the Catlins. It was cloudy but dry - quite good sightseeing weather, through the undulating scenery of the Catlins.

Our first stop was the petrified forest of Curio Bay. This proved to be of secondary interest to the resident penguin, who was most amusing to watch. He/she (how do you sex a penguin?) was trying to jump up onto a rock and kept stumbling as it tried to hop up. So much nicer than a Sidmouth seagull.

Further stops along the coast included Florence Hill Lookout Point (a picnic lunch in the car - out of the cold wind - just like an English summer holiday) and Cathedral Caves. It was very reminiscent of parts of Devon/Cornwall, with the beaches, headlands, rolling farmland and plethora of sheep. Strange to be so far away and yet feel so much at home. The only real difference was the lack of people/civilisation - it was a bit spookily quiet at times.

We arrived at our hostel in Owaka mid-afternoon. It was a bit of a strange place (reminded me a bit of some of the odd places we stayed in the Basque region), but the owner was really friendly and there was only one other person staying there, so a quiet night was assured (I think I had the best night's sleep of my trip so far - it was dead quiet!).

Monday 22nd January 2007

Watched a bit of the news over breakfast and heard snippets of the "cargo ship disaster off the coast of Devon". The rather piqued my interest, and when I heard "World Heritage Site" I thought it must have been fairly local, but it wasn't until the following day that I saw the Branscombe chalets in the background and was able to pinpoint the exact location (they were showing images of people pushing away brand new BMW motorbikes). Aside from the comedy scavenging angle, let's hope it doesn't cause too much in the way of pollution on my favourite local swimming beach.

Back to matters antipodean (albeit in an area highly reminiscent of home), the wind was blowing from the north-west today and the Fohn effect was well in force. It was really warm (high 20s by lunchtime), in complete contrast to the day before.

We went to Jack's Blowhole in the morning, which wasn't blowing due to the offshore winds. Still, it was a nice walk over the cliffs and the beach there was lovely. The kelp here is amazing - so big!

In the afternoon we walked from Cannibals Bay to another beach (the name eludes me). Lovely spot, with very few people about. Various sea lions lounging on the sands. At first we thought they were dead/dying (one definitely was - half of it was missing), but in hindsight we think it must just have been the effect the heat was having on them. I guess Southern Ocean dwellers aren't particularly used to temperatures nearing 30 degrees.

After this we went to Nugget Point (The Needles of New Zealand!), where there were more seals, sea lions and penguins (albeit rather too distant to see well without the aid of binoculars). It was a really nice place and a fitting climax to the day. Well, perhaps "climax" is over egging it rather, but it was nice in a gentle/undulating/South West sort of way.

Tuesday 23rd January 2007

After another great night's sleep (the hostel in Owaka was really quiet), we drove along the coast to Dunedin. Back to cool south-westerlies today and rather overcast. The beaches actually got better closer to Dunedin in my opinion, but that is probably because I am a sucker for white sand.

Only stopped in Dunedin for a brief while to do some food shopping (it was "Cheap As Tuesday" in Pak 'n' Save) and buy a pair of flip-flops (jandals in the local lingo) in The Warehouse. A bargain at $4, especially if wearing them in-and-out helps lengthen the life-span of my sandals.

After this we drove to The Asylum Lodge in Seacliff (a tiny village on the coast, just to the north of Dunedin). It was certainly a interesting place. Various remnants of the old asylum dotted the grounds, mostly stuffed full with over 50 vintage cars (in various states of [dis]repair). It was in the middle of nowhere (lucky I was still in Mathias' car) and the surroundings were beautiful. Lovely beaches, great views back towards the Otago Peninsular. A nice place to stop and relax for a few days...

Well, I'll leave it there for now and I think the next update will probably come from further up the coast. So I'm still not fully up-to-date. Damn!

All the best,
James xx

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