After a few days in Dunedin, we continued even further south. Matt had had enough time to relax and get over jet lag, so the rest of the South Island trip was fully under way. It was good to begin with some more new places that none of us had been to before. Our next stop was Invercargill, but on the way we would drive through the Catlins Forest Park, a stretch of bush and beach along the south east coast. We always measure things in terms of whether we are traveling towards or away from home in London, but as Dunedin was the furthest city in the world, even though we were traveling south, we were actually heading closer to home! Strange.
On a cold day, the Catlins can be pretty brutal, with cold southerly winds coming straight up from Antarctica. We were lucky, and on the day we headed down to the very bottom of the South Island, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we had to take off layers! Our first stop off was Nugget Point, where we walked along a sunny path up to a lighthouse, and down below were large groups of rocks poking out of the shallow waters below. I can imagine how blustery it gets during winter, the waves were still doing a lot of crashing on the mild early autumn day we were there.
We then hopped back in the car again and drove towards the Purakaunui three-tiered waterfall. The waterfall was situated at the end of a shady bush walk, and it wasn’t that impressive in itself. However, it was a pleasant short walk through some forest, and it’s where we met up with our French friends, Eleonore and Leo, with whom we spent the rest of our afternoon in the Catlins. We weren’t too sure of our next stop, but Eleonore and Leo were quite organised, so we decided to follow them. They were keen to stop off at the Lost Gypsy Gallery, and I have to say it sounded a bit bananas. It was even more strange than we had expected, but really interesting and entertaining. The caravan building was full of hand made curiosities, which could be activated by some sort of winding or pushing of buttons. Once we had finished playing with all the crazy inventions, we continued through the Catlins towards Invercargill. We stopped off at a couple more places on the way with the hope of seeing Penguins, only to find more seals again. We had a fun day, nevertheless, and the journey from Dunedin to Invercargill was well broken up.
I have to admit we weren’t expecting a lot from Invercargill. Rhondda, who we stayed with for a long time in Hawkes Bay, lived in Invercargill when she was a child, so she had told us all about it. It sounded like a small town, and we didn’t think there would be a lot to do. We were there for two nights, and entertained ourselves with ease! It also wasn’t as cold as we had expected, so that helped too.
The morning after we arrived in Invercargill we went for a walk in Queens Park, which was close to the hostel we were staying in. It was a nice place for a stroll, leaves had begun to fall from the trees and the floor was speckled with gold and orange. There were red toadstools with white spots growing under the trees, like out of a fairytale. We walked through the park to the aviary, where we were entertained by rainbow coloured birds. Even in places you don’t expect it, like in the centre of Invercargill, New Zealand offers excellent varieties of unusual flora and fauna.
Also in Queens Park is the Southland Museum, home to Invercargill biggest celebrity, Henry the Tuatara. Henry is the character that I’ll always remember from Invercargill, he’s over 100 years old, and apparently was very grumpy for the first 90 years of his life. He was aggressive, he attacked fellow tuataras and there seemed to be no chance of him mating. He then had an operation to remove a tumour from his bum, and then he was suddenly a completely different character. He mated for the first time in his nineties, and he’s got plenty of life in him yet. When we saw Rhondda again we told her we saw Henry, and he’s so famous that of course she remembered him!
The next day we decided to go to the end of the South Island, all the way down to Bluff. It’s only a small town, and there’s not exactly lots to do, but when you’re so close to the bottom, you’ve got to go. However just before we set off to go to Bluff, Toby informed us all that it isn’t in fact the southern most point of the South Island. The southern most point is actually a fairly uninteresting and featureless stretch of coast, and Bluff is the southern most settlement. Hey-ho, we continued to Bluff nonetheless. We first headed to Stirling Point, where there is a road sign on the beachfront pointing to cities all over the world. By this point we were 18,958km from home! Once Toby had climbed like a monkey and hung off the sign, and lots of Chinese tourists had taken his photo, we headed to a local fish ‘n’ chip shop to try the famous Bluff Oyster. We had already eaten, so only got a few, but they were absolutely delicious. They tasted just like the sea.
We then headed back to Invercargill (only 26km or so down the road), and the next day we started our journey back up North. After all, from Invercargill the only way is up!