Tuesday, 11 May 2021

The Nuggets- Catlins


There was one last photo I was hoping to capture before we left the Catlins; sunrise at Nugget Point Lighthouse. And I knew where we'd stay so I didn't have too far to travel in the early morning darkness; Winston & Hazels'  POP (park over property) Nuggetburn #8967 which is conveniently located on The Nuggets Rd, right on the beach and just a few kilometres from the lighthouse.

Winston was nowhere to be seen when we arrived so we squeezed around the back of a bus which was already parked and pulled up alongside the sheep yards. It wasn't long before we knew where Winston was;  we could hear dogs barking, a quad bike revving followed by the noise of a mob of sheep arriving on our door step! 

A stock agent arrived soon after and he, Winston & a neighbour spent a couple hours drafting the mob into two pens. We spent the night listening to muted baa-ing (and catching the occasional distinct whiff of sheep poo). We've certainly had our fair share of unusual neighbours while living this lifestyle. A truck was coming early in the morning to collect them for the Balclutha sale yards. I was disappointed that I'd miss the loading as I was heading to the lighthouse early to catch the sunrise.

The photo of the sheep was taken from the door, the old cottage was once part of the farm.

Across the road from Nuggertburn there's a beautiful long sandy beach and if you're lucky you might find one of the resident sealions lounging on the sand.  He might even be waving at you! (sealions do this to catch the breeze to cool down)

Nugget Point Lighthouse is in the background

I walked  to a rocks at the far end of the beach where it was sad to see this addition- an old tractor- to the reef which looks to have been there a very long time. I guess it's not adding anything more to the environment now other than a place for seaweed, barnacles & small shellfish to call home.  

As I walked back along the beach the sealion sat up, gave a big yawn and headed back into the surf. You can see one of the major differences (although there are many) between sealions & seals here. A sealion is able to swing its back flippers around and use them to 'walk', this is also what makes them very fast on land. And never under estimate how fast they can move. Seal flippers stay facing backwards, they wriggle forward on their bellies rather than 'walk'.

Photographing sunrises is mostly a hit & miss affair. As Forrest Gump's Mom said '...like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get'. It depends on how much cloud cover there is and where the cloud is laying as to whether you'll get a dramatic sunrise with all the brilliant reds, oranges & yellows or a mediocre one with a little colour or not even a sunrise at all if thick cloud rolls in and blocks it out. 

But to shoot a spectacular sunrise you have to haul yourself out of bed and get to the site well before dawn because often the best shots are in the 60-30 minutes before the sun pokes its head over the horizon. And Murphy's Law dictates that if you don't bother to get out of bed, it'll be the most fabulous sunrise you'd ever see. 

Nugget Point Lighthouse & The Nuggets

Nugget Point & the lighthouse are about 4kms from Nuggetburn and I arrived to a very dark and empty carpark. Great! I'd have the place to myself. No other photographers vying for the best position to shoot or people getting in the way taking selfies; Nugget Point photos are very popular with tourists. I still had a 1km walk ahead of me and with my headtorch on I followed the well formed gravel walking track along the side of the the steep bluffs to the lighthouse. 

I positioned myself in a small area overlooking the Nuggets (rock islands) to one side & the lighthouse to the other (see the first sunrise photo above) and patiently waited for the action. I wanted to climb up the bluff behind me- I've seen photos taken from higher up- but thought better of it. I know my limitations, especially in the pre dawn gloom. The sky did glow a little & I was able to get a few decent shots.

I moved to the lighthouse platform to take photos of the Nuggets out in front and that's when the first people started arriving. And when I stopped on my way out to take the photo below, looking down into the small bay, a guy was climbing up the steep bluff behind (the one I'd briefly thought about climbing). I could now also see that there was a fence & danger netting trying to block the worn track up through the rocks. He'd missed the early sunrise action but I'm sure he'd got himself some 'danger' shots anyway. 

The best sunrise photo happened as I was making my way back to the carpark. A rich golden glow filled the sky behind me as the sun slowly rose into the sky dipping in and out of the cloud cover.

I stopped to check out the seal nursery & the spoonbill nesting site located on the rocky islands at the bottom of the cliffs near the beginning of the track. The plaintive cries of the pups can be heard from the track far above and with binoculars you can see them playing in the rock pools. Royal Spoonbills/Kotuku Ngutupapa have built nests on the scrubby trees & shrubs that cling to the sides of the rock islands. 

Spoonbills with their strange bills, big black feet & unusual head gear, never look the most graceful of birds but I was mesmerised as I watched group after group arrive in V formations, gliding in from a great height, spiraling around & around and dropping quickly and landing quite elegantly onto their nests or the rocks on the impossibly steep sides of the island. Some birds disappeared out of sight below me & it wasn't until I walked further along the track that I could see another large colony of birds nesting on the mainland cliffs too.

I had one more stop before heading home for breakfast. Just down the road from the lighthouse carpark is Roaring Bay, a well known haunt for Hoiho/Yellow-eyed Penguins. There's even a bird hide from where you can wait to watch the penguins depart or arrive at either end of the day. 

When I entered the hide there was already a woman inside waiting. She told me she'd been waiting 45 minutes and hadn't seen any so far and none on the previous day's visit either. This was her last day and as she was flying home later in the day she really wanted to see a penguin. She was going to wait just 10 minutes more & then she'd have to leave.

And then with about 5 minutes to spare, she let out a muffled squeal as two penguin heads appeared out of the weeds & driftwood down below the hide. They cautiously glanced around and then slowly hopped over the rocks, the front one stopping several times waiting until its partner caught up before waddling on some more until they both reached the surf and disappeared under the waves.

Once the penguins were gone I turned my attention to a Welcome Swallow's nest that was just behind me up on the top rail of the information panel. The parents had been swooping in and out complaining loudly at our presence while we waited for the penguins. With 3 chicks to feed they weren't too perturbed though, the darkness of the hide helping them feel less threatened too. Though one of them gave my head a brush as I walked out, a belated warning to stay clear. 

Later on I walked down the beach in the opposite direction and once again found the big male sealion,  asleep and partially covered in soft sand this time, another cooling tactic. Every so often a large flipper would carve into the sand beside him and fling it high over his body. 

You can see in this photo how, unless you were looking closely, it would be quite easy to mistake a sealion for another piece of seaweed on the beach. 

And in the photo below,  how close vehicles can come without realising one is there. Can you see the tire marks passing within a few metre of him (and why sometimes when you're scanning a beach for a sealion you can totally miss one). 

It's the first time I've actually looked at their flippers up close too, look at those nails! I've watched sealions scratching themselves with their back flipper but never realised (or thought about it) that they'd have nails to do it with. Makes perfect sense of course. Click the photo to enlarge.

We headed into Balclutha later in the day to get a few supplies and of course when I saw all the trucks lined up at the sale yards on our way past, we had to stop.

Thousands of sheep filled the pens in every direction & dozens of people milled around moving from pen to pen. We also moved in closer to listen to the auctioneering...

...and as luck would have it, the very auction we watched happened to be Winston's two pens of sheep! That's him in the background looking very nonchalant. He'd told us the day before that his Perendales (breed of sheep) were keenly sort after & he usually got the top price at the sale. Later he told us that while it wasn't his top yearly price, he still got the best price on the day. 

Sometimes it's not what you know but who you know or in my case, who knows you. We often fly under the radar (if the photo on the back of the 5th-wheeler is out of sight) but there are many people on the road that recognise our rig & know of me from the photos I post on Facebook or the articles I write for my blog or for the NZMCA. 

On our last evening at Nuggetburn there was a loud knocking on the door and when David opened it two gentlemen stood at the bottom of the steps eager to cart us away to Happy Hour. Marilyn had recognised our rig & had also seen some of the recent photos I'd posted from the area and had sent her husband & Winston back up the road to invite us to their weekly neighbourhood happy hour. 

It's held in an old converted horse stall on a local farm, the interior decked out as a bar with the usual pub paraphernalia around the walls and with amazing views out over the bay. We had a great time; met the neighbours, learnt some of the local history, discussed the world's problems & listened to a few tall tales before time was called & everyone made their way back to their respective homes.

The next morning after a thoroughly enjoyable stay at Nuggetburn, and a coffee, cake & farewell on the deck with Winston & Hazel, we pulled out (carefully); another visit to the Catlins done & dusted. We had to be in Roxburgh the next day. 

Friday, 30 April 2021

Perfect Purakaunui- Catlins


The DOC camp at Purakaunui Bay is our next stop as we travel north through the Catlins.

Along the way, we stop at the Florence Hill Lookout for morning tea. The lookout overlooks the coastline which includes beautiful Tautuku Bay, where the native bush reaches right down to the edge of the dunes. This is one of the most well known & iconic views you'll see as you travel the Catlins. You can access the beach from a narrow track through the bush at the bottom of the hill, we've done this on one of our previous Catlins trips.

Our destination, Purakaunui Bay, is famous for being one of the locations for the film The Chronicles of Narnia; the Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. The towering bluffs along the north side of the bay were used in the film.

Although we've visited the bay before we've not stayed at the DOC camp (it's a basic camp with long-drop facilities). The camping area is large with several areas to park in, although the ground is quite lumpy and can be very boggy even in the middle of summer. There are a few gravel areas beside the road where you can park if you don't want to venture onto the grass. 

There's also a couple of grass patches where smaller vans or tents can camp closer to the beach. You do have to drive along the sand to access these areas though.

Once you turn off the Purakaunui Falls Road, there's 6kms of gravel road to travel to reach Purakaunui Bay, the last kilometre is very narrow & one way so proceed cautiously. We find that if you travel these roads late morning or early afternoon you'll usually miss the campers coming out that have stayed overnight or the day trippers heading home in the late afternoon. 

I say 6kms of gravel but that doesn't include the 8kms or so on the Purakaunui Falls Road once you leave the main highway at the Catlins River Estuary. This is the better road to take if you're coming from either direction, the others are also gravel, hilly & winding.

We stayed in early February and there weren't too many campers about. Unlike the January day when I visited several years ago when every available space was taken up by tents & motorhomes. 

The Purakaunui River past the camp & out to sea 

We arrived early afternoon and managed to park in one of the better spots, overlooking the beach and beside a small creek that joins the river, so no one could crowd us out.  

The road ends at the top of a hill just past the camp & overlooking the beach. I don't think many campers realise that the area at the top is also part of the camp and you can park up there too. 

A short vehicle track leads to a couple of reasonably flat areas that overlook the bay in one direction... 

...and the lower camp in the other.

I had seen a few vehicles drive through the camp and up the hill, and then return to park up. They probably thought they weren't allowed to stay up the top as there are no signs there but when I saw a DOC worker camped there, I checked the info board out to see that the area was included in the camp boundaries. 

I was actually a bit peeved off with the DOC guy to be honest as he had set up his tent in the one clear area I had sussed out the day before, for a sunrise shot. I felt a bit creepy tiptoeing around his tent the next morning trying not to make the grass crackle as I tried to shoot the sunrise. 

So I wandered further up the hill and when I returned he was up and had his billy on. I had a chat with him while he made his breakfast. He was on a week long job in the Catlins and while there was a nearby DOC house he could stay in, he preferred to camp here. And you can see why, what a view to wake up to.

Other campers had made their way to the beach to watch the sunrise, one person meditating, another doing yoga while others just stood in awe and watched the bay fill with beautiful colour & light.  

Many more had no idea what they were missing; by far the best part of the day!

The love bird couple in this tent probably thought all their Christmases had come at once when they secured the perfect spot right on the edge overlooking the beach. 


They went out for the day as we did too and when we returned later in the afternoon, a huge squall had blown through and obliterated their gazebo with all the piping buckled & bent and no sign of the top. There was broken china, upended chairs, clothes & shoes scattered far & wide. 

We offered them cups & plates to use but they made do with the remnants. I guess they won't do that again in a hurry, luckily their tent stayed in one piece although a few of the guy wires had come loose.  

The Purakaunui River flows out alongside the camp and across the beach to the sea. The tannin stained water provided the perfect place for the Red-billed Gulls to partake in their daily ablutions. 

It was fun to sit and watch them as they called to & squabbled amongst each other as they lined up to take the next available space when one departed. One gull in particular spent ages having a bath, getting annoyed at another one when it sat too close in front of him and finally leaving with a hop, skip & jump. 

Of course a visit to the Purakaunui Bay is not complete without a visit to the Purakaunui Falls, another top tourist attraction in the Catlins. We've been before, actually twice, but I enjoy visiting places more than once, you never know the different conditions you can find from visit to visit. And especially waterfalls as the flow can change dramatically. 

On this day there was a mediocre flow but with a slow shutter speed & my tripod (which I don't usually cart with me on walks, preferring to shoot on the run) I managed some half decent shots. And a bonus was that there were very few tourists crowding out the platform jostling for a clear spot & I didn't have to contend with people down on the rocks in front having in-depth discussions or their picnic lunch! One day I'll catch the falls in full flood. Now that would be a sight.

On the day of the squall we drove around to Jacks Bay to check for sealions. There hadn't been any haul ashore at Purakaunui while we'd been there, or none that I could see.

Jacks Bay cliffs are similar to Purakauni Bay

We'd seen a few at Jacks Bay before but not on this day, the beach was bare. So we took a right at the end of the road on the way out and headed to the outlet on the south side of the Catlins River Estuary. Again there was nothing about other than a couple of people gathering shellfish.

We turned around and headed for home looking for a lunch spot along the estuary & out of the wind. We pulled into a small clearing & when I scanned the sand dunes with the binoculars I saw what I thought was a sealion. I rugged up- it had turned cold- and trudged through the dunes in the gale force wind with stinging sand whipping my bare legs. 

As I got close this big old fella with his rheumy eyes & gummy mouth lifted his head to look at me.

I'm sure he was thinking "Where the heck did you come from?" as he looked from side to side & rose up onto his hind flippers. He did a couple of shuffles and then thought better of it and collapsed back into a heap on the sand & closed his eyes. I headed off back to the ute, now fighting the wind and sand head on while trying to keep my camera out of harms way, tucked into my jacket. You can see the sand flying past the front of the sealion in the photos. 

Back at the camp there was excitement down on the beach. Not only had two sealions hauled out onto the beach while we were out but one of them, a large male had chased a couple & their two children across the beach at a very fast pace and they had been quite terrified by the encounter. Those are his 'running' track marks below. In the background is another camper being very careful how close she got to him- the dark patch at the end of the tracks- to take photos.

He obviously wasn't too worried, he was soon fast asleep oblivious to the terror he'd inflicted, that's him bottom right.  I walked to the far end of the beach to check out the other large male dozing in a lump of seaweed (below left & top right).

And then in the rocks at the top of the bay where I located a female sealion, she's barely visible & hiding as best she can from marauding males. Males are relentless in their pursuit at this time of the year, they chase females trying to round them up into harems. Except on the mainland there aren't that many females so they can be the target of many males. 

Females are a third of the size of a fully grown male, they are also a creamy beige or grey colour whereas males are brown and have rough hair manes (hence the sealion name). Can you see her? Click the photo to enlarge. 

Perhaps this was why the first male wasn't happy to share his beach with humans, he was hunting for his female. I quietly backed off and left her to her hiding spot.