Wednesday 29 January 2014

Going Bush

We've had a busy couple of days & I've had little time to complete the next few blog posts not least of all because the internet is virtually non-existent in this part of the Catlins. And it's going to get worse as we are pulling out of the Whistling Frog CafĂ© & McLeans Falls Holiday Park this morning & going bush for awhile. We're heading to a DOC camp which is located inland alongside the Catlins River to do some trout fishing & where there will be no reception at all.

So this will be the last post for a few days but look out for when we return to civilization, I'll have plenty of blog posts ready to go live.

And in the meantime, so I don't leave you in suspense waiting to see the photo I mentioned in the last post, here is the yellow-eyed penguin chick David spotted waiting on a ledge for his dinner. And there was one more surprise in store for us when we returned to see him the next day, he had a sibling!

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Waikawa, Curio Bay & the Petrified Forest, Catlins

Just a note before this blog post goes live; Just after I posted the previous blog when I said we looked like we'd be staying on at Weir Beach Reserve forever, we decided it was time to move & within the hour we were packed and on the road. We are now just down the road from the Cathedral Caves & I'm working off a dodgy free one hour internet connection and I'm not sure if the photos will show ok. I do know that the font size varies from paragraph to paragraph which I will try to fix next time I have a good connection. So please excuse any mistakes...

In the last couple of days we've done a couple of tiki-touring trips over to Waikawa & Curio Bay which are about 16kms north of us on the main winding shingle road through this part of Catlins and another popular area of interest. Waikawa is located on the edge of one of the huge tidal estuaries that frequent this coastline and was once a bustling port town.

Waikawa Boat Shed
It's now a sleepy little village with about half a dozen houses & cribs, a hall, a lovely church and a fabulous old museum that must contain every old knick knack, antique this & that, settlers photos, clothes, medals, newspaper cuttings and pieces of ship wreck that exist in the area.  Much of it has been donated by the local families and many of the names are now very familiar to us as many roads, settlements & points of interest are named after them.  

The museum is well worth a visit, just a donation entry fee requested and you could lose yourself in there for a good few hours especially if the weather isn't great outdoors. But it was a glorious sunny day so we didn't linger long. Alongside the museum is the "famous in Southland" blue cod fish 'n chip caravan which is said to sell the best tasting fish & chips in NZ. It was lunchtime so of course we had to see if this was true and yes, we can report back that they were indeed great fish 'n chips but on a par with the ones we had at Waihola! 

Just down the road from Waikawa are the Niagara Falls. New Zealand's Niagara Falls. The falls were named by a surveyor with an obvious sense of humour. We gave these falls a 2/10; one above "not worth the walk" because in fact you only had to take 10 or so steps from the side of the road to see them! The falls are also just across the road from the NZMCA Park which we looked at on the way down to Invercargill.

Back on the main road & just around the corner from the falls is the Waikawa Holiday Resort which I'm sure every day has plenty of vacancies, and look, the caravans come fully air conditioned.....

Along side the road just north of Waikawa is an old concrete horse trough that was built around 1890, it gave passing horse teams a welcome drink after they had completed the climb up Cemetery Hill- which actually wasn't that bad a climb compared with others in the area.

While we were in the museum (which is also an i-site) a foreign couple came in to ask "where were the dolphins?" David & I smiled at each other; like you can just walk in and expect to be told where the dolphins are going to be waiting for you. David wanted to say "Just a minute I have one under the counter".

They're not quite like sealions or seals which are sprawled out on the beach in well-known places. They're out there in the ocean, swimming around wherever they please. But in fact the lady behind the counter told them that there had been reports of dolphins in Porpoise Bay just that morning. Porpoise Bay is the summer home of the Hectors Dolphin, a tiny & very cute endangered dolphin with distinctive black & white markings that is only found off the southern coast of NZ. With a total population of around 3-4000, Hectors dolphins are one of the rarest dolphins in the world, so to see one (or more) is very lucky indeed.

And especially if you are just passing through. As luck would have it, our next stop was at the lookout at the Heads which is the prominent point between  Porpoise Bay & Curio Bay and as we passed the camp ground we spotted a few people pointing out to the waves & saw others in the water. We pulled in and there in the shallows were half a dozen Hectors dolphins swimming around and along the wave line. They weren't doing too much wave riding or leaping about but looked to be feeding as they made their way back & forward in the one area for quite some time. Most of the time you could see only their rounded dorsal fin but I managed to catch one tail walking.

I wonder if there's something like the "Big Four" that people have on their must see list when visiting the Catlins; the four being sealions, yellow eyed penguins, hectors dolphin & the elephant seal. If there is we can now tick off the first three & I'm hoping we may see an elephant seal at Nugget Point where they breed. What a thrill for us to see all of these wonderful animals in such close quarters & all within a few kilometres of each other. We were in for another delightful surprise when we visited the Petrified Forest in Curio Bay.

We had a look at the campground located at the Heads thinking we might have come through there for a couple of nights but we decided it wasn't that good for us. The sites were quite small and tucked into thick flax alcoves. All I could think of were the rats that must live in the flax and David was thinking about how claustrophobic each site was with a wall of tall flax on all three sides: though it would have provided great protection from the gale force winds that frequent the area. Some of the smaller sites were out on the edge of the cliff with fabulous views over the rocky platforms below.

Porpoise Bay & the Curio Bay Campground

Curio Bay
Curio Bay & the Petrified Forest- stairway down to the rock flats can be see top right
Our next stop was the Petrified Forest at Curio Bay. This is one of the world's finest fossil forests & is easily accessible at low tide down a purpose built ramp & stairway. Embedded into the bedrock the petrified stumps, fallen trees & fern imprints are from the Jurassic period and are over 180 million years old. It was quite fascinating searching out the various markings & patterns of the trees. The stumps used to be a lot taller but over time storm borne driftwood & logs have battered the height of them down.

Very soon after arriving onto the rocky platform the Petrified Forest took second place because out of the flax (& it's nest) came a yellow eyed penguin, waddling down to the water for a wash & a swim. That's him (or her), up above on the header, making his way back to the nest afterwards.

And then once we had had our fill of him David found a very special little guy, a part downy yellow eyed penguin chick, standing on a rocky ledge waiting for his parents to return from the sea with dinner. But you'll have to wait a little longer for those photos.....

Monday 27 January 2014

Waipohatu Walk.....Tramp!

Monday morning & one week later we are still parked up at the Weir Beach Reserve! We keep saying we'll move on tomorrow, tomorrow comes & we decide to stay one more day & the "one more day" becomes two, then three, now four..... At this rate we'll never make it around the South Island!

We have been doing a lot of exploring and just enjoying the reserve. Over the weekend a few more families arrived to camp in their caravans and each night there has been an extra two or three sleeper vans, tents or motorhomes staying. And going by the amount of hire motorhomes & cars that we pass on the road it would seem that this place is a hidden gem not least because it's about the only place in the Catlins, so far, where we have been able to get phone reception.

A few days ago we visited the Waipohatu conservation area where there are a number of walking tracks. It The reserve is on the edge of the Waikawa Forest and is typical of the Catlins coastal forests. It was last logged in the 1960s but still has some remnants of the forest trees with the regenerating bush growing thick & fast underneath. The access roads are old saw milling roads and the carpark & picnic area, where an old Fordson Tractor log hauler still sits, was once a skid site where the logs were hauled to for transporting out.

There were two walks here, one a short 20 minute walking track through the bush, the other a 6.5km, 3 hour tramping track up to the waterfalls. We decided we'd walk the 20 minute track & then decide if we wanted to head further afield, which is what we did in the end as the longer track led off the end of the shorter walk. We were prepared for a longer hike although neither of us had our heavy duty tramping boots on just the easier to wear walking shoes. I also wasn't sure how my feet were going to cope. It's now been 6 months since my operation, the operation that was going to allow me to do all these long walks & tramps and I was keen to see how they stood up to it (no pun intended).

There were a number of bridges to cross and in places ponga logs had been laid as steps across boggy patches and up steep stretches. The bush was stunning, brilliant green with lots of tree & ground ferns & mosses. The water was stained with tannin that leaches out of the surrounding soil and leaf litter.

It was a steady climb all the way and the further we got into the bush the boggier it got. We were expecting it to dry out a little the higher we climbed but in just about every dip or low area the ground was a muddy mess. A lot of the time we managed to skirt around the edge of the mud but quite often the track was very narrow with a steep drop off at the edge or it was overgrown so there was no choice but to pick our way through the mud carefully placing each step in case we slipped.

With the promise of a waterfall at the end of the climb we kept on going although a couple of times we wondered if we should turn back. Until finally we got to the sign that told us there were an upper & lower waterfall. It's about now when you're totally buggered you wonder whether the steep descent down to the lower falls will be worth it (actually it's the steep climb out I was more concerned with).  And to make matters worse the higher falls was another separate climb up to & back. Ten minutes doesn't sound like much but when you're that bushed it's a bloody long time!

The track wound it's way down and around & over moss laden rocks to the lower falls which were stunning, although somebody could have removed that dead tree before we got there!

Long before we sighted the top falls we could hear the terrific roar of the cascading water, these were much higher, the water falling probably at least 30 metres into a small pool before being forced into two narrow gaps with a couple of huge boulders in the centre.

Unfortunately we couldn't see around the edge of the side rock to get a clear view of the waterfall; lean out too far & we would have been in the drink. The spray was also making it difficult to grab a quick look.

David tried to get across to the other side but the flat rocks were slippery & moss covered & the water deep, so he gave that away.

After the falls- which we rated 6/10 on our waterfall scale; 10 being "must see, fantastic, awesome" & 1 being "shouldn't have bothered, not worth the walk"- we had a rest & a bite to eat before heading on back to the car.

We were surprised at the lack of bird life we encountered on the walk although it was in the middle of the day so most would have been resting although we did get fleeting glimpses & we could hear quite a few, mainly grey warblers with two or three chicks in tow. But best of all we did get to see a couple of rare & very hard to spot (and photograph) rifleman, they move very fast and are so tiny, one of our smallest native birds. As you can see by the photo, I didn't manage to have my camera settings correct as I'd just finished shooting the waterfall when we spotted the birds. But with a bit of repair work at least I've got the evidence of a rifleman with a spider in it's bill.

After we left the waterfalls it was still a bit of climb upwards before the track turned and headed back down. And on this return leg the boggy patches became more frequent and the ponga stepping logs less so. Eventually the track broke out onto one of the old logging roads & it was all downhill from there, 1.2km straight down.

This was actually the toughest part as by then we were worn out and my feet were starting to really ache, also going downhill is extra hard on the knees. It was with much relief  when the road levelled out not far from the carpark. It actually took us over four hours in the end, in part because of how boggy the track was & stopping a number of times serching for birds. Our shoes were caked in mud but thankfully neither of us had slipped over or broken an ankle. And while my feet were very tender & sore, they came right after a night's rest so I'm thinking I'm good to go for our next tramp. Just not for a while.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Waipapa Point, Catlins

In 1881 the Waipapa Reef was the scene of NZ's worst civilian maritime disaster when the SS Tararua sank with the loss of 131 lives, only 20 people managed to survive. A lighthouse was erected on the point after the disaster & is now one of the most popular places to visit in the Catlins but also in part because it's a well know spot to see sealions.

When we arrived there was a massive "meat ball" happening right down below us. A "meat ball", or baitball as it's sometimes known, is a huge school of small fish that have formed into a tightly packed spherical formation to try and avoid being eaten by the hundreds of birds feeding from above & other larger fish from below. The mass of fish swung this way and that as they tried to escape the frenzy of the diving birds. Most of the birds were sooty shearwaters, also known as mutton birds here in New Zealand, with gulls, terns & shags feeding on the fringes. It was all very exciting, & extremely noisy.

Down on the shoreline the spotted shags (parekareka)  that were finished with feeding were gathering to prod, preen, dry out & talk (squawk) about their catch.

Some shags dropped in from overhead, others arrived rather abruptly by surf.

And there in amongst all the melee were the sealions, four of them, cast in the sand looking like giant sea-slugs slumbering on with not a care in the world. If you haven't come across sealions before, they can be quite intimidating as can be seen by these visitors (below) that were standing well back from them. DOC (Dept of Conservation)  recommend that you keep a 10 metre distance but there's always someone who will push the envelope......(he's the one with a missing foot! ;) )

This guy below was my favourite, doesn't he look just so darn cute snoring away with his sand scull cap on to keep the sun off his head.

Just behind the sealions the white fronted terns (tara) were bringing home their catch for their fledgling chicks that were waiting on the rocks. They were demanding little blighters & the parents were very particular in getting to the right chick before letting go of their hard earned haul. Any hesitation and a gull stepped in to sort it out!

This chick did not belong to this bird, no matter how much it begged the adult ignored him. The adult kept looking around trying to locate it's chick and then flew on to another rock where a gull promptly grabbed the fish.

After all the animal & bird activity the lighthouse became a second priority but a look over my shoulder confirmed that we needed to high tail it out of there as a southerly front was fast approaching.

The 44 foot high lighthouse tower is built from kauri & totara (native NZ trees) and is one of the last timber lighthouses built in NZ, Kaipara Heads in the North Island being the other & also identical to Waipapa. In the 19th century timber lighthouses were cheaper to build and also the timber was able to withstand the fierce coastal environment. The lower cavity wall is filled with local stone for ballast.

Until the lighthouse was automated in 1976 there was a small community of lighthouse keepers' houses & out buildings located on the plateau behind the lighthouse. It would have been an isolated & windswept place to live.

With the weather front nearly upon us, we had one more stop to do further back along the road. A visit to the Tararua Acre, a cemetery & memorial for the Tararua shipwreck victims which is located over the sand dunes from the reef where the ship went down. It was a short walk across private farm land to the fenced off  acre. Sheep grazed in the dunes & paddocks surrounding the site.

Big fat raindrops joined us for the walk (run) back across the paddock to the car & by the time we got back to the fifth-wheeler it was pelting down, the temperature had plummeted & a strong wind was blowing. It didn't ease up for 24 hours. Such is the weather in Southland.

"A nasty misty mizzle, a steady dripping drizzle"- the person who wrote that in the Clutha Leader newspaper in 1890 knew a thing or two about the Catlin weather.

Friday 24 January 2014


Not long after taking the reflection photos in the previous post David got a text from Rachel asking what the weather was like after the sunny day yesterday. We sent back that there was cloud cover but it looked like it would burn off and more importantly that there was no wind! Back came a reply- "We're on our way, see you in an hour" And so after saying our big farewells yesterday and in less than an hour the family arrived on our doorstep (literally)  to set up camp! What a wonderful surprise it was & finally after all our weather woes we got the chance to camp together, albeit for one night only.

Ollie & Ruby were so excited,  Ollie especially as Poppa had skyped the night before & had shown him the tyre swing in the tree beside us. It was the first thing they both raced for.

Panoramic view of the reserve
After setting up camp and with the tide going out we decided to walk around to the point beside the mouth of the estuary. 

Hubcap Heaven- cribs at the end of the road

A woman had arrived just after the family in her horse float with two dogs & a horse on board and it turned out that Rachel knew her from work. Irene frequently came to this reserve to stay; she is friends with the neighbouring farm owners and rides over their farm & she told us that there were often sealions & seals on the rocks at the point. We didn't find any on this walk but we later saw a sealion pulling itself out of the water and up into the dunes on the far side of the estuary near the mouth. The tide was on its way in so we weren't able to check it out, plus it would have been another long walk back across the soft sandflats.


Looking back across the tidal sand flats towards the camp. The estuary reaches around the trees in the middle and would be another 3 rimes this size. The sand was fairly firm to walk on although there were a few soft patches.
Poppa leads the way around a rocky patch

The estuary mouth & Haldane Bay, Catlins

At the rocky point there was plenty of bull kelp growing on the rocks & swirling back & forward in the tidal surge.
Heading for home
But not before a slide in the sand
By mid-afternoon the sun made an appearance & after a bite to eat we took the kids down to the water for a swim. Well, a paddle & a play on the boogie boards. Dad got a good workout running back & forward skimming them across the water.

Back at the camp & getting ready for a BBQ dinner we were in for another lovely surprise. The family from the farm had been on an outing to Curio Bay for the afternoon & especially to get a fish 'n chip dinner from the well-known caravan that plies it trade there during the summer. They called in for a visit on their way home. And so once again, as well as saying goodbye to them yesterday, we said another hello!
And I have to report that after this post on free range eggs & this one on the state of the bread in Invercargill I had two indignant women on my hands. Firstly Darnelle was most put out that I was having trouble finding good free-range eggs and so no prizes for guessing what she arrived with, a carton of fresh free-range eggs straight from their chooks to our pan! And at a day or two old, the only way you could get fresher than these would be to hold the frypan underneath as the hens laid them! So thankyou very much Mrs Chicken (& friends) & the family too! I knew I took a photo of one of the hens at Christmas for a reason...... :)

And secondly, I forgot to mention the wonderful freshly baked bread that Rachel ha made for us many times while we were in Invercargill and as if to reiterate this fact she sent us away on Monday with a lovely warm loaf to enjoy when we got to camp. There's nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the house and  it's intensified greatly in the small space of the fifth-wheeler so every time we opened the door on the way up the coast we got a promise of things to come.

After the BBQ there was a discussion on who was going to tidy up with David saying to count him out as he had cooked the sausages. This provided me with the opportunity of fishing out this little item that I have kept for many years on a scruffy sheet of paper in my keepsakes. I had actually lost it for quite awhile and only came by it again when I was packing up the house. Never a truer word said!

A Mans Barbecue-
Definition of Outdoor Barbecuing: It's the only type of cooking a "real" man will do: when a man volunteers to do the cooking, the following chain of events is put into motion.

1) The woman goes to the store.
2) The woman fixes the salad, vegetables & dessert.
3) The woman prepares the meal for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensiles, and takes it to the man, who is lounging beside the grill, drinking a beer.
4) The man places the meat on the grill.
5) The woman goes inside to set the table & check the vegetables.
6) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is burning.
7) The man takes the meat off the grill & hands it to the woman.
8) The woman prepares the plates & brings them to the table.
9) After eating, the woman clears the table & does the dishes.
10) The guests congratulate the man for his excellent cooking & he takes a bow.
11) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed "her night off". And, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there's just no pleasing some women.