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.....


  1. It really is a fascinating place.Well worth visiting.

    1. Hey there Val! Nice to see you & thanks for dropping by & leaving a comment. I bet all this is still fresh in your memory.

    2. Indeed it is. Will you be passing through Roxburgh by any chance?Have you photographed St.James's church or intend to? And have you been to the lonely graves?


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