Well, as you can see from the heading and the photo below, we're having Christmas in the Catlins this year.
We're at the Pounawea Motor Camp, just a few kilometres from Owaka in south Otago. The camp is a very compact little motor camp surrounded by native bush and on the edge of the Pounawea Scenic Reserve.
We arrived a few days ago, ahead of our Winton family, who will be joining us in their caravan on Friday for Christmas & New Year. The Christmas lights are up although being way down here in the south they don't start twinkling until well after 10pm. One of the bright orange camp lights illuminates everything on the other side of the van, it's just as well we've set up on this side otherwise the lights would be non-existent.
The camp also sits on the edge of the huge Pounawea Estuary.
Pounawea means 'meeting place of waters', and it is, as the Owaka and Catlins Rivers flow down either side of the small peninsula Pounawea and the camp sit on. The tide movement is massive inside the estuary, it disappears across the mudflats at a very fast rate, it can also creep up on you very quickly if you turn your back.
The birdlife across the estuary at low tide is fantastic, all the usual suspects and more, along with plenty of those comic cousins of the White Heron, the Royal Spoonbill, the one on the right complete with leg bling!
We've explored this area before, we've spent about 6 weeks in the Catlins during two visits not long after we arrived in the South Island three years ago. We stayed at Newhaven near Surat Bay which is across the estuary from Pounawea. We drove around to Newhaven to check the walk to the bay out for sealions (none spotted). The Catlins is well known for sealions, they haul out to rest on the beaches and in the sand dunes right along the coastline. They also swim up the estuaries at high tide and rest on the banks. We'd already seen two at a distance, one near the camp and one over the far side.
This is looking back towards Pounawea from Newhaven, the camp is in the bush at the left of the houses.
While there's plenty of bird life out on the estuary, the bird life around the camp and in the reserve is positively amazing. The dawn chorus is spectacular- spectacularly deafening! I can set my watch by it- 4:40am and the cacophony steadily builds to a very loud crescendo before suddenly dying to the odd late comer call about 45 minutes later.
I turned my camera video on to record the noise for you- an amatuer attempt, there are no pictures of course, it's still pitch-black, but at least you can hear some of the noise from the resident bellbirds and tui along with many others chiming in. There is one noise that had stopped before I thought about recording it, I'll try for another recording and add it to the blog in a day or two.
Of course once the birds wake me there's no going back to sleep, so I've taken the opportunity of watching the sunrise the last three mornings.
The camp has a number of cabins along the water's edge, what a great view to wake up too.
Now you'll have to bear with me on this next little story. After taking the sunrise photos above I went back to the van and back to bed to read the web 'papers'. I got up again about an hour later and lifted the blind in the lounge. As I looked out I saw, through a gap in the trees, a log floating past (we're about 100mtrs from the water) and then I thought that was no log, when it floated through the next gap. I grabbed my camera, dressing gown and Crocs (in that order!) and raced down to the water's edge just in time to see a sealion hauling itself out of the water further up the estuary.
There's a walk from the camp through the reserve and around the estuary and back along a short path to camp. I thought I'll walk down the short track and find the sealion on the estuary edge. I did a double take when I saw him approaching me up the path! I quickly retreated to the other side of the fence and he stopped too, probably wondering at the fluffy white(dressing gown) 'sealion' approaching him. I've lightened these photos a lot so you can see him but it was pretty dark and pretty scary with a big lump of blubber thumping down the path towards me.
I thought he'd disappear into the bush or back the way he came but no, he wobbled his way all the way up and around the end of the fence- 'he's done this before', I think to myself.
And sat down near one of the cabins (no one staying in it)...
He was a big boy with a mane as well.
I kept a good distance away from him (actually a tree trunk or two between him and me), I've seen how fast they can move, but in the end he must have decided this wasn't the place to hang out today and headed off towards the cabin!
He crossed the deck (imagine that, sound asleep with the curtains open to hear a thump, thump, thump and wake up to a sealion on your deck!)...
...and by the time I got to the edge, was heading off into the sunset....I mean sunrise! What an cool experience, you just never know where or when they're going to happen. Two seconds either way in opening that blind and I would have missed him altogether, and been none the wiser waltzing along the track later in the day. Now I carefully check in the undergrowth as I pass by.
Yesterday we did a little tiki-tour back to Nugget Point...
...just to check it out again after our previous visit.
Next was a re-visit to Cannibal Bay, where we'd seen eight sealions on our last visit. This time there was just the one, sound asleep at the far end of the bay.
We parked up not far from him and had lunch on the back of the ute. It looks lovely and sunny but there was a very cold wind blowing in off the sea.
I got a couple of strong whiffs of seal while we were having lunch and then spotted a couple just behind us on the rocks, a male sound asleep in the sun and another creeping through the rocks towards him. They had a bit of a tussle after spotting each other and the intruder was sent packing.
The sleeping seal resumed his sunbathing and slumber position but kept a beady eye on us for a short while.
Did you know that seals are mostly found on rocks and sealions on sand, seals have a 'dog' face with a pointy nose and long whiskers, while sealions have a bear face and shorter whiskers. Seals are generally scared of humans and will head to the water, sealions aren't afraid and will often mock-charge humans (and bite if they get close). Sealions have the ability to 'walk' on land while seals have to slither forward because their flippers don't rotate.
After lunch we walked across the headland on a very sandy track and through hundreds of yellow lupins (you can rest easy, I don't like yellow lupins but the perfume was divine)...
...to check out the north end of Surat Bay for sealions! The last time we walked 5kms along the beach from Newhaven to find 4-5 sealions here too. Not today, there wasn't a single one to see. The entry to Pounawea Estuary is down the far end of this bay.
We retraced our steps back over to Cannibal Bay, headed back along the beach to the road and back home to Pounawea.
The birds woke me once again this morning and a quick glance out the window confirmed that there was going to be another intense orange sunrise so it was on with the dressing gown and back down to the water's edge although the tide was still on it's way in. And not a wayward sealion in sight.
I'd also like to thank each and every one of you for your continued support and encouragement for my blog and photos during the past year. It makes it all worthwhile knowing that there are people 'Out There' enjoying and following along on our travels. Take care & travel safely, see you in the New Year.
|Ohau C Campground, Lake Benmore, MacKenzie Country|