Friday 27 January 2017

Camp Niagara- The Catlins


After we left Hinahina, our next stop was the Niagara Falls. Yes that's right Niagara Falls, this is the New Zealand version of the famous falls. The falls were named by a surveyor with a sense of humour; that's them in the background, just a small cascade of water over some rocks. Mind you, a day later and the falls had doubled in height and the rocks had disappeared. I bet the better known version could never claim that.

We actually visited the falls on one of our previous trips through the Catlins and checked out the NZMCA Park which is just across the road, but this time we were staying.

It's a lovely well looked after park and the local branch have done wonders with the site- even though on our last visit we were aghast at the shingle laid down and no grass available to park on- after 3 years in the South Island we've learnt, you need gravel. There's a short loop track through a native bush grove which will attract and add to the many birds in the area. This Kereru/Wood Pigeon greeted us at the gate one evening, not moving until after I opened the gate.

The Park is an ideally situated base for exploring the southern end of the Catlins. Waikawa, Porpoise Bay, Curio Bay and the Petrified Forest are just a short drive away with Slope Point and Waipapa Point a little further south and the Chaslands Highway, Cathedral Caves, McLean Falls and Tautuku beach not too far north.

Once again the weather played havoc with out plans and we had two days of solid wind and rain. And once again we hunkered down, watching the comings and goings of other members who quite possibly were on their holidays and on more fixed itineraries. I did feel sorry for them, the Catlins is not nice in crappy weather.

David had a short burst of activity before the rain arrived; fishing the river that runs behind the site. But he found the nearly black and slow moving water a little spooky in the twilight and saw nothing rise so gave it away after a short time. 

The banks were also overgrown and very slippery with long grass running right down to edge. One slip and you'd have headed over the bank and into the I nearly did from half way up! I forgot the memo- don't wear Crocs when clambering about on slippery river banks.

The caravans above and below are whitebaiter 'huts'. We're not very far from the Waikawa Estuary here and the river is a very popular during the whitebait season. We stopped to talk to a couple of locals who were re-cutting a track to their stands. They told us- with a bit of prodding- that they'd caught 30kgs & 50kgs respectively last season. Now that's a good haul! 

This caravan has a great name, perhaps it should be parked at the entrance to the NZMCA Park! 

In between rain squalls we did a tiki-tour up the Waikawa Valley, over the MacLennan Range down the Tahakopa Valley to Papatowai and back along the Chaslands Highway home. Not one of our more exciting road trips but interesting all the same. I did love the narrow alleyway cut through the Catlins Forest over the range. It reminded me of the kiwifruit shelterbelts back in the Bay of Plenty.

For much of the way, the trees on the left were up against a rock wall, the road cut through lower than top of the range but then I couldn't decide if it was rock or deep forest behind other sections including the right hand side.

The long Tahakopa Valley is mostly commercial forestry and the only other vehicles we met on the road were logging trucks. 

We stopped to check out a memorial to the area's early settlers, the 'MacLennan Clan' and after who the range and a settlement on the main road near Papatowai, are named after. 

Our next stop was at the once bustling settlement of Tahakopa, 9kms inland from the Tahakopa Estuary and Papatowai. There are just eight permanent residents here and a handful of cottages in various states of disrepair & restoration.

Tahakopa was once the rail head for the branch line from Balclutha; the Catlins River Branch serviced first, the logging industry (there were once 16 sawmills in the valley), and then the farming communities as the valley opened up to early settlers. The line closed in 1971 which sadly signalled the demise of the settlement. The old railway station is slowly being reclaimed by nature.

One bright beacon in Tahakopa is the restored  'Our Hut', once a church and then the local hall, the historic building was built in 1921.

 'Our Hut' is used for meetings and gatherings and also holds records of much of Tahakopa's history.

Back on the coast, the wind was whipping along and the rain squalls horizontal. We stopped at the Florence Hill lookout over Tautuku Bay, an iconic Catlins scene. The wind was so strong I could hardly push the door open to get out and then once I did I had to brace myself against the ute to take a shot. I managed one shot before stinging rain pummeled my face and the camera lens. Funny how this looks such a serene shot.

We drove down to the bottom of the hill and out onto the beach, hoping for some shelter so we could have lunch. Instead of stinging rain we got stinging sand! We backed right up to the dunes beside a stream and had lunch on the tailgate, the cab offering a little bit of shelter. I told David he had better hold tight to his mug of tea but he sat it on the tailgate, it wasn't long before it was over.

A surfer from a rental motorhome tested the on-shore breeze and even though the waves don't look much from here they were quite large and very messy. His friends got a little concerned for him (as did David) after he disappeared for a long while and then popped up way down by the rocks.

I did a little processing on this shot, a good one for a tourism company perhaps- I imagine the occupants sitting inside in awe of their surroundings and not quite believing that they could drive onto a beach and be the only ones there (until we arrived). 

We headed off home and it rained solid all the way back to Niagara.

The only problem with the Niagara site was that there is absolutely no cellphone coverage which in turn usually means no internet either. And while most people are on holiday and not bothered, it soon becomes a problem for those of us that live on the road and/or need to have some contact with the outside world. One day is OK, 2 days bearable, 3 days- get me out of there!

So it was just as well our Netspeed modem is mobile and 12V, we were able to un-plug it from it's cubbyhole in the van, plug it in the ute's lighter socket and take it for a drive until we registered a signal. It doesn't sit in the iPad (TomTom) holder, I just moved it from the centre console so it could be in the shot. So with a signal, it's just a matter of connecting to the modem from our smart phone, iPad or laptops as per normal.

And it just happened that signal was strong and clear at the top of the lookout at Curio Bay, 16kms from Niagara. Well in fact the signal showed up a little earlier but why not make the most of the outing by making sure we had a great view while catching up with internet chores and phone calls. This was a Vodafone connection through Netspeed, our Spark mobiles were very weak, in fact virtually non-existent, the first time we've found Vodafone better than Spark. 

As you can see the weather was once again wild and stormy and heading our way- this is overlooking Curio Bay and the Petrified Forest, which is at the far end of the bay. The wind is holding me off the edge here, it's gale force and quite thrilling and scary at the same time. 

It's a 50 foot drop onto the rocks below and the waves are crashing over the rocky platform. I watched numerous tourists near the edge jumping in the air and flying backwards onto the ground or actually trying to fly while friends took photos. I'm not sure how they would have fared if the wind had died suddenly.

Because of the weather the Curio Bay campground wasn't too busy each time we drove through it, but those that were there were quite sheltered in amongst the flax bushes.

Porpoise Bay was just as uninviting with very few people on the beach or looking out for Hectors Dolphins from the banks above the beach.

The rain came and went along with the tourists, in the end the wind got so ferocious there was just us and a lone seagull fighting the elements at the top of the hill.

Of course it made total sense, being a Friday night and all, to stop at the famous Waikawa fish and chip caravan to pick dinner up on the way home. T'was perfect too! I know one thing I'm going to miss when we do return to the North Island for good- Blue Cod! 


  1. Really enjoy your blogs, wonderful photos and a great advert for NZ. Keep up the great work

    1. Many thanks for your kind comments, much appreciated. Pleased you enjoy the blog too.

  2. Hi Shellie. I am just getting around to reading some of your awesome blogs as we are just planning our first trip down south for 6 weeks. Love all the ideas of places to visit and makes it so much easier to plan our trip . Cheers Marie George

    1. Thanks Marie, I'm pleased you are enjoying the blogs and extracting some useful information from them. Don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions.


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