Saturday, 4 March 2017

Weir, Waipapa & a Coal Pit

Catch-up (this may be the last post for a week or so, we've been at the Cavalcade in Omakau the last few days and will be off to another one of our must re-visit places; Poolburn Dam tomorrow, where there is no internet.

The weather once again foiled our attempts to enjoy a leisurely summer in the Catlins. After 4 days of rain and no internet to keep us occupied, we pulled out of Niagara and carried on south, heading to a favourite freedom camping site, Weir Beach Reserve, which is just off the Slope Point Road.

Who should be coming over the rise ahead of us, not far from our turnoff but our two friends in their Ultima who we'd last seen at Hinahina. We'd been playing leap frog all the way south- we both flashed our lights & tooted but couldn't stop and talk as another vehicle came up behind. They'd just spent the night at Weir Beach. We saw them yet again a day later near Fortrose.

Weir Beach looked a little worse for wear (no pun intended), we dodged a few thick mud holes and squelched our way over to the far side... 

...where, because of our height, we had a view over the estuary from our front door. We didn't know it until a couple of campers told us, but we parked in exactly the same spot as our friends did the night before. The campers did a double take when they glanced over to see another Ultima there.

As the day drew to a close, a steady stream of cars arrived for the night, 35 vehicles before night fall, 35 and at least 70 people but probably more, as some had 3 or 4 occupants. Most of these vehicles were not CSC (certified self-contained) but that's OK. The Southland District Council have set aside a few areas around the district for freedom camping where you don't have to be certified because they provide facilities. Or they should. 

It would be fine if they had sufficient facilities to back it up, but Weir Beach has just one filthy stinking long-drop toilet. So it's no wonder, when I go for a walk, I find we're actually parked in one huge cesspit. Campers have been peeing and pooing in the grass surrounding the reserve, on the tracks, in the dunes and even on the beach, either because the toilet is in such a disgusting state (or they are too darn lazy to walk the distance).  

This lovely reserve was once a special place to stay, a hidden gem few knew about and few abused. How can one inadequate toilet service so many people and not be a health hazard. The least Southland District Council could do is bring in a bank of Porta-loos and have them serviced regularly over the busy summer season. This is the sort of camping that is ruining our countryside and the non-CSC campers are not altogether to blame for it either, although the rubbish they leave behind is definitely in their lap.

ETA- this article is timely, thanks RachelThe Ups & Downs of Freedom Camping

I was up early to see the sun rise over the estuary...

...but the weather sooned turned to custard again and David was keen to move on. The forecast was for rain and high winds, I'd wanted to revisit Slope Point and Waipapa Point Lighthouse if it stopped raining and I was reluctant to leave the Catlins behind because this was quite possibly our last visit to the area. 

We decided to stop at a CAP (cost apply parking) I knew about not far from Fortrose. If the bad weather didn't eventuate, we'd shoot back up the road to Waipapa Point and maybe Slope if it was really good the next day. 

The Ashers Lignite Pit Cafe & Garden has a large gravel area for campers (tents can be pitched on the grass) and at $10 a night, a little more for power, it's a good sheltered place to park- the wind picked up just after we arrived. 

We had a unusual welcoming party as we drove down to the parking area; over a rise in the lawn came a fast waddling line of quacking ducks. They were so funny, you couldn't help but smile at their antics as they checked out our parking spot and had a rest under the van while we unhitched.

Eventually, when no food was forthcoming, they settled down in the tussock grass beside the van. quacked gently at each other and nibbling on the flower heads. I so wanted to get out the loaf of bread, but David kept scowling at me each time he passed by the door. 'Don't you dare'.

There's us over the far side of the pond. This was once a large open coal mine pit. When the mining stopped the diverted water was allowed to run free again, filling the hole and creating a large pond with lots of little nooks and crannies. Trees and gardens were planted, birds welcomed back and a cafe opened.

There's a lovely walking track through the informal gardens right around the outside of the pond...

...where remnants of the coal seams can be seen in some of the pond banks.

I knew the ducks were sent to make me laugh, I was over the far side of the pond when they spotted me and came paddling as fast as they could across the water. I thought as they stumbled single file out of the water and up a bank that they'd come just to see me, but no, they waddled straight past and headed for an ice plant covered bank where they promptly set about demolishing it!

They'd been here before, you can see the nibbled line above their heads. About 5 minutes later they waddled back past me and back into the water. I reckon it must have been dessert. Really weird.

We thought we'd better do the right thing and support the cafe by having a coffee and maybe share a muffin. Yeah right. We left not needing any dinner that evening! The spare ribs and mash sounded just too good to miss.

It was interesting ready the history of the pit and what lignite actually is (click on the photo to read)

The next day dawned very cold and windy with rain threatening, we decided on a quick trip back up to Waipapa Point, hoping it might clear. It didn't. 

When you see people standing around like this in the Catlins you can be sure that there's a sealion nearby.

And there he was, a smile on his face and blocking the main track down to the beach. The only solitary sealion on the beach today, unlike the last time we visited when there were four big fat boys sunbathing on the sand (and double the amount of tourists trying to see them).

I skirted around the outside of the people finding another way down to the beach, I had bigger fish to fry, from the lookout beside the carpark I'd seen a penguin coming out of the breakers making its way towards the cliff edge. It didn't take me long to locate it, another moulting juvenile penguin looking more worse for wear than the one at Porpoise Bay.

I willed him to carry on up the rocks and out of sight, I could see more people making their way along the beach towards us.

He carried on, heading to clumps of grass and clay that had fallen down from above, he slipped and slid and tried...

...until he found a spot to stand and look miserable. 

I left him alone and thankfully out of sight from all but the curious of visitors. I felt sad for him as the rain started (that's a rain spot on my lens below) but I guess he's used to water and the cold. He just looked so lonely. 

I walked nback along the beach, stopping briefly to watch the never ending line of White-fronted Terns ferrying food back and forward from the ocean to their hungry fledglings waiting on a rocky platform.

Back in the carpark, I had one last look over the edge to check on the penguin below (he was hidden out of sight) and then we were gone, the beautiful, rugged Catlins, a nature lovers paradise, done for probably our last time. 


  1. Weirs Beach is another favourite of ours too, such an awesome spot close to where we live. It's totally disappointing to see how this beautiful area is being treated and how bad it is now compared to when we first started going there.

    1. It is such a shame Tracey, hopefully someone will see the light soon , and change the rules or add more facilities.


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