We're back in Central Otago now, ambling slowly towards Queenstown, where we need to be, to welcome family who we haven't seen in a long while, when they fly in from Australia for Easter. Our Winton family are coming to Queenstown too, so it's going to be fun weekend.
After we left Dunedin we stopped at Taieri Mouth for a few days, you'll remember that's where I shot the Southern Lights from.
We stayed at a very popular NZMCA CAP (costs apply parking) stop-over owned by Keith and his very cute little dog Charlie (who took a liking to our outdoor mat).
This was our view.....out the side window. Keith certainly loves his boats, he'd just bought the red one a week or so ago.
This was the view out the front...
...with this stunning beach and clear water just a few steps away from our van. This is the tidal estuary and mouth of the Taieri River, the same river that we've followed and crossed over at various times from its headwaters in the upper Maniototo right down here, to the mouth.
The main reason we actually headed to Taieri Mouth wasn't because of the aurora (although that was a lovely bonus), it was because we wanted to revisit a tiny little island just off the mouth of the river; Moturata Island. We'd stopped here at Taieri Mouth over 3 years ago, not long after we arrived in the South Island.
Moturata is a special nesting area where a number of sea birds breed, including Little Blue Penguins. The season is well over now but we were hoping to maybe see a few stragglers. Access to the island is via a sandbar that is only exposed 40 minutes either side of high tide. The tide was in our favour but we had to anxiously wait to see if the morning's fog withdrew before we made our way out to the sand bar. It was late morning before it had retreated enough for us to see the outline of the island ahead of us.
And then as we waded through the retreating tide, the sea fog rolled back in...
...until we couldn't see a thing. As we waded on we suddenly realised that the river mouth had shifted since our last visit. It had moved to the south side of the sand bar and was now roaring out into the ocean right there in front of us blocking our way to the island. And at the speed and turbulence it was passing by us, there was no way we were going to get across it.
We walked to a narrow section of the river further back to check the other side out and to see if we could possibly come in from the north side on the next day's low tide. There looked to be a second mouth heading out to the north as well. Keith told us later (we should have asked him first), that for the last few months there have been two mouths to the river, both quite shallow and causing concern for some of the fishing fleet tied up at the wharf, as they could only get out and back in at the top of a tide.
Disappointed we'd been foiled in our attempt to reach the island we headed home. Here's the link to see the photos of the Little Blue Penguins and gull chicks we saw when we did manage to get there on the last visit.
You wouldn't believe it but this was the clear view we had looking back at the estuary on the way home.
And yet looking to our left down the coast, the fog was still drifting in and out. Can you see the fogbow? And yes, a fogbow is a legitimate phenomenon- because fog water droplets are very small, fogbows have very weak colours or no colour at all, this is when a fogbow appears white, they're sometimes called white rainbows. This is the second one I've seen on our travels, the previous one was a lot clearer, you can see it at the bottom of this blog from Moeraki.
Our next stop on our meander back into Central, was at Milton, a small town on SH1, just before the SH8 turnoff to Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes. It's a town that most people pass through on their way to somewhere else. We stopped this time and stayed at the council run campground at Taylor Park, we had a couple of nearby places we wanted to explore and laundry to do (and at $2 a load it's the cheapest we've found on our travels). Nice clean facilities too.
The weather wasn't that great but we headed out anyway, our first stop was at Toko Mouth on the coast, 18kms east of Milton (half of them gravel).
Toko Mouth is time stood still, an iconic sleepy Kiwi beach settlement like they used to be.
The tourist trail hasn't reached out here. Yet. But when it does they're prepared....just in case you need Specsavers.
We walked out to the mouth of the river, this is looking back towards the settlement.
The beach is wild and rugged, a sign says it's unsuitable for swimming. Bull kelp litters the beach and waves crash around rocks further south.
There's a rustic collection of well loved cribs dotted in amongst the dunes and along the road.
Some overlook the estuary, and as befitting their superior location, come with extras although I think an extra fence wouldn't go amiss.
I twisted David's arm and managed to convince him to carry on down the coast to complete a long loop back to Milton. I mean what's another 20kms of dust when you've already travelled over 10kms? The coast road was very undulating and actually wasn't that dusty....probably due to a thick salt spray coating!
...and this rather dilapidated crib beside a small stream estuary.
We take a brief detour through Kaitangata (pop. 800) so I can grab a few shots for NZ Heritage. Kaitangata is on the left branch of the mighty Clutha River, just downriver from Balclutha and not far from its outlet. Kaitangata's recent claim to fame was a recruitment drive for new residents where they were offered employment and very favourable house buying packages.
We then headed north, back to Milton, passing what looks to be a great bird watching spot, Lake Tuakitoto, along the way. Weary from our afternoon's travel and keen to get home, we stop only briefly to check with our binoculars. There's plenty of water fowl on the lake; ducks, geese and swans, even a family of swans which is very late in the season, especially with duck shooting fast approaching. I'm sure plenty of other more elusive bird species would be lurking around the edges of this shallow lake.
To be continued... Part 2