Thursday 11 March 2021

Revisiting The Catlins


With a dose of cabin-fever threatening after nearly two weeks of inclement weather and the forecast promising sun on the horizon, we decided it was time to leave Invercargill. 

Originally we'd planned to head to one of our favourite places, Mavora Lakes, for a couple of weeks but with no internet & a 20km drive to make a connection, we decided we'd head east to the Catlins for another visit instead. Not having the internet wouldn't usually have worried us but during the busy holiday season we needed to be available should anything urgent happen at the cottages.

Fortrose Bluff- where the wind does blow

This would be our fourth visit to the Catlins so you'd think we'd have seen it all by now especially as the previous visits were for several weeks at a time. But I had a few camping sites on the radar, ones that we hadn't stayed at before, & also a few favourite places to revisit.

Toetoe Bay from Fortrose Bluff

Our first port of call was the freedom camping area at Fortrose, right on the edge of Toetoe Harbour, a large estuary and where the mighty Mataura River ends its journey. We've always stopped here for lunch on our way in or out of the Catlins, never staying overnight as our destination (Winton or Invercargill) isn't too far away. 

I'm always fascinated by the dozens of whitebait huts that line the Mataura and the smaller Titiroa Stream, not so much by the huts themselves (although one day I'm going to walk the river bank and photograph every one of them!) but the way the rivers meander back and forth several times before reaching the estuary. And the huts of course do the same so when you look across the river flats lots of  tiny sheds dot the landscape (check it out by clicking the photo to enlarge).

There's a two night maximum stay at Fortrose, the first night we had to ourselves, the second night there were a few more campers as it was the beginning of the weekend. It's nothing like it used to be though, before Covid closed the borders. Then there were dozens & dozens of campers here every night. 

We settled in overlooking the estuary on another gloomy day but by mid afternoon and as promised by the forecasters, the sun finally came out and so did a local rider, conveniently photobombing my shot as I prepared to take photos of the spoonbills.

A flock of fourteen or so Royal Spoonbills spent most of the incoming & outgoing tides sweeping back and forward in the shallow waters along the shoreline, not taking much notice of me creeping along in the mud beside them, and only disappearing  once the tide was fully in.

I love how they move in unison and in line, like mine sweepers moving their bills back and forward through the water as they slowly move forward. I'm guessing any small fish or crustacean disturbed by one flees into the bill of the one next door. 

The odd bird out was a rusty coloured female with no topknot (top right- she was always with a bigger plumed male). I've not seen any this dirty looking before, I'm not sure whether it's natural or she's been feeding in some tannin stained waters somewhere.

And the sun sets on another day....

Fortrose Sunset

While at Fortrose I took myself on a tiki-tour to visit Waipapa Point and Slope Point again, both are at the south end of the Catlins; David having seen it all before decided to have the afternoon off. 

Waipapa Lighthouse

Waipapa Point is a favourite of mine, there's plenty to take photos of; the lighthouse, sealions, shorebirds, including- if you're lucky- Hoiho/Yellow-eyed Penguins and the famous wind-blown macracapa trees.

And it makes it far more interesting when you have an unusual cloud formation above the lighthouse. 

One day I might make it here when the Southern Lights are playing, this is another great place to view Lady Aurora and photograph her with the lighthouse in the foreground.  

The beach below the lighthouse is a popular haul out pad for Sealions/Whakahao, today there is just one big boy snoozing on the sand and looking like a large clump of seaweed. On one of my previous visits there were five or six sealions on the sand and at least two dozen tourists vying for a place to photograph them without getting too close.

Today there's just me and him and he takes no notice of me. Although I saw him open one eye very slowly when a seagull landed close by.

I head up the beach checking for hoiho/penguins, it's where we saw one on our last visit. It came waddling out of the breakers and headed up into the dunes. It was just before their moult and it was probably looking for a safe haven to shelter in while it went through a rather traumatic time of the year for them.  

I didn't see any penguins this time but enjoyed beachcombing and taking photos of all the different seaweeds that had been thrown up in the recent rough seas. 

A pair of Variable Oystercatchers (who were nesting on the last visit, if they are the same pair) were also running along the froth line checking for food & treats thrown up by the sea. I thought this was a shellfish that he was stabbing & whacking on the stones but it was one of those tuber  things in the photo above.

The Black-fronted Terns/Tara had mostly finished looking after their chicks with only one or two fledglings in the flock; this one was squawking very loudly for some food. I like how all the others pretend it isn't there.

A family had arrived on the beach when I got back to the sealion, they stayed on the rocks...

...while another visitor was warily taking photos of the sleeping sealion from the sand. His girlfriend wasn't having a bar of going down to see it no matter how many times he called out to her. She said she'd be quite fine standing up on the dunes. It's great to see people giving the sealions their space although unless they are in a boisterous mood they are usually quite harmless while sleeping as long as you keep a respectable distance (10 metres) from them. 

I leave the lighthouse & sealion behind and walk the loop track back to the carpark via the old lighthouse keepers house site. 

But it's not the site I'm keen to see (that's just a small overgrown concrete pad, the house long gone) it's the square of macrocapa trees that once sheltered the house from the ferocious southerly winds that blow in here straight out of the Antarctic. They have grown into a strangely stunted & twisted row of trees. 

I smile when I see this photo; the trees look like a row of ladies baring their bottoms after having their skirts blow up over their heads!

From Waipapa Point I head north towards Slope Point which is actually the southernmost point of the South Island. Weird I know but it's because the South Island is on a slight angle. Before I get there though I take a side road to what was once a favourite freedom camping site of ours; Weir Beach.

And I'm pleasantly surprised to see the reserve looking very much like it used to; not over run with dozens of vehicles and people. Selfish I know, but things were changing before Covid, and mostly in a bad way for many camp sites with no restrictions and not enough resources to support the huge influx of visitors.

I carry on down the road to Slope Point and follow the 20 minute track across farmland  to the sign post dodging huge piles of sheep poo along the way. Who knew they could do such monster deposits! I worried for the guy I saw walking in bare feet, actually I worried for his sheets that night if he didn't wash his feet! And then there was the girl in high heel shoes...... 

The cliffs around Slope Point are very scary; high and dangerous if you get too close as they drop away into the wild surf directly below. Although when the sea is rough it's quite exhilarating watching the waves crash in on the rocks and the surge push in through a narrow gap in the land.

Slope Point done & dusted.... for a third time! David would say to me 'Why do you need to walk there again, you've already been twice?'  I'd answer, 'Because I have to, can't come that far and not do the walk'. 

Just like I have to drive further on down the road to check out the sea caves under the Point, but the tide's in and they don't show so much this time.

So I make do with a rocky point that takes in the view looking south (and I hear my mother telling me not to get too close to the edge). It is a long way down, I can imagine a few people standing out there and taking selfies for Instagram.

It's time to head for home before I do do something that needs a search party call out. 

Although it's a slow trip home because there's something like 15kms of 30kph road works and nobody working! They're doing (or were doing until they called it quits for the weekend) the road edges and vehicles are passing me at full speed.  Who leaves all the signs up when there are really no hazards other than speeding vehicles? 1 or 2kms would be fine but not 15!

Thursday 4 March 2021

Browns & Invercargill


From the Matangi Station Rally in Little Valley near Alexandra, we headed south, out of Central and into Southland via Raes Junction for a change. We had an appointment the next day with a company in Browns, Harper Engineering, who specialize in building very flash horse floats. They also do RV work and repairs, especially RVs with slide-outs. We needed a little bit of maintenance done on our slide-out. 

Sunset- New River Estuary, Invercargill

I wonder how many know where Browns is, or even know that there is a place called Browns? It's a tiny wee village on SH96 between Mataura/Gore & Winton. We know it well because it's just eight kilometres from Winton where our Southland family live and we pass through it regularly if we are coming from the east to visit them. 

But this time our family are away in Christchurch, where they'd been since before Christmas and where we'd caught up with them over the holiday period. Not that we needed to stay with them this time because we had a much closer contact where we could stay. At the former Browns Hotel. Which is just across the road from Harpers. 

The old Browns Hotel has been purchased by a couple that many NZMCA members will know well. Fay & Murray Simpson were custodians of the NZMCA Weedons Park in Christchurch for many years. They have now shifted to Browns after purchasing the hotel which they are renovating and turning into their home and a POP (park over property). 

And what a great POP it will be too, there's a large area at the back to park and they are turning the old public bar into an comfortable area for campers to meet & enjoy Happy Hour. The bar is being left with many of the original features & furniture and will be a welcome retreat from the cooler climate of Southland. 

Murray & Fay have done a magic job of renovating and reconfiguring the inside of the old hotel and I'm sure, once they are open, this will be a very popular POP to stay at in Southland. Good luck guys and we look forward to checking back in when we're next down south. 

In true Southland summer style, the weather turned to custard the day after we arrived at Browns, and it didn't get much better for the next two weeks! With the job finished at Harpers & with the family still away, we decided to head into Invercargill and stay at the newly opened NZMCA Park on Bond Street.

It's a large park with hard stand & grassed areas out in the open and in under the trees. Once the plantings around the outside mature and the grass grows it'll be a welcome retreat for members. It's also very central with the city centre close by, Sandy Point Domain, the Bluff highway and Oreti Beach not too far away either. 

The park's  'piece de resistance' has to be the information & sign in shed. It's a flybridge from an old Sanfords fishing trawler surrounded by the shells of the locally harvested delicacy; the Bluff oyster. I think there's a bit of competition going on between some of the NZMCA Branches as to who can supply the whackiest or most unusual park shed, we've seen a few beauties on our travels.

The park also backs on to the New River Estuary. How spoilt are we with this view of the estuary and sunset over the back fence.

With appalling weather (gale force winds & rain) and not much else to do but sit it out, we, along with several dozen other members, spent the next week parked up waiting for a break in the weather. Although a few of our neighbours came & went, travellers on a tighter time schedule than those of us that have no plans from one day to the next. The only good thing the weather gave us were some amazing sunrises and some spectacular sunsets.

Just through the gate in the back fence is the historic Stead Street Wharf. The first jetty was built in 1860 to serve the newly established township. A replica of Lady Barkly, New Zealand's first steam powered locomotive & the Southern Light fishing cutter, both part of the old working wharf, are on display in the reserve.

Access to the Invercargill Estuary Walkway/Boardwalk & Cycle Track is from the Stead Street Wharf or further down Bond Street, both very convenient for members staying in the park. 

The bird life in and around the estuary is fantastic too. A flock of Royal Spoonbills were feeding in the tidal stream right below the wharf, herons, godwits & oystercatchers just a little further on. 

And if you're in the park when an aurora is forecast, you couldn't be in a better place to see and photograph the Southern Lights. The Stead Street road bridge is one of the top spots to shoot the aurora from and especially if the tide is in. The water provides the perfect reflection of the Aurora Australis which would be playing directly down the harbour on the horizon.

Of course you have to have a clear night & a forecast aurora to strike it lucky. All I got was heavy cloud with lots of opportunities to shoot the sunset. I'm not complaining but heck, I would have given my eye teeth....

The old wharf pilings made perfect foreground subjects to shoot the sunsets.

The family came home to Winton but we'd gotten used to our new parking space & they were coming and going, catching up on everything themselves after being away from home for over four weeks so we left them to it, visited for dinner a couple of times and also saw them when they came into the city on errands. 

This one looks like a lightening bolt but it's the edge of the cloud

The weather slowly came right, right in that it rained every second day instead of every day but it was still very cold with a brisk southerly wind blowing much of the time. I don't think we've had our diesel heater on so many times during January then we did this year. 

I recall answering a query on Facebook before Christmas from some North Island visitors regarding what to wear during summer in Southland. I answered, tongue in cheek but truthfully, "One January in Southland I wore summer clothes for 3 days only" 

Make that two Januaries now!