Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Waikawa & Cathedral Caves- Catlins


Our next camp on our whistle-stop tour through the Catlins was at the NZMCA Park at Waikawa just a few kilometres from Curio Bay. 

Curio Bay & the Petrified Forest

I have tried several times over the years to catch a good sunrise from Curio Bay and just as I've done in the past, I was out the gate early and up at the lookout platform well before sun up. The cloud cover didn't look promising but you never can tell what it'll do and Murphy's Law suggests that if you don't drag your butt out of bed, it'll be the most magnificent sunrise you'd have seen in weeks. 

So there I was in pre-dawn gloom patiently waiting as the cloud slowly thickened up overhead and when I finally saw a golden glow appear on the horizon I sighed in disappointment, one more Catlins sunrise covered in cloud. Although once I processed the photos they didn't look too bad. And it was my only chance, the next two days were grey & overcast.

I drove over to the Curio Bay/Porpoise Bay Headland lookout afterwards & took a few more photos as the sun rose steadily behind the cloud cover. I didn't spend too much time there though as I wanted to see if there were any Hoiho/Yellow-eyed Penguins heading out to sea for the day. I've had several fantastic encounters with Hoiho in both bays but, although I heard them calling, none made an appearance this morning.

On the way back to camp, I stopped near the middle of Porpoise Bay to check for any Hector Dolphins in the wave line. All I found this time were several Red-billed gulls doing their morning ablutions in the stream. 

So with no luck on the bird & mammal front I hunted out some inanimate subjects; the jetty at Waikawa Wharf...

...and the old boat shed.

I made one more stop on the main road as I was heading home. To take a photo looking across the Waikawa River to the NZMCA Camp. This end of the river is very popular for whitebaiting, the old caravan on the slope below the park is a fisherman's hut.  

The NZMCA Park hasn't changed too much since our first visit 7-8 years ago; the front section has been graveled to cater for the ever increasing membership and parking sites are marked out on the perimeter fence (both of these my top two per hates about our parks!). I couldn't get over how much the planted native bush had grown, you could very nearly get lost in there. And the best thing? Technology had finally come to the park courtesy of a nearby cell tower. We had no problem getting internet reception this visit. 

We headed back to Curio Bay late one afternoon picking up Fish 'n Chips from the iconic Blue Cod Caravan in the village. Unfortunately it was frozen blue cod, not fresh as I was hoping, but tasty nonetheless.  

While we waited for our order I took more photos of St Mary's Anglican Church which is opposite the caravan. I do already have photos of this church but you never know the weather could be better in this shot so I always take the opportunity of adding to my pile of church photos.

It was a lovely summer's afternoon with a lot of visitors & swimmers making the most of the waves in Porpoise Bay.

On the other side of the headland we sat on the edge of the cliff above Curio Bay & ate our fish and chips as the waves surged in and out over the rocky platform far below.

It's quite mesmerising watching the waves come & go; crashing over the rocks and spreading out in a large white frothy fans, straightening out the long tangles of bull kelp and then dragging it all back over the edge shortly afterwards. Only for it to be repeated again on the next surge.

Access to the headland between the bays is through the Curio Bay Campground, where many of the sites are tucked into clearings between thick rows of large flax. There are a handful of small sites right...

...on the edge of a small cliff overlooking Curio Bay. It's a fab site with fantastic views but I wonder how many wake in the middle of the night wondering where the heck they are and then when they remember, wondering how safe they are as they hear waves crashing in on high tide just below their vans. 

We drove to the other end of Curio Bay, to where I had come for the sunrise shot, to check if there might be any Hoiho coming home with dinner for their chicks. 

Again, we'd seen several penguins crossing the Petrified Forest platform on one of our previous visits and while we could see the guano on several of the rocky ledges, no penguins made an appearance this time, either arriving home or chicks checking for their parents return. It was going to be no Yellow-eyed Penguins for me on this visit, I hope it was just the timing and not another worrying sign of their steady decline.

From Waikawa we also did a 30km trip up the coast to visit the Cathedral Caves again. We were going to pass the caves the next day as we moved further north, but it was easier leaving the 5th-wheeler parked up at the Park than tow it into the Caves carpark. 

The carpark is at the end of a 2km narrow single lane gravel track through native bush where it's just about impossible to pass if you meet a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Having said that we were surprised to see a 5th-wheeler in the car park when we got back from the walk. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

The Cathedral Caves are open two hours before low tide & one hour after so plan well in advance if  you are wanting to visit. You can check their website for opening hours & tide times (keep in mind that internet & cell phone reception is very patchy in the Catlins). The gate is firmly shut outside open hours. 

There's a 1km walk downhill to the beach through lovely native bush...

...and then along the beach to the caves, so a reasonable fitness is required (especially for the slog back up hill afterwards). Although check this photo out! One of our neighbours at the camp made it to the caves with the help of her Zimmer frame and a very patient husband who helped push it through the sand once they were on the beach. 

Cathedral Caves are located in cliffs at the northern end of Waipati Beach, a beautiful long golden sand beach. The two sea-formed caves, whose entrances are 40 metres apart are joined at the rear and measure about 200metres in length in total. They are up to 30 metres in height.

Over tens of thousands of years, crashing waves have gouged out the cliffs of 160 million year old sandstone. Near vertical fractures in the sandstone provided weak points for the waves to slowly dismantle the sandstone faces. Over time the overhanging rocks collapsed creating the caves we see today.

On this visit we were able to get around the point of the cliffs in between the waves and onto the next beach. This was the first time this area had been accessible for a few weeks due to the rough sea conditions according to the lady looking after the carpark & ticket hut. It was obviously going by the kelp attached to the bottom of the cliffs how much time the rock wall spent under water.

Knowing that we had walked around the point as the tide was still dropping, we walked right to the far end of the beach and back.

It was a bit disconcerting to see people still rounding the point and heading off up the beach when we were jumping waves to get back to the caves on our way back. 

We spent a bit of time checking out the few rock pools, some stranded on small platforms a few meters up off the ground. This hermit crab had a very old and unusual shell that looked have had a tough life with the gaps between the ridges worn down to leave spikes. I wonder how many habitants it had had over the years. We placed this one back in his crystal clear pool, hidden under a ledge, as there were a few people  also checking out the pools and we'd disturbed him enough. 

And then it was time to head back along the beach followed by the slow haul back up the path to the carpark. 

We had one more stop for the day, back down the main road a little way and up a side road to one of the many fabulous waterfalls in the Catlins; McLean Falls. The road in is gravel with a downhill section and sharp corner towards the end above the large carpark. 

It was pleasing to see that this section was being widened and the sharp corner cut off to allow bigger vehicles to easily drive in. You can tow your caravans & 5th-wheelers in there now without worrying about getting back out. We found out from the stop/go guy that quite a number of tour buses had been having issues climbing back up the hill around the sharp corner.

One thing I remember vividly of the falls on our first visit to the Catlins- which was also one of first areas we visited when we came to the South Island (and not long after we hit the road fulltime)- was the luxuriant & intense green ferns & mosses that carpeted the forest floor and draped off every available branch overhead as we walked to the falls.    

I can confirm that nothing has changed. The walk & the falls were just as I remembered them, none of the gloss had diminished even though I've now seen & photographed many, many more waterfalls & bush walks.

McLean Falls, Catlins

And with not many tourists visiting I had to be quick to capture this shot with some people in it to give the falls some perspective. You can also see why photographers enjoy slow shutter speeds when shooting water.

1 comment:

  1. Another awesome read and pics, thanks Shellie and David the pilot, goffer and all things helpful person! My son and his bride got married down here a few years back on a wild and woolly day. The sun came out just as the bride arrived, very lucky for them. Not sure what we would have done if the rain had continued over the bride and groom and their party, who all looked amazing in their finery and tails suits for the men. Maybe a few hardy men would have held tarps over them ! The bridesmaids ditched their shoes, too wet on the beach. The bride and groom party had no idea what we went through to set the stage on the beach. The guests were soaked, we all took to wearing flip flops and plastic ponchos (someone had a boot full) we looked like ooompa ooompa's off willy wonker story. The men had to move rocks off the beach in the driving rain to make a track (their wasnt one!) so we could drive the grandmas to the ceremony. We laid out a red carpet for bride to walk down on, it blew away so was loaded with rocks to hold down. The champagne toast for after the ceremony didn't happen, all the cups and table flew into the sky! We had a couple deck chairs for grannies and one was slowly sinking into the sand while the service was on, and someone yelled out, save the granny! All in all a typical day in the Catlins and great memories of a wonderful day, never to be forgotten!


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