Tuesday, 11 May 2021

The Nuggets- Catlins


There was one last photo I was hoping to capture before we left the Catlins; sunrise at Nugget Point Lighthouse. And I knew where we'd stay so I didn't have too far to travel in the early morning darkness; Winston & Hazels'  POP (park over property) Nuggetburn #8967 which is conveniently located on The Nuggets Rd, right on the beach and just a few kilometres from the lighthouse.

Winston was nowhere to be seen when we arrived so we squeezed around the back of a bus which was already parked and pulled up alongside the sheep yards. It wasn't long before we knew where Winston was;  we could hear dogs barking, a quad bike revving followed by the noise of a mob of sheep arriving on our door step! 

A stock agent arrived soon after and he, Winston & a neighbour spent a couple hours drafting the mob into two pens. We spent the night listening to muted baa-ing (and catching the occasional distinct whiff of sheep poo). We've certainly had our fair share of unusual neighbours while living this lifestyle. A truck was coming early in the morning to collect them for the Balclutha sale yards. I was disappointed that I'd miss the loading as I was heading to the lighthouse early to catch the sunrise.

The photo of the sheep was taken from the door, the old cottage was once part of the farm.

Across the road from Nuggertburn there's a beautiful long sandy beach and if you're lucky you might find one of the resident sealions lounging on the sand.  He might even be waving at you! (sealions do this to catch the breeze to cool down)

Nugget Point Lighthouse is in the background

I walked  to a rocks at the far end of the beach where it was sad to see this addition- an old tractor- to the reef which looks to have been there a very long time. I guess it's not adding anything more to the environment now other than a place for seaweed, barnacles & small shellfish to call home.  

As I walked back along the beach the sealion sat up, gave a big yawn and headed back into the surf. You can see one of the major differences (although there are many) between sealions & seals here. A sealion is able to swing its back flippers around and use them to 'walk', this is also what makes them very fast on land. And never under estimate how fast they can move. Seal flippers stay facing backwards, they wriggle forward on their bellies rather than 'walk'.

Photographing sunrises is mostly a hit & miss affair. As Forrest Gump's Mom said '...like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get'. It depends on how much cloud cover there is and where the cloud is laying as to whether you'll get a dramatic sunrise with all the brilliant reds, oranges & yellows or a mediocre one with a little colour or not even a sunrise at all if thick cloud rolls in and blocks it out. 

But to shoot a spectacular sunrise you have to haul yourself out of bed and get to the site well before dawn because often the best shots are in the 60-30 minutes before the sun pokes its head over the horizon. And Murphy's Law dictates that if you don't bother to get out of bed, it'll be the most fabulous sunrise you'd ever see. 

Nugget Point Lighthouse & The Nuggets

Nugget Point & the lighthouse are about 4kms from Nuggetburn and I arrived to a very dark and empty carpark. Great! I'd have the place to myself. No other photographers vying for the best position to shoot or people getting in the way taking selfies; Nugget Point photos are very popular with tourists. I still had a 1km walk ahead of me and with my headtorch on I followed the well formed gravel walking track along the side of the the steep bluffs to the lighthouse. 

I positioned myself in a small area overlooking the Nuggets (rock islands) to one side & the lighthouse to the other (see the first sunrise photo above) and patiently waited for the action. I wanted to climb up the bluff behind me- I've seen photos taken from higher up- but thought better of it. I know my limitations, especially in the pre dawn gloom. The sky did glow a little & I was able to get a few decent shots.

I moved to the lighthouse platform to take photos of the Nuggets out in front and that's when the first people started arriving. And when I stopped on my way out to take the photo below, looking down into the small bay, a guy was climbing up the steep bluff behind (the one I'd briefly thought about climbing). I could now also see that there was a fence & danger netting trying to block the worn track up through the rocks. He'd missed the early sunrise action but I'm sure he'd got himself some 'danger' shots anyway. 

The best sunrise photo happened as I was making my way back to the carpark. A rich golden glow filled the sky behind me as the sun slowly rose into the sky dipping in and out of the cloud cover.

I stopped to check out the seal nursery & the spoonbill nesting site located on the rocky islands at the bottom of the cliffs near the beginning of the track. The plaintive cries of the pups can be heard from the track far above and with binoculars you can see them playing in the rock pools. Royal Spoonbills/Kotuku Ngutupapa have built nests on the scrubby trees & shrubs that cling to the sides of the rock islands. 

Spoonbills with their strange bills, big black feet & unusual head gear, never look the most graceful of birds but I was mesmerised as I watched group after group arrive in V formations, gliding in from a great height, spiraling around & around and dropping quickly and landing quite elegantly onto their nests or the rocks on the impossibly steep sides of the island. Some birds disappeared out of sight below me & it wasn't until I walked further along the track that I could see another large colony of birds nesting on the mainland cliffs too.

I had one more stop before heading home for breakfast. Just down the road from the lighthouse carpark is Roaring Bay, a well known haunt for Hoiho/Yellow-eyed Penguins. There's even a bird hide from where you can wait to watch the penguins depart or arrive at either end of the day. 

When I entered the hide there was already a woman inside waiting. She told me she'd been waiting 45 minutes and hadn't seen any so far and none on the previous day's visit either. This was her last day and as she was flying home later in the day she really wanted to see a penguin. She was going to wait just 10 minutes more & then she'd have to leave.

And then with about 5 minutes to spare, she let out a muffled squeal as two penguin heads appeared out of the weeds & driftwood down below the hide. They cautiously glanced around and then slowly hopped over the rocks, the front one stopping several times waiting until its partner caught up before waddling on some more until they both reached the surf and disappeared under the waves.

Once the penguins were gone I turned my attention to a Welcome Swallow's nest that was just behind me up on the top rail of the information panel. The parents had been swooping in and out complaining loudly at our presence while we waited for the penguins. With 3 chicks to feed they weren't too perturbed though, the darkness of the hide helping them feel less threatened too. Though one of them gave my head a brush as I walked out, a belated warning to stay clear. 

Later on I walked down the beach in the opposite direction and once again found the big male sealion,  asleep and partially covered in soft sand this time, another cooling tactic. Every so often a large flipper would carve into the sand beside him and fling it high over his body. 

You can see in this photo how, unless you were looking closely, it would be quite easy to mistake a sealion for another piece of seaweed on the beach. 

And in the photo below,  how close vehicles can come without realising one is there. Can you see the tire marks passing within a few metre of him (and why sometimes when you're scanning a beach for a sealion you can totally miss one). 

It's the first time I've actually looked at their flippers up close too, look at those nails! I've watched sealions scratching themselves with their back flipper but never realised (or thought about it) that they'd have nails to do it with. Makes perfect sense of course. Click the photo to enlarge.

We headed into Balclutha later in the day to get a few supplies and of course when I saw all the trucks lined up at the sale yards on our way past, we had to stop.

Thousands of sheep filled the pens in every direction & dozens of people milled around moving from pen to pen. We also moved in closer to listen to the auctioneering...

...and as luck would have it, the very auction we watched happened to be Winston's two pens of sheep! That's him in the background looking very nonchalant. He'd told us the day before that his Perendales (breed of sheep) were keenly sort after & he usually got the top price at the sale. Later he told us that while it wasn't his top yearly price, he still got the best price on the day. 

Sometimes it's not what you know but who you know or in my case, who knows you. We often fly under the radar (if the photo on the back of the 5th-wheeler is out of sight) but there are many people on the road that recognise our rig & know of me from the photos I post on Facebook or the articles I write for my blog or for the NZMCA. 

On our last evening at Nuggetburn there was a loud knocking on the door and when David opened it two gentlemen stood at the bottom of the steps eager to cart us away to Happy Hour. Marilyn had recognised our rig & had also seen some of the recent photos I'd posted from the area and had sent her husband & Winston back up the road to invite us to their weekly neighbourhood happy hour. 

It's held in an old converted horse stall on a local farm, the interior decked out as a bar with the usual pub paraphernalia around the walls and with amazing views out over the bay. We had a great time; met the neighbours, learnt some of the local history, discussed the world's problems & listened to a few tall tales before time was called & everyone made their way back to their respective homes.

The next morning after a thoroughly enjoyable stay at Nuggetburn, and a coffee, cake & farewell on the deck with Winston & Hazel, we pulled out (carefully); another visit to the Catlins done & dusted. We had to be in Roxburgh the next day. 


  1. wow another great trip and very interesting thank Shellie

  2. Excellent as always Shellie. It's great to read your Catlins' Blogs. It's like you're following what was our intended Itinerary for our failed trip... can you go on to Te Anau and Milford Sound next please? :) Just kidding. All the best.

    1. Haha, love to but sadly not this time. One day you'll get back here and be able to do it yourself. Take care.


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