Saturday, September 23, 2006

Southern Scenic Route: the Catlins

A 09:00 start was a bit of a first for us, the early to bed early to rise maxim only being half true in our case. We were full of the spirit of the road and ready to see some lovely things on the Southern Scenic Route, so named because it's in the South, is scenic and is a route. Routes are brilliant things, taking you places along a defined path. At least that is the case if you can find them. I had been relying on a combination of the Lonely Planet maps, leaflets from information offices and good signage to navigate. This had worked reasonably well up until this point. We followed the sign for the Southern Scenic Route and somehow ended up headed back towards the centre of Dunedin. We lost an hour driving around in circles until I spat my dummy from my pram, screwed the tourist leaflets up and chucked them over my shoulder. I got Gemma to stop at the nearest petrol station and bought a road atlas. Ten minutes later we were on the Southern Scenic Route and merrily on our way. I swear we followed the signs properly. I think one must have been missing at a crucial point. I was taunted later by signs for the route in the middle of big straight stretches with no turn off. From inadequate signage to over-signage.

Things started to pick up on the route. The scenery was beautiful, hills and the sea drawing near at times and then further away. We left the route for a detour to Nugget Point. A track led to a lighthouse looking out over several rocky 'nuggets' in the sea. From this vantage point we could see New Zealand Fur Seals and Hookers Sea Lions lying on the nuggets. We thought we may have even seen an Elephant seal, but we can't be sure as it was in the water before we got a good look. Nugget Point is apparently the only place on the mainland that all three species live together.

Further down the road we left the route again for another unsealed detour to Cannibal Bay. We had a little bit of a scare when parking up as the wheels just spun round and dug the sand up. Gemma managed to get us out of it though. Cannibal Bay was a lovely spot. A long beach with lovely trees around it and halfway down the beach a group of Sea Lions. We walked down the beach towards them but kept a fair distance so as not to disturb them.

The town of Owaka is the biggest settlement in the Catlins area but it looked to be closed when we went through. We did find the small supermarket open and bought some Speights Old Dark (not bad). Another detour took us to the lovely Purakaunui Falls. After which we doubled back to Purakaunui Bay and it's DOC camp ground. The camp ground is just above the beach and looks out over it. A Kiwi bloke also camped there told us that there were Sea Lions down the beach and over the creek. We sat in the van watching with the binoculars and drinking our Speights. We did walk down to the beach a couple of times to get a different vantage point, but didn't dare brave the cold water of the creek to get up close.

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