Saturday, September 30, 2006

Southern Scenic Route: to Invercargill

Being seasoned in the ways of the camper van now, we wrapped up warm against the cold of the evening. Although we didn't have our heater because we were at a non-powered DOC camp site. In the morning Gemma rolled up the curtain to reveal a large male Sea Lion rearing up on the beach. We did take a walk down to the beach, but no bridge had miraculously appeared across the creek in the night.

There were no problems with the directions, as I kept the atlas open on my lap, and besides which there was really only one road to choose. We stopped at a double waterfall, Matai and Horseshoe Falls. The track up to them led through some lovely native trees which were packed with birds. In Papatowai we stopped for Diesel. Gemma complained about having to fill up, something that she has done every time we've had to. I think she thought that the hire cost should include a magic never emptying tank. Papatowai being out in the sticks, the price was higher than other places which caused much muttering.

At Niagara we missed the falls, but did stop at the café for coffee and a cake. I put Gemma in some stocks outside and contemplated driving off, but realised that I couldn't drive and so let her out again. A short way down the road was Curio Bay, the site of a 180 million year old petrified forest. I love stuff like this. With the tide out you can see very clearly the fossilised remains of the trees. Several long tree trunks lying across the rocks are visible, along with many stumps. On many of them the growth rings are clearly seen. It's interesting to think whilst clambering around watching waves pound against the rocks, that in those days the waves would have been coming from the direction of what is now the land. Where the sea is in modern times would have been land. New Zealand was mostly underwater and joined to the super-continent Gondwanaland at that time. There were lots of signs up to the effect of, 'Please don't nick bits of our petrified forest.' This saddened me.

At the crossing of a certain river was a small impermanent settlement of caravans, huts, motorhomes and cars. Our map bore the legend 'whitebaiting', which explained it. The whitebait season is limited to September and by all accounts the Kiwis love their whitebait. They eat it as whitebait patties, a kind of battered fritter. Not something I have yet managed to eat.

At some point we noticed a funny smell so we stopped the van. We worked out after scratching our heads a bit that Gemma had been driving with the handbrake not fully disengaged. After we worked that out we continued on into Invercargill, noticing along the way that the handbrake now did not work. We pulled in to the first caravan park that we found in Invercargill and prepared to call the AA. The owner of the park scratched his chin a little then suggested that we leave it to cool down and see if it fixed itself. This was sage advice. Half an hour later when we tested it the handbrake was holding us firm.

We drove into Invercargill town centre to grab some lunch and have a look around. Normally at 15:00 on a Saturday a town should have some kind of life about it with at least shoppers and afternoon drinkers on the streets. Not so Invercargill, the only life apparent were the surly teens hanging around outside the library. The only thing of note about the town was the profusion of really old cars. They must have a club or something.

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