We headed off down the SH6 towards Invercargill, but had to take a quick detour on the way to go and take a look at some VW's Graham had seen the day before when we were on the bus going to Milford Sound! We also stopped to buy a swede from a farm, as many were selling them on the road side with honesty boxes. They were only $1 (about 45p) and they were huge! (see photos)
We arrived at Invercargill and it was quite a gloomy day, so we went into the museum. This was nice, but a real mixture of anything and everything. Every room was different, but totally unrelated to the rest of the museum. There are apparently many historic building to see in Invercargill if you walk around, but as the weather wasn't great we did not do this. We just took a walk down to 'E Hayes and Sons' hardware store, as this is where Burt Munro's 'Indian' bike is. For those of you who don't know anything about him or his bikes, he broke the landspeed record in the 1960's by modifying his 1920's 'Indian Scout' motorbike in some rather unconventional ways in his shed! He was quite a character and one of his landspeed records still stands. The film 'The Fastest Indian' was made about him a few years ago, with Sir Anthony Hopkins playing Burt. The owner of the hardware store bought Burt's most famous bike from him just before he died in 1978 and has it on display in his shop along with many other old motorbikes and other vehicles. It's quite an experience going in there, as they are dotted around the shop, displayed between the wheelbarrows and power tools!
We then drove to a campsite about 2k from Oreti Beach. This is the beach where Burt used to practise riding his motorbike and is the location for the race which was featured in the film. This is one of a few beaches in NZ that you can drive on, but unfortunately being in a hired vehicle, our insurance does not cover us for this. So, we took a walk down there instead at sunset, and found many peolpe parked up on the beach watching the sun go down. We also saw a guy drive along whilst his dog ran behind his car - what a great way to exercise your dog!
The next morning we drove down to the Bluff. This is not actually the most southernly point of NZ, but it juts out and overlooks Stuart Island. The actual town was a bit like Immingham - a dock/port town, but down at Stirling Point there is a signpost telling you the distance to various places. It had on one for London - it's only when I look at things like this that I realise just how far away from England, New Zealand is. We then drove up Bluff Hill, but unfortunately there was a lot of cloud, so we could only just see Stuart Island in the distance!
We drove through the Catlins along the Southern Scenic Route and made various stops along the way. They are so well geared up for tourism here that you can pick up some great information, so we were able to pre-plan our route to fit in the sights we really wanted to see. First we went to Curio Bay to see the Petrified Forest, which is one of the best preserved Jurassic Fossilised Forests in the world. On the way we stopped at the Waikawa info centre to check on tide times and luckily for us it was low tide, so we got a great view of the forest. There are also sometimes Yellow-eyed penguins there, but we didn't find any!
Next we stopped at Florence Hill to take in the view over Tautuku Bay and then continued towards the Purakaunui Falls. The signpost directed us off the main road for 9k to the falls. What it did not say was that the road would disappear and become gravel and mud and be very steep and narrow - not the best road to go up in a campervan. However, we made it, but the van is looking very muddy now! The falls were fantastic, and we managed to find a different route back out, which was less challenging.
We continued our journey and stopped at Tunnel Hill to see the 250m long railway tunnel which was excavated by hand in 1891-2. We took a torch so we could walk through it, only to find that we had to come back through it again as there was no pathway at the other end!
Our last stop before our campsite was to Nugget Point/Roaring Bay. Again this was supposed to be a good place to see penguins, but I was not getting my hopes up too high. We were advised that the best time to see them was at dusk, and as it was only about 3.30pm I thought we were too early. However, when we reached the 'hide' there were already 4 penguins out of the water and up the rocks, ready to settle in for the night! It was so amazing to see penguins in the wild, and whilst we were there another one came to join them, so we watched him come ashore and waddle and jump his way up to join the others. These penguins are Yellow-eyed penguins, which are one of the rarest breeds in the world, with a population of only 6000-7000 in NZ.
Finally we drove a short distance along the coastline to Kaka Point, and set up home for the night.