We'd enjoyed Dunedin but once again it was time to hit the road on the southbound leg of our journey around South Island. From Dunedin we travelled the 'scenic coast road' as we'd read that the wild Catlins Coast was a must see and, although the weather was a bit dull, it really is. Kaka Point is almost at the very start of the Catlins Coast road and it was such a lovely wee place, nothing much there but a great atmosphere, that we decided to stop the night. It was a fine base from which to take a run out to Nugget Point where we enjoyed the walk out along the high cliffs to the lighthouse to spot loads of seals cavorting and playing in the rock pools far below us.And there were literally hundreds more of them on the little rocky islets just off the Point. Apparently there are various types of seal here, Fur Seals, Elephant Seals, Hooker Sealions, but we couldn't tell which were which. Next day we wended our way along the coast to Invercargill stopping off a Cannibal Bay, where we saw a couple of huge, really fat, seals lolling on the beach, and at the pretty Purakaunui Falls which are purported to be the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand.
We didn't do very much in Invercargill itself although we were pleasantly surprised and how nice a wee city it was.Our accommodation was well situated, particularly for a very enjoyable game of golf at the course in Queens Park (in the city centre) where the excellentSouthland Museum is also located. This is a particular attraction at the moment because114 year old Henry, its resident Tuatara (a reptile from the age of the dinosaurs found only in New Zealand) had recently given up a life of celibacy and mated with one of his three girlfriends.Eggs are hoped for soon!We also enjoyed excellent hot cross buns from our local bakery.Although Invercargill was really only just meant to be a stopping off place for Stewart Island it has a lot more going for it than many places.Not least is its proximity to the southern part of South Island and the Catlins Coast. At Porpoise Bay next to the settlement of Curio Bay we were thrilled to spot several pods of Hectors Dolphins just offshore.We sat and watched them for a long time feeding and playing in the surf.Afterwards we went to Curio Bay to see the much vaunted Petrified Forest and among the fallen tree trunks spotted a sole Yellow Eyed Penguin which appeared to be looking wistfully out to sea waiting for his mates to join him. Earlier on we'd stood at Scope Point, the most southerly point of the South Island mainland.
Stewart Island was one of these places which we'd read about in a Polly Evans travel book that we'd read in Australia. If we'd had any mixed feelings about going there they were soon discarded once we arrived. The crossing of the Foveaux Strait is one of the choppiest stretches of water in the world (with an abundant supply of sick bags to prove it!).However, thankfully our crossing was a smooth one and we were accompanied by Shearwaters (aka Muttonbirds) and Mollymawks (from Albatross family) skimming the heavily rolling swell.We were staying at the South Sea Hotel which we could see from the jetty when we arrived.Sorry to make the comparison yet again but this was just like arriving at a Scottish island such as Tobermory on Mull. No sooner had we arrived, again glorious sunshine, than we were away on the walk to Ackers Point.The walk took us along the shoreline past a number of coves and beaches and through ancient forest.Although not highly populated some of the houses on the edge of the village (Oban) are absolutely wonderful, either in terms of their architecture or their outlook. One in particular caught our eye - an architecturally magnificent house with a wide range of modern art works in the garden and in the house.
Birdlife in New Zealand has been very different from that in Australia.Here the birds are mostly small, the foliage is much denser and the landscape more colourful.Hence it is much hard to spot the birds here.But we were treated to a few sightings of Tuis, NZ Pigeon (much larger and more colourful than our Woodie), Yellowhammer , Bell Bird, Varied Oyster Catcher, Mollymawk, flocks and flocks of Muttonbirds (where were they all going?) etc. One of the highlights of Stewart Island is a walking trip on a small island in Paterson Inlet - Ulva.Earlier we'd booked a walking tour with Ulva Goodwillie (she is of Maori descent and is named after the island). Her tours, Ulva's Guided Walks () are highly recommended.We had a brisk walk from our hotel in Halfmoon Bay over the hill to Golden Bay where we were due to catch the water taxi. We were met by Ulva who introduced us to our four companions on the trip - Cand and Beverly from Auckland and Marjorie and Alistair from Aberfeldy in Scotland.If you've read our blog from Akaroa you'll know about our meeting with David Ley on Purple Peak and the connection with M's family and Montrose.Well, totally unprompted Marjorie, upon hearing that E was from Montrose, mentioned that she knew a Nancy Ley from Montrose.Well, this was the Nancy Ley that Eric had spoken off to David Ley!Marjorie worked with, and still knew, Nancy and agreed to send on some details.WHAT A SMALL WORLD WE LIVE IN!!
Ulva (the island) and Ulva (the person) turned out to be charming.Ulva was a lovely person and so knowledgeable about all aspects of Ulva island, including the Maori history as well as the flora and fauna - the birds seemed to know when she was around.
Ulva pointed out a particular tree on the island.The leaves were traditionally used by the locals for writing letters and most surprisingly were accepted by the New Zealand postal services until the 1970s.Imagine our Post Office accepting letters written on oak leaves!!
The following day we decided to head off in the other direction from Oban (the island only has about 30kms of roads) to walk the coastal track to Horseshoe Bay.As with our walk on the first day we hadn't expected the coastline to be so heavily forested but with the sunshine it did give us some much needed shade and a chance to see at close quarters wonderful displays of the Silver Eye and Fantail (thanks to Ulva for developing our bird watching skills). That evening we went to Churchhill Restaurant (the food and coffee has been excellent everywhere) to sample true local cuisine in the form of Mutton Bird, which is a Maori delicacy. The food was delicious and the Mutton Bird was unusual and very tasty although being oily and boney is somewhat hard to eat. But we had a good night and bumped into Marjorie and Alistair yet again. Stewart Island is truly magical - we have had the most wonderful time here.
We should also mention (as some of you will already know) that New Zealanders have their own delicacies. M has taken to oysters in a big way and we were always on the lookout for Bluff oysters swhich are famed throughout NZ. Our South Sea Hotel had them on the menu that weekend and they were announced on a big blackboard at the door. As a starter we ordered a dozen and were surprised (we shouldn't have been if we'd read the blackboard small print) that they were served with chips, salad and vinegar. But delicious they were.
Over the last few weeks we've enjoyed so many good outdoor activities and walks.Before we left Australia we took the opportunity of booking the Milford Track.This is a major four day walk in South West New Zealand which would be one of the highlights. We were always doubtful that we'd be able to do this walk because E's hip is becoming increasingly painful and debilitating (for example after a good day's walk or a game of golf - even with the help of a dose of very strong pain killers - he can hardly move). After some of the short but exhilarating walks we've done recently we decided that the Milford Track, carrying clothes, provisions and water for four days, was a walk too far so we've cancelled it.
E M xxxxx