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Touring in New Zealand 2004 - Part 6

We went straight through Dunedin and out down the Otago Peninsular towards Tairoa Head and the Albatrosses. We stopped briefly to check out our room at the campsite at Portobello and book dinner at the 1908 restaurant, a favourite of ours, for the following evening when we were once more due to meet up with Miles Jane and Phil. We were lucky and there was space on the next tour and the wind was high enough for them to be flying. There were several nests close to the observatory and we got views of a chick of only about a week old being fed and groomed. There were also several periods with birds flying in front of the observatory close almost close enough to completely fill the viewfinder on the camera and a very short period when two birds were pair flying, probably juveniles "bonding".

The observatory is run by a Trust and we have been members for many years - it costs little more than two entries by the time the free entry for one of us is taken into account. I have not time to go into the Royal Albatrosses in detail here other than to note that they come back to breed every two years to the same place and with the same partner - the remainder of the time being on the wing. They circumnavigate the globe many times achieving an average of 500 kms a day and often exceed 1000 kms in a day as they move from one feeding area to another. They are magnificent birds to see in flight exceeding 10 feet in span. They often live for over 40 years and one is known to have reached well over 62 years as it was breeding when first seen. The juveniles return after 5 years for their first landing ever on land, which can often be a spectacular crash when they realise the difference between sea and water.

The next day was planned to be a quiet day and a chance to catch up with general logistics like finding out why we had too many bank charges from BNZ. We went into Dunedin and spent a while in the bank - it seems that the new account we had changed to has charges when you drop under a certain balance but when the account is first set up it contains no money so you incur bank charges because of the two minutes to transfer money in. BNZ could not understand the logic either and refunded all the charges.

We also went round lots of second hand book shops, being a university town Dunedin is full of bookshops and they seem to be very good value. They do not seem to be very competitive and the first one we went in gave us a Xeroxed "Guide to the Second hand Bookshops of Dunedin" which had 17 adverts so we could find what we were looking for. We worked our way through quite a few and found most of the books we wanted for at much less than we had feared we would end up paying and a few others we did not even know we wanted! In the end we came away with 9 old books. Most of the booksellers seemed to be enthusiasts and once one had started talking they could not be stopped from talking and showing us the books they had just bought for themselves, quite often from one of their competitors. Dunedin will certainly be the place we go for books in the future.

We joined up for Miles, Felicity and Phil for an excellent meal at the 1908 Cafe just down the road from where we were staying - one reason why we return there! We have been there before and there are pictures of the food already on the web site - one always worries that when one persuades people to go to one of ones favourites it will have changed or they will not like it. Fortunately the meals were as good and large as ever and the service was excellent. Where else would a restaurant happily open four BYO bottles for only 5 people, warn one that the meals were big and we should be sure we really handle breads, entrees and mains and when they received an American sized tip (Miles and Felicity have lived too long in the States) come back and say we had made a mistake. As examples of the meals, Pauline had a piece of Pate which was bigger than most steaks accompanied by four more huge pieces of homemade bread as an entree followed by a Black Marlin steak which may well be one of the best fishes we have had. The fish was so big even she could not finish it after the starter so they provided a doggie bag. There was so much still it provided almost all Pete and Pauline's dinner the following day! Pete did manage his two Lamb Shanks but nobody made sweets.

The next day we made an early start for the Catlins and only stopped long enough to look at the Sod Cottage at Lovell's Flat that was signed as a historic place at the roadside. It just had the door open to walk into although there were barriers to prevent one reaching all the furniture and fittings. It is a quaint mud brick cottage built in the 1860s as a stopping place for miners heading to the Tuapeka goldfields. It had a full set of furnishings from what seemed to be a latter stage in its life.

The whole sector from Dunedin to Te Anau via the South Coast is a designated Heritage (Tourist) Route called the Southern Scenic and must be high on ones priorities if one visits South Island. The Catlins in particular are relatively unexploited and have some magnificent scenery, sculptured by the prevailing Southerly gales and hosting a wide range of wildlife. They include Yellow-eyed Penguins, Little Blue Penguins, Fur seals, New Zealand Sea Lions (Hookers Seals), New Zealand Elephant Seals and Hectors Dolphins.

We stayed at a campsite at Pounawea, which we had used before. We had rung to check that their original Batch (or to be more correct a Crib on South Island) was available. Batches were simple basic holiday homes built by many people which they returned to and extended every year, they were often close to beaches or lakes and would have started life with water collected from the roof or a stream/well and a long drop outside but by now some are scarcely distinguishable from a normal home with all mod cons. This one was built in 1938 and still has an original style Zip water heater and only the fridge is a bit too new to be original. It still has the original huge concrete water tank outside (but not used) and the main camp facilities are available. They say people prefer their new bare concrete box cabins, which we do not understand.

There is a bush/estuary loop track from the camp site which we took whilst they got the Crib ready for us - it is only possible at mid-low tide so we had to go round the wrong way as the tide as coming in. We heard and saw several Tuis and, for the first time we actually saw a couple of Bellbirds, small and brighter green than we had expected from the pictures. We also saw a stoat, watch us from a distance and standing up vertical and looking just like a Meerkat.

We also went to the far side of the estuary to Surat bay where there were a dozen New Zealand Sea Lions, also known as Hooker's Sea Lion's on the beach, the bulls fighting and jostling each other and then attacking another two who came ashore, the fight disappearing away from the shore - memorable. The Sea Lions belong to the family of eared seals and the males can reach 400 kgs and 3 metres in length and are rare and endangered. The whole Catlins area is full of wildlife - last visit there was a Spoonbill only a few meters away on the beach at Surat - unfortunately it took to the air before we could get a picture.

We were unable to stay in the cabin for a second night as they had all been pre-booked so we decided it was finally time to set up the tent and did so before setting out for the day it all seemed fine after another years storage and we were recommended a quiet corner which was surrounded on all sides by thick vegetation and trees which would protect us against the 30 knot winds and rain which were anticipated.

We stopped first at Cannibal Bay, named after all the human bones found in the dunes. The beach is an impressive sweep of sand and there were rocks with fascinating rock pools and formations as well as Sea Lions flipping sand over themselves to keep off the sun and a little bit of jostling for supremacy.

It was then on to Nugget Point - another must in the Catlins. There is a lighthouse built in 1869 at the end, which is a good viewpoint - on the approach we could see several colonies of seals below us with the pups gambolling in the rock pools. The area is covered in wildlife and we have seen spoonbills in the distance and even a lone yellow penguin - a year old bird. Unfortunately the scales are big at Nugget Point and they are always beyond range of the cameras although clear with binoculars.

On the way to Nugget Point one passes Roaring Bay where there is a hide for watching Yellow Penguins - this is the time of year they stay ashore for the moult and we were also too early in the days so we did not see any real activity this year although we scanned the beach for tracks and the hillside for nests - we possibly saw one juvenile lying on its front outside a nest well up the hillside. Two visits ago we saw a lot come ashore and also had the rare chance to watch some playing in the surf.

We stopped at Kaka Bay for an ice cream and it was then time to have a look at some of the waterfalls the Catlins are so well known for. We first had a short walk (10min) to the Purakaunui Falls, perhaps the most spectacular of all. Many of the short walks have basic interpretation boards by DOC. We stopped on Florence Hill where there were magnificent views and one could also see the Spouting Cave giving great jets of water high into the air on an island just off the coast. The next stop was for another excellent example of an interpreted walk round Lake Wilkie. This is not only a beautiful 20 minute round trip especially if the Rata are in bloom but also has signs identifying the types of trees and boards explaining the changes as one approaches the lakeside in the vegetation and how the forest changes and regenerates.

We then stopped for another short walk, this time to see the remains of a Traills bush tractor at the Lenze Reserve, which used to be used to bring logs in from the forest. It was a fascinating design, which ran on simple wooden rails with wide steel wheels, and the engine was based on a tractor engine. There was a geared drive not only to four wheels under the engine but there were two bogies driven by long drive shafts, one in front and one behind. This increased the traction when heavily loaded with logs on the simple wooden rails over rough and undulating land. The engine is not in bad condition and there is an open shelter over it with lots of boards explaining its operation and about logging in the area.

It was then on to look at the Matai falls with Horseshoe falls just above, again at the end of a short forest walk. All the falls were spectacular this year with a strange lighting which seemed to show the up as very silvery-white against dark rocks - we had noticed the same lighting at Nugget Point and we hope it will be reflected in the pictures - Pete got some digital video of all the waterfalls and Pauline pictures with the new Canon A70 digital camera.

We got back to the camp site to find our tent was completely blocked in by a group who had arrived for Waitangi weekend and thought we were on bicycles or would park elsewhere - we eventually managed to dismantle enough of their windshields and washing lines to wiggle in, much to their surprise when they returned. Sheltered corners do have some disadvantages but we were glad overnight as the wind was coming up and gusting. We got out the Red Devil, our portable barbeque and cooked steak and sausages and had the Alan Scott Prestige Chardonnay 2001 we had been saving whilst it cooked - as good as it seemed at the tasting.

It was a wet and windy night but not as bad as forecast and our tent survived well - it is now 6 or 7 years old and we always worry the first time it is used as the fabric must be getting tired - it used to be dark blue but has faded to a light colour and we have had to replace many of the plastic fittings. We woke in the night to the sound of splashing water; we had forgotten we were less than 10 yards from the high tide line. We heard Possums grunting and the first birds were calling well before dawn at 0400 and there was still a tremendous din from Tuis and Bellbirds at 0730. It was great to be back under canvas again. The tent had survived all the gusts and burst of torrential rain and was incredibly dry in the morning, not even any condensation and we had it packed an hour earlier than usual and we were ready to leave by 0900, as soon as the other group demolished all their barriers.

We stopped in the town of Owaka where we joined the main road at an Internet cafe to check email, bank accounts etc. We were allowed to use a phone line to connect our laptop at his usual charges - everybody always seems helpful.

We had a 35-minute forest walk to the McLean falls, which had a good bit of water coming over them. They are a little off the main road and the walk seems to put people off which is a shame as they were the best yet, although the light was not so good for photographs and the final stretches were quite steep and slippery - we wished we were wearing proper walking boots.

It was then on to one of the Catlins' highlights, Curio Bay which we got to not long after low tide. Curio bay is a must if you visit the Catlins. The fossilised remains of an ancient forest stretching 20 kms down the coast is lies fully exposed here at low tide. It is one of the best-preserved examples in the world and dates from the Jurassic period - about 180 million years old. You can just walk over it and look at the fallen trees and stumps where one can still count the rings. There is also a good chance one will see fur seals and sea lions and we have even seen a yellowed eyed penguin on the beach on previous visits.

We took the small diversion on the way back to Porpoise Bay. There are often pods of Hectors Dolphins in view in Porpoise bay - we saw a lot on previous visits but this year we only saw some in the distance. Hectors Dolphins are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world with a population of only a few thousand. They are easily recognised because they are the only dolphins to have a rounded dorsal fin. They rarely leap like other dolphins but often play close by in the surf and even surf when there are good waves.

We went to Slope Point walk, the furthest South point in New Zealand, it was 20 minute walk from the car park and incredibly windy; it was the only time we have ever seen power wires curved horizontally between the pylons and that was by the road. By the time we have done the twenty minute walk to the exposed headland that seemed calm - one could lean into the wind at 30 degrees and one realised that one was on the edge of the Southern Oceans and the roaring forties.

We could see the Waipapa lighthouse in the distance and made another small diversion to reach it before rejoining the main road at Fortrose. It was installed after the worst wreck in New Zealand history where 131 lost their lives and was the last wooden lighthouse made and surviving. We walked down to the beach under the lighthouse and found there were Sea lions right below the sand dunes, one on its back with a flipper in the air looking very nonchalant. We have seen many fascinating examples of windshorn trees - bent and gnarled with branches only on one side but the ones on Waipapa Point were perhaps the most dramatic, especially those protecting a couple of barns and those left standing round long gone buildings.

That really completed our, all too brief, stay in the Catlins - there is still plenty to do for another day and we did not follow the last part of the Southern Scenic Drive on round the coast but instead headed straight to Invercargill where we did not spend any time, although it an interesting city but just fuelled and rang ahead to book a cabin at Manapouri - it is not usually necessary to book but the fact that it was the Waitangi weekend and it would be late when we got there made it seem a prudent move.

We had a basic cabin at the Lakeside Chalet and Motor Park, we had nor been there before as we usually stay at Te Anau which is now getting rather full of foreign tourists and one rarely sees visitors from New Zealand. Manapouri is much more tranquil and has views out over one of the most stunning lakes surrounded by snow toped peaks. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived to check in; it was the old style campsite we like with lots of character and at a reasonable price. Every cabin is different with some being two story mock stately abodes. It is a collector's paradise with a collection of old Morris Minors and other cars and a games room full of classic arcade games. It also has good kitchen and although there was no Zip there were no less than 4 electric kettles. Pauline noted it was the only campsite where there were more washing machines than stalls in the ladies, which is unfortunate as they are full of cartoons so everyone tends to linger.

There is an Inn and Cafe almost next door, which we investigated for the future by having a pint each of the Speight's Old Dark, a good way to celebrate a long day. We had plenty of food but it certainly looked adequate if a little pricey for a boisterous bar.

The next day was intended to be a quiet one. In the morning we stopped briefly to look round Te Anau, it was much busier than Manapouri with few New Zealanders in evidence. We did however get some basic shopping done before going along the Lake towards Te Anau Downs, in the direction of Milford Sound. We have been to Milford Sound most time - it is very beautiful and a high priority for a first visit but it almost has more tourists than Sandflies. We decided not to do "The Road to Milford" this time; it has been written up previous years.

We found a DOC campsite at 10 Mile Creek, which, as far as we could tell, only had one slot. After a couple of photo stops we found another DOC campsite and picnic place at Henry Creek, which was a gem. The facilities were minimal and close to the road and we then followed a rough gravel track on past a few more slots for over 600 metres to an area of complete isolation with a pebble beach where the Creek emerged from the bush into the lake. We were entranced and spent the afternoon, a picnic lunch and then just reading and Pauline got out her paints. The view was super and, apart from the odd aircraft and two boats, which passed in the distance, there was no sight, sound or evidence of humans in view. So marvellous we are tempted not to mention where it is on the web site!

We went as far as Te Anau Downs and found there was a walk to Mistletoe Lake, quite attractive but it only took 22 minutes rather than the 45 minutes stated on the boards. It was then back to try a bottle of Alan Scott's fizzy we had found in the supermarket - OK but not as good as the equivalent Morton until warm and slightly more expensive. We then got our exercise with a walk from Fraser Beach (opposite the cabins) round the Glade to Pearl Harbour where the trip boats depart for Manapouri Power Station and on to Doubtful Sound, another excellent trip we have done in the past. That worked up enough of an appetite to get out the Red Devil again.

We were determined that we get away from the standard tourist places and decided to go to the Mavora Lakes in the hope of camping despite the poor forecast. The Mavora Lakes are at the other end of a 39 km gravel road and have a DOC campsite and two beautiful lakes to walk round and the most magnificent scenery. Our only fear was that it would be full of 4x4s giving trips to Lord of the Rings fanatics as the area was used for some of the filming. It was fortunately deserted, there were hardly any campers and we only saw a half a dozen vehicles and two flocks of sheep during the journey there and back. The road was remarkably good and we were often doing 70 kph with no more noise or vibration than on seal.

The winds were turning the lakes wild but we found a corner under the trees which was sheltered enough to sit and admire the views and watch a pair of South Island Robins which were quite fearless once they got used to us. We were not quite sure what they were and open the van to get the books out and watched one go in and explore. We had got a couple of photographs and whilst watching and waiting one landed on the bird book and we got a picture of it alongside the picture in the book. They have no sign of red as in and English Robin; they are shades of grey and black with a white breast but behave in a very similar way.

We were far still from convinced on how the weather would turn out so we did not put the tent up but left the van in the best spot we could find and went for a walk round the Southern lake. The walk was said to take two to three hours on the DOC leaflet and took most of the three although only about 12 kms (7.5 mls) as it involved a lot of rough ground through woods with roots underfoot. The highlights were the swing bridges over incoming and outgoing river - the one at the start was a standard swing bridge with quite a short span but the second one was as long as any we have been on and was scary in the high crosswind - even with a day pack one was getting it twisting alarmingly.

Eventually we decided to move on, the winds were forecast to reach 70 kph at ground level and were getting close to that and although our spot was fine at the time even a small swing in direction could have made our old tent untenable and the clouds were coming in. We decided to make some ground with the remainder of the day and drove to Cromwell where we got a cabin where I am writing this. So far the decision seems a good one as the winds are howling and shrieking round the cabin and the trees are bending although the rain has not materialised yet.

By the morning the skies were clear and the wind had dropped so we decided to take the a walk round the Bannockburn Sluicings which are only 5 kms from Cromwell. We have been before but even so it is difficult to appreciate the scale of operations and the magnitude of materials removed. The full walk round the area takes about three hours the first time allowing time to read the many explanatory boards and to explore and photograph a little. There is also a shorter walk taking about an hour, which is enough to get some understanding. The scale of the old operations is awe inspiring - cliffs perhaps a hundred feet high and hundreds of yards across cut out of the hillsides making huge amphitheatres and the whole area between stripped away. One is just seeing little "islands" standing to the original surface level.

Almost all of the operations were powered by water, first ground sluicing where water was just allowed to pour over the edges of the faces washing the gold bearing gravel down into sluice boxes, then latter, hydraulic sluicing where high pressure jets of water were used from below to bring down the faces. The tailings followed complex channels cut into the ground to eventually be washed away down the Kawarau River. During the walk we saw some of the water races and dams bringing in the vast supplies needed to wash away millions of cubic feet of gravel and the complex channels cut to get the tailings away to the river. The water was often reused and we saw an intermediate dam used to collect the water from sluicing before using it to periodically flush the build up of tailings down the tailings races to the river.

One walks through an old settlement, Stewart Town, of a few mud brick houses beside one of the larger dams. In its day it had big orchards with hundreds of fruit trees irrigated as a bonus of the water races. Now the area is once more arid and only a few pear trees survive although the whole area of Bannockburn is alive with wild thyme and there is the most wonderful smell wherever one walks as one crushes it underfoot. One can still see the shape of the water races leading from the dam, in some places running beside each other along the slope, each feeding a different set of workings or claim. As they descend the channels were stone lined and complex flumes, aqueducts and pipes distributed the water - there was often more money to be made in supplying water and removing tailings than in the gold itself. Bannockburn is perhaps the best place to get to understand and appreciate large scale sluicing operations and the couple of hours walk covers all the main features.

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