Southern Scenic Route Drive!

Trip Start Apr 19, 2012
Trip End May 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Catlins Inn Owaka
Read my review - 2/5 stars

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, April 27, 2012

Day 8: Te Anau -> Riverton -> Invercargill -> Bluff -> Owaka

We left our holiday park early again to begin our 8th day road trip. Our destination was seaport Bluff, the southern most town of New Zealand via Southern Scenic Route (SSR). It was claimed as the one of the best road drives in NZ, but there is only half truth in that. Tips: Only half of the entire route is scenic! - the stretch from Tuatapare-Riverton-Ivercagill are beautiful as it is a coastal drive. Once you visited Bluff via Invercagill, and heading to Nugget Point, The Catlins,  exit Invercargill and head back to the main highway (SH1) pass Gore town before exiting at Balclutha town and head south to Owaka. The stretch from Bluff-Owaka in SSR is NOT scenic at all. The road is zig-zagging, going uphill and downhill, right in the middle of nowhere (only thick forests on both your left and right) which caused us to drive slow. We wasted half a day just by traveling through this stretch of trunk road.

The first stop that we made along SSR was the McCrackens' Rest. It was a lookout and rest area which overlooked Te Wae Wae Bay. Perched on the edge of the cliff we enjoyed the sea views, the bay, the hump ridge and mountains.The next attraction was Gemstone Beach. It was known for its constant state of change from sand to stones (semi-precious gems such as garnet, jasper, quartz and nephrite) caused by the storms and tides. The beach was just average, but it was full of stones. We tried searching for gems, even took some home (not sure if they are really just rocks or gemstones), however the most surprising find was to see our Malaysian national car Proton Saga parked just right at the beach's entrance! After visiting the beach, we past by a former gold mining settlement, Orepuki. It was very quiet and we took some photos of this ghost town. We continued down south and  we came to Colac Bay. The center of attraction was the large statue of a surfer riding a wave. It had rocky coastline and great sandy beach. Took some photos and I especially like the bus stop which was painted with cartoon characters from Simpsons and South Park.

We then proceeded to Riverton, a fishing port, which was known as the "Riviera of the South". It is rich in early Māori history and is one of the earliest European settlements in New Zealand. Unfortunately, due to time constraint, we just drove past by the town, and did not visit the Te Hikoi Southern Journey Heritage Museum and the giant paua shell. I felt the town had a very relaxed atmosphere even by just driving through the town, especially at the bridge, it had a very good view of the sea. Regretted that we didn't spend a little more time here. From Riverton, we arrived at Invercargill city, the commercial hub of Southland.

Plethora of heritage buildings were found around the city centre but we proceeded south to Bluff town first, which was about 30mins away before we returned to explore Invercargill city centre. Bluff is the southern-most town in New Zealand, and the first stop we made was the Bluff Maritime Museum which had extensive collection of boats, artefacts, and a full sized ship, The Monica. We then proceeded to Bluff Hill, parked at the open car park, before walking 5mins to reach the summit where we enjoyed the spectacular 360-degree view over the harbour and ships at Foveaux Strait. The only regret was that we did not drop by the iconic landmark Stirling Point, the beginning/end of State Highway (SH1), which also had a signpost showing the distance and direction to various major cities and around the world. After admiring the views, we returned to Invercargill to visit the heritage buildings. We saw Civic Theatre, First Presbyterian Church, St John's Angelican Church, The Troopers Memorial, and Invercargill Water Tower. Did not spend much time on some of these sites, some we just drove by, because we needed to do grocery shopping again to replenish our stocks at Pak n' Save supermarket.

Our destination was to spend the night at Balclutha town which was 2hrs drive away. However, we assumed wrong as the traveling time was meant for using the highway and not using the scenic route. We took the scenic route and after driving almost 3 hrs, we just reached Papatowai, a small settlement which by then the skies were already dark. Tried to look for place to stay the night, but it seemed that the area had nobody at all. There were houses, but no one at all. We even stopped and knocked on doors, but no response. It was very creepy. So we quickly drove on before we reached Owaka town and found Catlins Inn.

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