On our way to invercargill we stopped at ...

Trip Start Sep 19, 2002
Trip End Sep 22, 2003

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Wednesday, November 13, 2002

On our way to Invercargill we stopped at Monkey Island - but left again as there were no monkeys.

Invercargill itself is quoted by the Lonely Planet as being "a little bit backward" which is quite an understatement really. The 'highstreet'is a collection of warehouses and industrial units selling / fixing / hiring all manner of farming equipment from feeds to tractors (Phil had to be held back at the Massey Ferguson store) and from check shirts to gum boots (wellies). Tourism fails to reach there very much so there was a lack of backpacker places, internet sites and cheap eateries. The only redeeming factor for us (although we obviously love the rural life) was that it was near Bluff which is at the very bottom of New Zealand (apart from the islands). We tried to head there 10th November but the wind nearly took us off the road so we gave up.

Next day we called in at the museum which was actually quite good considering it's size and location. Our donation of $2 got us in to see the 120 year old tuatara (dinosaur related lizardy thing) called Henry (funny.... he looked a bit like my dad too!) There was also a good section on the roaring forties which is the longtitude or latitude that some of the islands sit in and goes someway to explaining about the weather. Good section on shipwrecks here too.

After that we headed back out to Bluff, purely to be able to say that we had been to the very top and the very bottom. Let me tell you IT WAS NOT WORTH IT!!! The road to Bluff is a ghost town with vehicles, houses and farms abandoned and lonely. We even saw one ramshackle house with sheep in it! Several were standing in the kitchen and we noted that it was in fact time to be putting dinner on. It looks like it was once a thriving place but everybody has just moved on but couldn't sell whatever they had, including business and some pleasant looking homesteads. The signposts themselves are just in a car park that is (suprise surprise) battered by high winds and has nothing but a dodgy looking cafe there. It's also got factories and industrial units spoiling any views it might have had.

Heading for Dunedin, we chose to take the coastal route through the Catlins national park which unfortunately includes some 22km of unsealed roads. We ended up at Curio Bay which has a little inlet called Porpoise Bay where the dolphins swim around you in the water. However, not only was the water FAR too cold for us to be in, it was also too cold for the dolphins (of the Hector variety) so we didn't see any of them. The camp site (which covers the whole bay) cost $5 each and was very odd. Big concrete pipes upended to contain a shower of sorts, a laundry of sorts and a dodgy looking kitchen (of sorts). Most of the site was waterlogged so had be careful where we drove.

There is also a little wooden platform high on the cliff where you can stand between 7pm and dark or early in the morning to view yellow eyed penguins. These penguins are the second rarest in the world due to changes in habitat and natural predators introduced by us humans. We waited till about 8pm and braved the wind, freezing rain and hail to wait for the penguins to come back up the shore to feed their babies having been our catching food all day. Again we were disappointed. We got cold for nothing. After about 1/2 hour we couldn't stand it anymore and tried to fid somewhere out of the wind to sleep. That night we got rocked and rolled about so much that we almost lost our dinner several times and we could only half fill the cups with tea to prevent spillage.

Next morning, we went to head out but had to get water first. This was one of those chaos theory moments........

The tap that Phil spotted didn't have the right nozzle so I directed him to one I had seen the night before when we were driving to the penguin spot. All at once, we both shouted "oh my god" and he slammed the breaks on. Right by the sign that tells you about the penguins, and right by the wooden lookout, was a yellow eyed penguin!!!!!!!!! We both rubbed our eyes and thought maybe it was stuffed or something as it was so close to us and so far away from the beach. I managed to get the camera out and them we bravely approached him slowly and carefully, all the time expecting him to run off (do penguins run?) We got within 2 metres and could have got closer as he wasn't going anywhere. He just seemed to be sheltered from the wind behind a tussock of grass and we just stood there gawping. He definitely saw us but wasn't at all bothered as he preened his feathers and posed for photos. What an amazing piece of luck!

Next we headed out to Nugget point and saw various seals (still trying to establish of they were sea lions which also breed there) before making the rest of the journey to Dunedin. Dunedin is celtic for Edinburgh and we had been told that it was as close to Scotland as you could get without it being in Scotland. How is the possible? Well, they have haggis ceremonies, distil their own whiskey and wear / sell lots of tartan. Tartan also forms the basis of the school uniforms and there are loads of coats of arms everywhere too.

This morning (13th) the wind had dropped - HURRAH! We headed out onto Otago penninsular to visit the only castle in NZ - Larnach Castle. It was built by some chappie in 1871 just because he had visited his uncles big house in Surrey and wanted to have something bigger. Mr and Mrs Baker (the owners) "found it" in 1967 and did it up to live in and she still does but most of it is open to the public. $14 each to get in and view the gardens which they are now concentrating on doing up now that the house is almost finished. We had a very civilised tea including some very nice castle shortbread in the ballroom next to the roaring fire. It is supposed to be summer here I know.

Next stop is Oamuru to find a whole host of little blue penguins (to keep Phil happy as he is like a little boy about these things - very sweet). Probably be in touch from Christchurch in a few days as we are passing through more nomansland places.

Good as Gold! (translated into English means 'no worries'.)

Pip and Red
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