Sea lions...

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

I could barely keep my eyes open on the bus to Christchurch after a mere 8 hours sleep in 2 days. When I wasn't nodding off and banging my head on the window, I was looking out at the scenery as we made our way down the centre of the South Island. Temperatures had recently plummetted, and the resulting snow could still be seen on the mountains that surrounded us.

I eventually arrived in Christchurch at 3pm, so I had a few hours to do some chores before meeting Yumi. The first of these involved booking a hotel for my mum and Stu's first night in New Zealand on November 8th - they'll need a good sleep to conquer the inevitable jet lag! I was happy with my choice as it's in an ideal location opposite the Victoria Gardens, and it looks quite plush so I'm looking forward to their arrival!

After booking my bus to Dunedin for the next day (pick up time 7.20am!), I met Yumi at our usual rendezvous point in Cathedral Square. I was delighted when she suggested going to Burger King - I was getting withdrawal symptoms after going a full 4 weeks without eating a BK Chicken Meal! So we chatted for about an hour as the movie didn't start until 8.20pm. Yumi seemed very happy and excited at the prospect of going home to see her friends and family, although she was going to Thailand for a short while beforehand. I'll definitely miss her as she's become one of my best friends in New Zealand.

We proceeded to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but both of us were unimpressed - not a patch on the original! I was actually relieved when it was over as I was finding it increasingly difficult to stop my eyes from closing! Of course, I knew that we'd have to say goodbye soon afterwards, which wasn't so great. When we had to go our separate ways, we gave eachother a hug and promised to keep in touch, although there's no danger of us losing contact.

Back at The Old Country House, I was sharing a twin room with an Australian girl so we chatted for a while, before I eventually got to sleep at midnight - an early one considering the previous few weeks in Nelson!

The shuttle bus picked me up on time the next morning, and within a few hours I was in Dunedin for the first time. First impressions...another city! The Railway Station was a grand building though, and the Octagon in the town centre looked very attractive. I will spend more time there later in the year, as my flight to Brisbane departs from Dunedin Airport. The purpose of this brief visit though was to organise my trip to the peaceful Catlins, an area I was keen to experience after spending a long time in the built up (but admittedly very nice) Nelson.

I spoke at length with a slightly stroppy advisor in the Information Centre about my options regarding the 'forgotten corner of New Zealand.' I considered hitch hiking from place to place, but quite frankly I couldn't be bothered to go through with it, particularly as it was bloody freezing in Dunedin! Literally my only other option was to go on the Bottom Bus, an organised tour that is affiliated with the dreaded Kiwi Experience! I say 'dreaded' as it has a reputation for being a party bus full of 18 year olds, complete with 'wacky' bus drivers. Not my cup of tea. Fortunately though, you could hop on and off as you wished, thus retaining a sense of independance that I always crave on these kind of tours.

The plan was to spend about a week travelling down the 'southern scenic route,' in a jaunt that shared some similarities to when I travelled around the East Cape earlier in the year. Unsurprisingly, it was going to be another early start the next morning, 7.40am to be exact. But that suited me fine as I wanted to get to my first destination as soon as possible.

I waited outside Elm Lodge for 10 minutes before the colourful bus arrived, and I was thankful that the driver seemed perfectly normal and very friendly. He said there would only be 10 of us, and the rest of the backpackers seemed alright to be fair, although one Canadian girl was slightly annoying!

The good thing about the Bottom Bus is that it stops off at all the attractions along the way, the first of which was at Kaka Point. I had a quick stroll along the windswept beach, took a few pictures then headed inside a cafe for a milkshake.

Soon afterwards we arrived at Nugget Point, which is the most well known feature of the Catlins, and is reminiscent of the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. From the car park, it was a 15 minute walk along cliff tops, and we got absolutely battered by the wind en route...but it was worth it. We saw seals playing beneath us, before the lighthouse and 'nuggets' came into view. At the lookout, our driver gave us information about the area, and I began to think I'd been harsh on the Kiwi Experience set up.

Everyone else on the bus was doing the Catlins in one single day, which seemed a shame as already it was clear that it was a lovely part of the country. I was in no rush though, so at our next stop, I departed as I was staying at Surat Bay Lodge that night. Before saying goodbye though, I went with the others on a walk along the beach to see if any sea lions were in the vicinity. We encountered 2 of them pretty quickly, although we couldn't get too close as they have a habit of chasing humans if disturbed, and they are surprisingly fast considering they weigh between 300-400 kgs! So we walked into the bush area behind the beach to get a better view, when all of a sudden one of the girls spotted another one in the distance. So we ambled towards the sea lion in question, only to be greeted by an almighty roar! Needless to say, we all stepped back to give him some breathing space, but we got some great snaps and there was less danger of him catching us in the rugged bush anyway!

Later in the afternoon, after getting settled at the Lodge, I got wrapped up and went on a longer walk to Cannibal Bay. I walked the entire length of Surat Bay's beach, passing half a dozen sea lions whilst not seeing one other person. I resisted the temptation/challenge of disturbing one of the lions, although a couple of them were well aware of my presence and rolled around on the sand, presumably not too fussed as long as I kept my distance. At the end of the beach, I climbed to the top of the headland for great views of the Bay. I walked to the top of False Island and sat down, with dozens and dozens of noisy seagulls above me. It was another amazing experience where I was completely alone, looking down at the fierce ocean beneath me, with deserted sandy beaches either side.

Further around the headland, I got my first glimpse of Cannibal Bay, although I decided not to walk down to it as the sun was starting to set. Instead, I made my way back to the backpackers via the beach, although a few of the sea lions had disappeared - perhaps they'd gone fishing before dark.

I enjoyed a nice relaxing evening with a couple of German girls, watching TV in front of the log fire, and comparing sea lion stories.

Just one day in the Catlins and I'd seen some beautiful scenery, done a great walk, and seen an abundance of wildlife. I was hoping for more of the same in the following days...
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