Sunday, May 4, 2008

To Dunedin via the Catlins

We're just back from two nights in Hanmer Springs, but I'm still deep in blog-debt so I'll first describe the last stages of our tour of the southern part of the South Island.

Our constant companion on the new Zealand road is the circling bird of prey. If we were of a nervous disposition, we might have interpreted the wheelings overhead as a vote of no confidence in our ability to survive New Zealand's extreme sports (or indeed extreme driving). The reality is that these birds hover over the highway looking for 'squashums' (squashed possums) - it's easier to have your pick of animals already picked off by cares, than to hunt them down yourself.

First stop was a fossilized forest lying in the intertidal region of Curio Bay, less than an hour from Invercargill. It sounded dramatic and had the added frisson that the tide had to be out in order to see it. Being a landlubber, I didn't even bother to check the tide times before setting off, happy to leave it all to chance. As chance would have it, we arrived just in time - in time to watch a powerful Pacific tide wash over a black, stump-pocked sheet of rock. The spectacle provided by the dangerously fast tide was more interesting by far than the fossilized tree stumps that we came to see. I can't imagine where the Pacific Ocean got its name. Seemed pretty angry about something from where I was standing.

After Curio Bay we moved to the nearby Slope Point, the South Island's most southerly point and our trip's lowest latitude. We were halfway round the world, and at our nadir, so it made sense to stop off for a coffee at the Nadir Outpost just set back from Slope Point.
"Do you do coffee?" I asked as we walked towards the entrance.
"Yes, come right in" the lady replied in an accent that sang gently in a way that no Kiwi or Australian accent can.
She brought us to the small and sparsely furnished front room of Nadir Outpost (itself just a little bungalow sharing its grounds with a few other low buildings) and disappeared to prepare the coffee and hot chocolate. By the time she got back I had understood where she was from.
"You're Welsh" I suggested.
"From South Wales, yes."
Interestingly specific. The last time I encountered a similar precision was in reading about Captain James Cook. Nobody is sure if in naming the East coast of Australia New South Wales he was merely pointing out the geographically obvious, or whether more pointedly he was deliberately snubbing the northern half of Wales. I've only been to North Wales once - an attempted cycle from Anglesey to Aberystwyth. I stopped off in a town with a generously long and unpronounceable name to ask directions. I wasn't so much rebuffed as contemptuously ignored - and I thought everybody loved the Irish (this was pre-Celtic Tiger). It might not have helped my case in approaching strangers in the street that I was wearing a pair of Lycra bicycle shorts long before Little Britain's only gay in the village made it either fashionable or profitable to do so. Whatever the reason, my experience leaves me happy to believe that Captain Cook, the man who added so much to the world's atlas had good reason to delete North Wales. Accordingly, I was happy for Beverly, the landlady of the Nadir Outpost to set matters straight on the precise nature of her Welshness.

Because I'm a nosey git, I learned more. Once upon a time she was married to a man who had no interest in travel (sound familiar?) When they eventually parted ways, she met Richard, who had also suppressed a desire to travel for the sake of his former partner. Within days of becoming a couple, they sent off an application to emigrate to Australia - almost without even having to discuss it, such were their shared assumptions on travel. They spent 7 years in Queensland, Australia before deciding to get out of the heat and move to New Zealand (mission accomplished - it was not warm at Slope Point!!) They had been there for 18 months when we met them. It's interesting to note that having children is not nearly as incompatible with travel as having a reluctant spouse is.

Next stop on the Catlins was a waterfall by the name of Purakaunui Falls. The last time we stopped the car to walk to a waterfall it was at the Kondalilla Falls in Queensland. On that occasion what started as a gentle amble finished under a cloudburst, sandals wedged with mud, and nothing but a pair of structurally compromised umbrellas that served more for comical effect - and perhaps as protection from falling leeches - than as a way to stay dry. The whose-idea-was-that silence in the car after Kondalilla was not something I wanted to repeat. And yet when the walk to Purakanui Falls turned out to be a brief and dry one, I couldn't help feeling that the overall impression it made was also brief and dry. I'm sure that when pleasant Purakanui is a long lost moment, catastrophic Kondalilla live on in the collective family memory. That's the nature of travel stories.

The last stop of the day was a place called Cannibal Bay. I've no idea where the place got its name - though it is a well-documented fact that the Maori practiced ritual cannibalism on their defeated enemies. Our hope for the place was to find some sea lions, or lions-of-the-sea as Sara was calling them under the influence of 5 days on the road with predominantly Italian spoken. Our hopes came to nothing alas, but our spirits remained inexplicably high:

We ran around the beach for a while, Nina keeping a watchful eye on the tall grass in the dunes where sea lions were reputed to hide. You don't want to get between a sea lion and the sea, by all accounts. We needed have worried.

We spent as much time off the main road as on it that day, having stopped off at many points of interest, and getting trapped behind at least two flocks of sheep (the latter opportunity giving me the opportunity to see just how unprepared that species is for a life without man - if we don't make it, sheep are next on the list). Catlins Coast box ticked, we packed into the car, and motored into the sunset towards Dunedin. More on that next.

1 comment:

Simon Moore said...

nothing to do with Dunedin, but we were enjoying looking at some of your picassa web photos and are wondering what you use to take them. we're on the point of upgrading our camera you see.

and, if you could somehow see your way to pointing at that piece in the irish times i'd be most grateful. the IT website seems to want money from me before it will reveal its secrets. the little hoor.

be lucky