Team VA's Wonderings

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Road to Nowhere

The Catlins
I think I was suffering from a little bit of scenery fatigue in the Catlins, as I found it a touch disappointing. I ended up comparing much of what I saw to other places I'd visited-initially missing the point that all these things were in one unspoilt corner.

I was also distracted on the first morning by trying to ascertain what was happening in Augusta through the static haze of dodgy radio reception.

The direct route from Dunedin to Invercargill is something like 240 kms. I did dirt tracks, detours, scenic stuff and did a 100km double back to see the Cathedral Caves-I was too late on the first day, as they're only accessible for 2 hours either side of low tide. Over the 505 kms, I stopped off at Nugget Point, Cannibal Bay, Jack's Blowhole, Purakaunui Falls, Matai Falls, Lake Wilkie, Cathedral Caves, McClean Falls, Curio Bay, Slope and Waipapa Points. I also saw sealions. For me Nugget Point and McClean Falls stood out.

I broke the journey at Curio Bay, where the hostel was a delight. The booking system was a blackboard, where you wrote your name. Mine was already there as I'd called ahead, which was just as well as all 9 beds were taken. There were no keys, or reception. I walked in, found out where the dorm was and settled down on the sofa for a natter by the fire. The whole wall by the fire was a massive window/patio door looking out over Curio Bay. The Bay was beautiful, but rough enough in the vein of British coasts to make me glad to be watching it from the fireside. Later when I was cooking, a chap came round and collected everyone's money. Next morning, I went for a walk on the beach after breakfast-a quick stroll across the back garden and I was on the sands.

After that I visited the origin of Curio Bay's renown the petrified forest. Truth be told, it's not much to look at, but it does mess with your head. In amongst the rocks are tree stumps, branches and trunks preserved over millions year by the deposit of volcanic larva, starving the forest remains of the oxygen needed for them to rot down.

I was at my usual exasperated best to read that people who couldn't walk and chew gum simultaneously had taken bits as souvenirs-'Hey Bernice, this old bit of wood's been here since the dinosaurs, why don't I hack a bit off to take back home.' 'What a swell idea, Dwayne. We can put it on the mantlepiece, next to the Lady Di commemorative plate.' I hope the video surveillance has stopped it; personally I'd solve it by throwing Dwayne and Bernice into an active volcano to preserve them for future generations. They may be the missing link.

Having moved on from Curio Bay, I came to understand that when planning your day in the country, it's sensible to build in time for unexpected delays.

I took this photo from behind the steering wheel on the way to Slope Point. Slope Point is the most southerly point on the South Island. It's pretty much equidistant between the equator and South Pole-I was surprised, thinking we'd have been closer to Antarctica.

After my double back to the Cathedral caves and a very odd food stop (my apple turnover had to be fetched from the freezer and visit the deep fat fryer before it got to me), it was foot down to Invercargill. I thought I'd take the opportunity of having a car to make life a bit easier. So, I went to the supermarket and got supplies for Stewart Island, then checked into the hostel and dropped my bags off before filling up with petrol and returning the car. The sun had disappeared on the approach to Invercargill and the rain started on arrival. I hadn't noticed the cold wind until I got out the car. By the time I reached Thrify Car Hire 20 mins before closing, it was so miserable that the staff had shut up shop and buggered off. Just walking the two blocks back to the hostel from the deserted car hire lot was a sufficently damp experience to remove any desire to explore grey and functional looking Invercargill. As I'm heading straight to Te Anu when I get back, there'll be no time to look round Invercargill. I felt bad about this, as it was a bit lame to just write a place due to a bit of rain, even if I was only there to get a ferry. However, everyone I spoke to subsequently has told me there's not much/nothing to see in Invercargill, so it looks like I chose the right place to bin.

Stewart Island
The Lonely Planet describes the hour long crossing to Oban (the town-the island's population is 420) as 'often a rough ride'. When I checked out of the hostel, the wind was howling and the girl on reception told me the 8 a.m. out of Oban had been cancelled/postponed due to the weather. When I checked in I was told they weren't sure if we'd go-they were monitoring conditions and it was possible we'd get out the habour, the captain would look at the sea and turn back. There was a severe storm warning and I was given the option not to travel (a first).

We set off on time. I knew it could be entertaining when it got fairly rough, while we were still in the harbour. Out at sea was something else. We were frequently thrown to quite alarming angles left and right; I couldn't see much out the window, as they were almost permanently soaked in the spray of the latest wave. Some of the waves I did see were simply scary. After 10 mins, one of the crew came on the mike to tell us about the ship; a cynic might say she was reassuring us it wouldn't fall to bits. Several times we caught some big air and landed with a hell of a bang. I watched the skipper for a bit-he was spinning the steering wheel like I had on Fraser Island. After about 5 minutes I realised the non-driving crew were essentially on spew watch. It wasn't long before one guy was heading my way to advise and assist the mother and son behind me-'don't breathe in the bag', 'fold the top of the bag over-it helps keep it open', 'breathe through your nose', 'here's a fresh bag, I'll take that one'. I saw one poor little boy crying as he threw up. No one screamed or prayed, which was quite impressive; quite a lot of people had decided against the trip before we left port.

My mind kept replaying last night's dream, especially when the boat's nose was pointing skywards. For some reason I'd dreamt that the bus driver had let some girl have a go driving and she'd driven up something so steep that we'd tipped over backwards, which had hurt. I was hoping this wasn't a premonition. Happily each time the boat approached vertical, it returned to the horizontal with a sickening thud.

Of the 5 of us from our hostel, we had mixed fortunes. Tina looked oblivious, tho later confessed she'd been unsure if her stomach would make it. Poor Sisse had been chatting with me on the bus about how she hated boats and had taken a sea sickness pill in the morning-she did this without knowing about the weather. She did really well and had just a couple of late retches. My stomach was fine and after about 15 mins, I was fairly confident we weren't going to die (I met a guy this afternoon, who flew in yesterday and thought their number was up). My legs remained tensed about half the journey-it held me in my seat. I spent some time chatting to a girl from Somerset, who seemed very chilled. Our boat wouldn't go out if the waves exceeded 3m (an albatross or 9 feet); I remembered Ellen McCarthur talking about 30 foot waves in the Southern Ocean. As Somerset girl said, 'she's got balls'. Her friend spent most of the trip staring into a white paper bag with a cold towel on her neck.

I think we'll all still feel the motion in bed tonight. It was the roughest boat I have been on-do it all again on Saturday morning.

Sisse, Tinne and I grabbed an early lunch and headed out onto one of Stewart Island's tracks-Ryan's Creek. Like much of NZ, there are hour, half day and day walks as well as 3, 5 even 10 day walks. I'm not sure I could carry enough food and water for those. I take some feeding!

We slipped and splashed our way much of the track. It's impressive how far the mud travels up the inside of your leg. We skipped out onto a bit of beach and I saw one of the most wonderful things. I noticed the rainbow being born when it was only about 15 degrees of a semi circle; it proceded to grow and deepen its colours as it spread across the sea. The stronger colours by the pot of gold weakened and travelled across the arc, then the rainbow's origin disappeared before it had even reached the sea on the other side-at its biggest, it was just over a quarter circle. Its whole life was about 3 magical minutes when the final colours disappeared into the water. And despite the beauty of the location and the magic of the moment, my subconcious couldn't spare me Zippy, Bungle and Geoffrey's theme tune.

I did try to fall over once, but managed to stay dry enough to admire the views.

Tomorrow we're going to get a water taxi to a tiny island about 2km away. It's a wildlife sanctuary, especially birds, where they've purged all the rats! Well, we hope we're going-they kept the boats tied up today because of the weather.

Oh and sunset here is supposed to be amazing. Adams isn't about, so here's hoping.

Ian took us over to Ulva on his eco water taxi-it was too loud for me to find out what made it eco. They've eradicated rats from the island and want to keep it that way.

That's Ian in the background. The island had a number of tracks, which we explored comfortably in 2 and a half hours. We spotted many birds and were serenaded by an unseen host. I'd picked up a self-guide book to the island, which enabled us to identify much of what we saw, including this Weka

The bird was almost oblivious to us, as it wandered round the beach. I have some video of it pulling a big load of seaweed out the way to get digging (presumably for insects). The boat out to Ulva was quite smooth, which made the rough ride back something of a surprise.

We'd done quite well with the weather-the rainforest canopy kept most of the rain off and only on Boulder beach had the elements had a proper go on us out in the open. Over lunch the weather worsened substantially-rain became torrential, wind gale force and the two afternoon ferries were cancelled. The girls decided not to join my afternoon expedition, choosing the dry and warmth over the tempest. I was debating between the short walk and the 2 hour job to Horseshoe Bay. Inevitably, I went to look at the long one, conditions were worse than I thought, I kept going and ended up extending the route. I hoped I wasn't tempting fate with my revised route

With the rain hurting my face, I decided to risk the track that wasn't on my map, but looked like a potential short cut. I only have a waterproof jacket, so my legs/trousers were as wet as when I walked through an Oxford monsoon after watching Radiohead at South Park. When I felt my boots get wet, I realised the rain was serious. Luckily my route worked out. It was only a shortcut when a couple of guys offered me a lift over the last hill back into town-I had to walk 2-3 kms on the road out of the village to reach the tracks, so walking back the same way in the deluge was nothing new. I found it a bit strange that I really enjoyed it-although I would not have wanted to be returning to a tent that wet.

That night the 3 of us hit the fish and chip shop: egg, salad, beetroot and cheese in a burger roll with chips for me. Most of the hostel seemed to follow suit (to the shop, not with the veggie burger). In the dark I managed to stamp in a puddle, making my dry shoes and trousers wet.

It was a shame the main hotel had 'forgotten' to renew its licence-I'd been excited about a beer in NZ's most southerly bar.

Tinne had the mid-morning ferry, so just Sisse and I headed off to Acker's point and the lighthouse. We had rain, hail and an icy wind, but on the whole it was sunny and very pleasant.

In the afternoon I did a quick combo of the fuschia, raroa and observation point walks-nothing too amazing, but more good exercise. Still going to need some more training before Machu Pichu. Funny crowd in the hostel tonight, apparently there's some sort of card tournament at the weekend. After the ferries finally got away, the place is a lot emptier. Here's hoping for good weather tomorrow so we don't need to switch to the plane, as one group had to yesterday.

The ferry this morning was a different beast-had I not been on the previous one, I might have described it as rough in places. Sisse had no need for a bag this time. We're both connecting onto Te Anu. Despite this meaning a ferry and three buses, we should be there by 1-just as well, for I need to take some proper calories on board. I've decided to use Te Anu as my sole base for fjordland; this has reduced my travelling and sped things up a little, at a small cost.

I've little notion of what to expect, not having visited Norway, but the few photos I've seen are stunning. Tomorrow I go to Milford Sound for a 2 and a half hour Nature Cruise, then it's Doubtful Sound for an overnight boat trip and some kayaking. Just under $400 for the pair, but I don't expect to feel short changed.

In the end we needed a fourth bus to reach Te Anu YHA, but there was still plenty of time to explore. I headed straight down to the lake, which is the sight. Now Te Anu bills itself as the 'gateway to Fjordland', it's a jumping off spot-you come here en route to the pretty/scenic stuff. So given how gorgeous it is here, I'm a little excited for the next few days.

I even watched an Indiana Jones style seaplane take off from the lake. I really want to go on one, but I'm spending a lot of cash here already and must have some budgetary self-control.

I sauntered back towards town, heard a lot of shouting and looked over to see an oval ball cart wheeling through the sky. Since I didn't have much to do, thought this might be my only chance to see Rugby in NZ and couldn't remember when I last watched sport, I wandered over. The pitch was encircled by cars-there were no grandstands or admission fees. The cars honked their horns after a score. The rest of the time, balls kicked to touch just bounced off them; the owners seemed totally unfazed. What a great place to play, with the mountains as a backdrop.

After about 5 mins I found the scoreboard, which it later appeared was updated by a player. After another 5, I worked out the home side weren't wearing the ill-advised blue 'sweat revealing' shirts. And later still I realised I was standing with the away fans. I thought Te Anu would win; they didn't deserve to, the sweaty blue team with the rubbish winger was much the better side, but it was just that sort of game. The lead changed hands four times while I was watching and my side of the pitch hotly contested the amount of injury time. Judging by the amount of travelling support and the perfunctory nature of the post match congratulations, I'd say there wasn't much love lost between the two sides.

The smell of Deep Heat brought back many memories of a game I last played when I was 20. I instantly missed it; I may have to find a veterans pub team. Reckon I could have got a game here and these are New Zealanders.


  • Binning a town because of a bit of rain? Well, to be honest you've written off whole civilisations for less than that, so why not?

    Great Rainbow skills too. Nice to see that your internal jukebox managed to start playing the most appropriate but also the most inappropriate earworm possible!

    Veterans rugby team? dear oh dear. Would that really be wise?


    By Blogger swisslet, at 9:32 PM  

  • Souunds as if you've been making a perfectly decent effort of attracting lots of dodgy weather yerself!

    Still not had time to read the massive opus that has become your blog (internet probs), but rest assured am sure there'll be a bunch of further comments over the week...

    Have fun.


    By Blogger Statue John, at 1:39 PM  

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