Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Zealand Sth Island - Part 3 - Catlins to Stewart Island

Day 7 - Saturday - Kaka Point; Nugget Point; Purakaunui Falls; The Whistling Frog Cafe and Finally a flight to Stewart Island

Believe it or not we make an early start today without too much effort. We're away by 8:18. Today is going to be challenging. There's a lot we could do, but our time is, unfortunately, limited. We are all very keen to see Nugget Point. Beyond that we need to be checked in by 3:30 at Invercargill airport for the last flight of the day across to Stewart Island. The morning starts out very warm but a change is expected today.
As we head down the coast the sky in the distance is looking dark. Not like a storm front exactly, but definitely not clear. There's rain coming. We are travelling through beautiful farmland, green and sheep infested. Sheep sheep sheep everywhere. Carrying capacities that to us seem amazing... and the sheep are clean. Travelling through inland Australia sometimes you can hardly notice the sheep standing in a paddock of saltbush. They take on the colour of the earth on which they live and as a result are quite well camouflaged. NZ seems to us like sheep heaven.
Well before we make the turn towards Kaka Pt and Nugget Pt we drive into the rain front. It's pelting down. Ever practical I think, well this could save us some time today. We press on however, as given our luck who knows what hand will stay the onslaught long enough for mum to see what she wishes to see.
Needless to say the beauty around us continues as we take the turn to the coast. It rises to a crescendo as we near Kaka Pt and drive along the ocean front. We stop to pay our respects at the war memorial and snap some shots of a coastline of golden sand and dunes with tasteful swathes of deep brown seaweed lined rocks. Beautiful! Who needs sunshine!
We pause at some local public amenities and admire a lovely garden of native plants and grasses with abundant seed heads dancing in the rain. With the weather persistently rainy it looks like it might be a very quick stop at Nugget Point.
The road continues to hug the beachfront. I wonder does NZ have any roads that are not constructed to be as scenic as humanly possible? When we finally arrive at the carpark at Nugget Pt the weather is so inclement we sit briefly in the car and contemplate whether we should just turn around and go. So they say Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals can be seen here at this time of year. Hmm. Surely we'd have to be mad to open the car doors in that. Mum is encouraged to give it a miss Sis isn't planning on moving either. Daughter is keen to brave the weather. Mad. Yes mad, but I agree to walk with her to the point. It says it's only 10 mins. It causes great merriment and we squeal and laugh as we battle the elements to reach the first lookout. I've left my binoculars in the car the conditions are so bad, but the camera can come in it's underwater housing. We give the briefest of brief looks at the lookout and head for the point. Before too long we come under the protection of the headland. The rain and wind simply fall away. We slow down and walk at our leisure with just a modest sprinkling of light rain. The path follows the cliff edges of course and we come to a sign that warns that areas of the path ahead are exposed and to keep a careful watch on kids. My god. Kiwis actually consider people can be trusted to take some personal responsiblity in such situations. At home we're not expected to have a brain let alone use it. I have to say though, if you brought kids here you really would want to keep them well under control.
There are plentiful small birds along the path. I still don't know what they were but manage some average photos of one. Hedge sparrows we are later informed (thanks Zappers!).

We turn to look northward. The scenery is wonderful and only improved by todays weather conditions. AWESOME. The closer you get to the point the better the scenery gets. I've seen postcards of Nugget Pt but like most places, the photos couldn't possibly do it justice. We are SO glad we decided to brave the weather and think it's worth the trip just for the scenery. Whilst in the protected section we look down to see some marine mammals on the rocks. Without binoculars there is no way we could tell what they are. The camera zooms in pretty effectively and we believe they are sea lions. At the point itself we have views to the south and to the north. The viewing area extends out beyond the protection of the headland and has a section where the flooring is open wire mesh. We laugh as daughter steps out on it to take some photos with her own camera. She's wearing a skirt and it is simply impossible to keep it down around her legs. Marilyn Monroe eat your heart out! Daughter's a picture standing there laughing with her skirt around her shoulders her undies her only pretension at modesty! I try to hold the skirt down for her while she photographs. It's a hopeless case. We laugh and step back off the "subway blast". Some of our photos are rain splattered, but somehow given the day this just seems appropriate! We're glad to have seen this wild and beautiful place on something other than a sunny day. We reluctantly head back, but I'm aware of the time. If we want to stop at Purakaunui Falls we need to be departing Nugget Pt by 11am. So far we're making good time. I know where I'm heading when we get back to the carpark though and I'm not hanging around dawdling along like daughter. At the carpark in the howling wind and rain I go to put the camera down in the car and then realise, hang on, this isn't our car. I look around. Where the heck is the car!! What with fighting the elements again it takes me a moment to spot the car. It's parked way over by the amenties in a comparatively protected spot. Makes sense. I head on over and duck into the facilities before diving with a huge sigh into the car and spilling my report. Daughter is taking more time coming back but eventually we're on our way. It turns out I'm not the only one with a report to make. Mum sat in the car for a while then she thought. "this is probably what the weather is going to be like the rest of the trip.. if I'm not prepared to brave weather like this I might not see anything the whole rest of the trip." She and Sis actually went over to that first lookout and braved the conditions with Mum's bins (binoculars) to get a real good look at a maned up sea lion. There was no sedately patient car passengers when we returned. Mum and Sis would have got a better look at the sea lions than we did!! But no elephant seals. Never mind. It's been a fun stop. We drive away at 5 to 11. YES!!
The wagons roll and the scenery seems to be fairly consistent when all of a sudden Catlins Lake comes into view. Oh, look at that!!
Great swathes of reeds of vibrant russet blanket the edges of the lake. Seeded grass heads dance by the road with accents of NZ flax plants bedecked by tall seed spikes. Now that's a beautiful scene! Quaint farmhouses nestle in the grass of the hillside. Lovely.
Soon we're taking the turn to the Purakaunui Falls and the hills around are showing more evidence of native bush. Beautiful bush surrounds the car park to the falls and a reassuring sign says it's only a half hour walk. Now we just need to see what the terrain is like. Setting off on the path we are entranced. The rainforest is utterly beautiful here. Ferns ferns ferns. Ferns of every imaginable shape and size. Lichens. Mosses. Fungi. The Macro zoom gets quite a work out. Daughter and her Grandma exclaim and draw eachother's attention to a wonderland of small flora. So far the path is delightfully level and I heave a sigh of relief. We cross a bridge over a fast running stream swollen from the rain. Mosses hang from branches. It's a sylvan dream. A small cascade in the stream wets our appetite for the waterfall ahead, but the forest is the headline performer at the moment. In amongst the vibrant greens and browns we find a lichen (?) in a vibrant shade of violet and another patch which daughter exclaims looks just like a coral reef but constructed out of mosses and lichens. Just as I'm feeling relaxed about the time and the terrain we round a corner and the path takes on a decided downward slope. Hmm. Fine on the way down, but what about coming back up. It doesn't even have the decency not to be uttlerly gorgeous and tempting. I go quickly forward to reccie the route all the way to the waterfall. At the bottom of the slope you turn another corner and there is a flight of stairs. A long flight of stairs, and with the most spectacular gully running down the hill alongside. Oh well thinks I. The rainforest part was worthy of the stop in it's own right. I look up and mum is showing no sign at all of thinking twice about coming on down. She's loving it. I decide I'd better find out just how many more flights of stairs are involved. None. Well. At least that's a blessing. I'm not worried about Mum's ability to get out at all given her performance since we arrived in NZ, just her ability to get out in a reasonable amount of time given our deadlines. If there's one thing mum loves as much as birds and animals it's waterfalls. She LOVES waterfalls. She is going to come on to the end. She's determined. We get to the base and Mum pronounces it to be a lovely waterfall. We rest a while and with some trepidation start on the climb back up. It's a team effort. I give her support from above. Daughter and Sis from behind. The stairs are quite tall risers and fairly uneven underfoot, but Mum's smiling. A number of fellow tourists tell her "good on you! Coming down to the falls". She makes a remarkable dash up that slope with remarkably little actual help beyond steadying. I can hardly believe my eyes. I swear she is getting fitter as the trip goes on. The exertion must be doing her good!! At one point when she and daughter were discussing another beautiful little fungi Mum directs daughter back along the path to get a photo. Then she sings out chirpily, "hang on I'll show you" and heads back down the slope a bit. I give an internal scream. "NOOOOOOO not down the slope again... how far is it?" I look for mum down the slope. I can't even see her. Oh god how far back has she gone? Silly me. She's sprinted past me towards the car without my even noticing. Did I mention mum loves rainforest too?? We depart the falls carpark at 12:35. 55 minutes after arriving. Not bad. Takes us a while to stop exclaiming over the beauty of the rainforest on that walk. A real stand out and we are SO glad we were able to see it.
We're a bit over our haphazard eating habits of the last couple of days and are quite keen to have a proper lunch. We're aiming for the Whistling Frog Cafe that has provided the excellent map of the Southern Scenic Route we have been finding quite useful. We get to the Cafe at 1:15. The smell of deliciousness in the carpark is amazing and making us even more hungry. We ask about the travelling time to the airport and are advised we should be right as it takes an hour to the turn off and then it's not far then to the actual airport. With this in mind we order. I went for the seafood chowder with sourdough. Daughter and Sis opted for the thyme pancakes filled with silverbeet, pine nuts and mushrooms while mum decided on Quesedillas (sp?). We also had some breads which they brought us as we were eating the main course rather than before in order to get us out quickly. Everything was delicious and the service was good too. We especially appreciated their awareness of our time frames. We drove away at 2:05. 5 mins later than I had hoped. The standout feature on the drive after lunch was long long avenues of NZ Flax with seed spikes along the roads looking very effective. Daughter liked those a lot and is scheming to put some in her own garden. Then she can live up to the maori compliment she read about in her weaving book. "A married woman who goes constantly to the flax clump". LOL
Despite some anxious clock watching moments we arrive at the airport at 3:25. Phew. There is a HOWLING wind and we wonder whether they can fly it's so strong. We unload with some difficulty. More hysterics all around. I snap a photo of sis and daughter weakened not only by the wind but by their own laughter as they struggle to control themselves, their trolleys and the luggage in the wind.
We go through the usual airport processes. Hand over the luggage we won't need for them to store for us and settle down to await boarding. They have enough passengers to be running two flights at this time this afternoon.

When the time comes for boarding we hand over our boarding passes and head out to the plane. It's only a very small job that can seat 10 including the pilot. We're crammed in a bit like generously accommodated sardines. A bit uncomfortable for very tall passengers of which we have one. Our pilot takes his place and welcomes us aboard. There may be a couple of bumps on the way up and the way down but when we have a look down at the sea we'll be glad we made the decision to fly. Our faces nearly split in half by grins, we settle in for the takeoff. Naturally we get views along the coast of bays and wild seas liberally adorned with teams of white horses. There's only one incident of turbulence, but that sends most passengers skyward and some bump heads on the ceiling. It seems a very short 1/2 hr before we are circling over the Island of Glowing Skies noting the protected and calm harbour of Halfmoon Bay and decending toward the air strip. Closer closer the ground rises. We touch down and exclaim aloud "how smooth was that!!" I don't think I've ever had such a smooth touchdown on an aircraft of any size. We excitedly alight and board the shuttle bus that will take us to the flight office in Halfmoon bay. The driver draws our attention to some dotterels that are nesting on the edges of the runway. Our various accommodations will be meeting the passengers in town. I can hardly contain my excitement as I point out tui and other birds. UNREAL. Kaka are visible flying over the forest. It feels a bit like that scene in Jurassic Park where they are arriving on the island.
We are met by Real Journeys who have been engaged on our behalf to take us out to Rakiura Retreat. The retreat feels like a long way out of the village. But I knew that and they have promised use of the courtesy car for the whole time we are staying. As we pull up in to the drive and up toward the accommodation buildings they seem somewhat more modest than I was expecting. This is disappointing but that's of no real matter. We get a run down on how the joint operates and are shown to our unit, sort out a misunderstanding about the car access. As soon as we open the door to the unit we all know there is a major problem. Though tired it is tidy, however it smells musty. The temperature is quite cold but we fling open all the windows hoping some fresh air will help but we know that we simply cannot stay here. Even daughter is starting to react. This is a very serious potential health threat to mum. Musty smell is caused by a mould. Mum is allergic to moulds and is severely asthmatic. Even if she doesn't react straight away it is inevitable that this will cause a health deterioriation. What on earth are we to do. We need to ring Sails Ashore to make our arrangements for our Ulva Island tour we have booked with them. Ultimately we ring them again and enquire whether they have any vacancy at Kowhai Lane. We have stumbled into island politics but there is really nothing else we can do. We are going to get hit with the tariff for both properties so I hope it is clear that we really just could not possibly put mum in the room at Rakiura Retreat. The lovely lovely Iris of Sails comes around to collect us to give us a look at Kowhai Lane so we can be sure it will be suitable. Afterall it too could have a problem. It helps that Iris has experience with asthma and understands that for asthmatics there can be some things they just cannot be around and it can be different triggers for different people. Kowhai Lane has no problem whatever, but in the process we are confirmed in the necessity of getting mum out of Rakiura Retreat as she struggles and has to stop for a rest before even getting into the house. Such a contrast to how she's been up to now. She's already suffering the effects of exposure to the mustyness. Kowhai Lane is absolutely lovely and fresh as a daisy. It has a high standard of appointments and is a fabulous nest to retreat to and relax after our very busy week. A home away from home. It's ideal on every level and would be cosy no matter what the weather puts on. Iris puts herself to so much trouble helping us move across then running us down to pick up some tucker from the Kai Kart. I really cannot say enough how wonderfully helpful and supportive she was or how deeply we appreciate all her efforts to assist us.
When she's sure we're safely settled, and after arrangements have been made to collect mum for church in the morning, Iris herself heads home leaving us to settle in. It's been an ordeal, but it's clearly turned out for the best. Mum will really enjoy heading off to church tomorrow and meeting the retiring Bishop. While she's gone we can get things settled with Rakiura, and organise a hire car, pick up some supplies and so on.

We will sleep well tonight!!

No comments: