11 January 2012

The Catlins - Part 1

This last weekend was a very long one; after going out into the countryside and touring some of Southland's beaches I went into the Catlins with friends for a couple of nights. During which time we did so much that I'm still recovering somewhat. To begin with, we took the coastal route up to our camping ground and along the way stopped at some of the beaches, as you should do when you take a coastal route anywhere. The first stop was Waipapa point, where a sea lion decided to come up for a rest on the beach, which was a good start to the day.

See, here he is, lying down and looking sort of dead - he mostly ignored us but definately knew that we were there because every now and then he would lift his head and give us a warning look before flopping back down onto the sand.

So at Waipapa point there is not much more to see; if there had not been a sea-lion I might have been a bit disappointed because I don't really find lighthouses to be very exciting. After the sand is a rocky shore, with interesting volcanic rocks but not a lot of sea-life in the rock pools. Just barnacles and limpets. The tide was coming in so the waves were crashing against the rocks and the spray flying into the air. I didn't much feel like getting wet though, so I stayed well away.

The reason for the lighthouse at Waipapa point is this piece of ocean below, which is hiding a rocky reef that caused a major shipwreck about a hundred years ago. A lot of people died so after that they built a lighthouse and began to stock the ships with enough lifeboats to hold all of the passengers, just in case.

After Waipapa Point was Curio Bay, also called Porpoise Bay, where a pod of Hector's dolphins live. You can see the bay below but not the dolphins because they were too far out and moved too quickly. Sometimes they come into the shallows and swim with you, but not this time. We saw some jumping but my camera was not pointing in the right direction at the time, sadly. The water was really nice though, my first swim in the ocean for this year!

After lunch, a swim, and some time to warm up afterwards, we went for a walk along the rocks and around the point. A seal had been seen in the water and climbing up onto the rocks so we were keeping an eye out for it (because you really don't want to get too close to seals and sea lions that are on land), but as usual it was well camouflaged and lying still like a rock, so that we came across it all of a sudden and got a fright when it reared it's head!

Following the rocks around brought us to low cliffs surrounded by beds of kelp, which the waves crash against. The rock is volcanic, but not from any existing volcano. This part of our coastline was formed way back when the continents were still attached togethere, and there was a great big forest in this area. Now there is volcanic rock and a petrified forest.

Standing near anough to be hit by all the spray can be fun, but is much safer at other beaches. Here the waves are so big and the cliffs a bit high, you could be knocked into the sea, and I really don't know what your chances of survival would be. So, simply put, we were not allowed to stand at the edge of the cliffs and let the spray soak us.

Finally, after clambering around the rocks and cliffs (the tide was somewhat higher than when I had done this in the past, we got a big wet), we made it to the other side of the bay, where the petrified forest is. There is not as much to see as there once was; apparently there used to be petrified trunks standing up, so it really looked like a forest. People take pieces of it, even our musuem has some, in the garden of all places! It is difficult to show in a photo what the area is really like, because of course the petrified wood is pretty much the same colour as the rock. It is the shape and texture that is different.

We finally left Curio Bay and the next stop was Niagara Falls, and I really have no idea where the name came from. Someone's idea of a joke. The 'falls' are a little area of a little river where the water goes over a few rocks. However, the river was sheltered and sunny so we went for a swim, washed the salt off. It was freezing at first but then was actually really nice, and the rocks were warm and perfect for lying on afterwards. There were a lot of rocks in the water, however, so we came out somewhat battered and bruised.

Finally we ended up at Papatowai, our campsite, where there is quite a deep estuary, an old maori moa-hunting site and, of course, more rocks and more ocean. The water was warm but I was done with swimming for the day; instead we walked down the estuary to the ocean.

It was actually quite a long walk, for the most part on nice, soft sand. The Catlins is not all rocks, sand and ocean however, there is native bush too, so all of the bush-walks were really rainforest-walks.

After a lot of walking we came to rocks - quite sharp rocks.  By this stage everybody was getting somewhat tired and hungry instead of continuing along the rocks (which were, of course, very interesting rocks, but at the same time, when you've seen one rocky Catlins' shore, you've seen them all), we returned to camp for a rest and a meal. However, it was still quite light so soon enough we needed another diversion to pass the time.

The evenings last excursion was to Tautuku Beach, where there was a cave. The Catlins are famous for the Cathedral Caves, but these are now under Maori jurisdiction and you have to pay to get in. Apparently they are just like any other cave, only they are really, really big. I thought that maybe they were full of colourful crystals or interesting rock formations, but they are not, so we didn't bother. We had a look inside this cave instead, which smelt so awful you could only take very shallow breaths. Turns out that it smelt like something had died for good reason - there was a very old dead cow in there, slowly decomposing.

Despite the stink, the view of the beach and ocean at twilight from inside the cave was really amazing, so of course I forbore the atrocious smell and stopped to take photos.

And even more photos. I took loads, actually. It was really hard to just choose a couple of them for putting on here. But there you go, I am showing restraint and now I'm going to take a break from rambling and leave something to write about tomorrow - because the next day involved a lot of bush-walking and waterfall-viewing and ended with an incredibly strenuous obstacle course.

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