South Island NZ road trip 3 - Southland and back, 5364 kms. September 2017 image library
The day we leave Pagan Vines dawns fine, ideal for loading the California and an early getaway. There’s quite a drive ahead, with our destination Dunedin by way of Te Anau.Thanking and taking our leave of Suzy we are sad to be pulling out of Pagan’s driveway after a very enjoyable stay.
Through Queenstown again then south on 6 to Kingston, where in the middle of nowhere we stop at an unlikely looking café/general store, which produces an excellent toasted sandwich and 2 'barista' quality long blacks. It’s then west at Five Rivers and on to 94 at Mossburn, with 50kms to Te Anau where we arrive to beautiful weather in time for a late lunch. Lake Te Anau shimmers pristinely and is unspoilt by lots of people. We eat our lunch at the modern but ‘in keeping’ Takahe café/restaurant attached to the Fiordland Information Centre, sitting outside on their terrace with an uninterrupted view of the Lake. Tammy thinks this is great, but keeps a wary eye on the local ducks, which are the same size as her!
Regretfully we have to move on today as there is still considerable ground to cover before Dunedin. We had visited Lake Manapouri with our children 31 years ago and the short drive now down 98 on the Fiordland Border is well worth the little time we spend. A tour is available to the West Arm where the Manapouri Power Station is located, with scenically much to recommend it, but we have no time for this, contenting ourselves with the lake foreshore and a quick walk at Pearl Harbour from where the tours leave and Power Station workers catch transport to and from the Station. Interesting and remote.
Retracing our route slightly to rejoin 94 towards Mossburn then Lumsden, the road sign to Dipton lures, but it is a sidetrack of 22kms each way so we pass up a visit to Bill English’s home town. Gore, Mataura, Clinton and on to Balclutha where we join SH1 for the final run to Dunedin still 30kms away. Tammy needs a comfort stop and the perfect spot appears just over and beside the picturesque arched Balclutha Bridge. She likes a short walk as well, so we are here for the best part of ½ hour.
We phone ahead to Jan who owns and runs The Gentleman’s Residence where we are staying for the next 4 nights. We apologise for being late but she is dining with her daughter close by and our timing suits her fine. We have never liked the early arrival of daylight saving but in these circumstances it is a Godsend – we can arrive beyond 7pm and still in reasonable daylight.
We fire up Google Maps which has a very assertive young man doing the voice over. It makes us laugh when we deviate from his instructions and his voice rises strongly advising us to ‘proceed to the route’ ‘do a U turn and proceed to the route’! We are staying in Musselburgh Rise which we pronounce as it is spelt but Mr Google clearly pronounces it as ‘Musselberry Rise’. Unerringly we are directed to 21 Moana Cres and Jan is waiting for us. The Gentleman’s Residence lives up to its name being an older style (1930s) 2 story arts and crafts bungalow. The lower floor has been tastefully renovated including an exceptional bathroom – shower extraordinaire, and well-appointed kitchen. However, access from the street by way of a steep flight of narrow concrete steps beside the garage which are in disrepair and oddly canted to the right, is a challenge, making transferring to and from the California quite a mission and one which would be virtually impossible in bad weather. After a few hours, a glass of pinot and Tammy’s complete property investigation, we all settle down and start to enjoy the space and style of the property.
Dunedin weather treats us kindly – fine and cool. After a good sleep, we drive into Dunedin CBD and park on the side of the Octagon, starting the day with a very good coffee at Sargoods nearby. Many older 19th century buildings, now in 21st century use, give the city centre a continuing historic timeline. The Dunedin train station is said to be the most photographed building in New Zealand and what's more it is still a train station. I add several pictures to our portfolio. Ornate and intricate, Architect George Troup is responsible for this classical structure opened in 1906. Troup’s attention to detail runs through the entire building, particularly evident in the elaborate foyer. Lunch calls and Linda has a venue close by in Anzac Street. Ironic Café and Bar, featuring iron girders and glass offers fresh blue cod and local new season whitebait. What a treat and our instant menu choice. The fish is beautifully cooked and delightfully served.
Our next stop, Baldwin Street, is according to The Guiness Book of Records, the steepest street in the world. It certainly is very steep and we can understand why it is laid in concrete as asphalt would not stay in place. The street is full of people,many walking or running to the top. It wouldn’t be easy being a resident.
A friend had been involved in the restoration of the Carey’s Bay Hotel just past Port Chalmers and we have time to pay a visit. Sadly, she died soon after its completion but the very small hotel is charming – a genuine little seaside pub where we enjoy our coffee along with a close-up view of the bay. A few minutes back to Port Chalmers where the modern 21st century dockside container cranes provide time contrast to the 19th century buildings nearby. Far from derelict these are mostly being put to good use. We also visit the imposing Iona Church overlooking Port Chalmers. Mason & Wales were the architects of the ornate stone building commenced in 1871, with additions in 1883.
Dunedin day 2, our day for the Catlins, heralds quite a drive for 1 day. Not so far in kilometres but slow running. On the way out of Dunedin in the direction of Balclutha I spot the makings of an excellent panorama, towards Caversham Hill, from a motorway pedestrian overbridge. It needs morning sun so we will return tomorrow. At Balclutha we take a left south towards Owaka with our first stop at Nugget Point to view the lighthouse and surrounding coast. This is truly spectacular with the lighthouse perched on a sharp ridged point overlooking the Pacific. Half a dozen tall pinnacles stand like sentinels just off the point. Overhead, many seabirds wheel about.
Slowly working our way further southwest our next stop is Curio Bay where a petrified forest has been revealed by erosion along the rock shelf foreshore. Wild and unusual in the extreme, the bay is able to be viewed via a sympathetically designed and constructed platform with stairs leading down. We are looking out to the Southern Ocean – The Roaring Forties come to mind as there is a bitter, strong on shore wind. With no land to interrupt their traverse, huge waves, driven by powerful gales, can rage through the Forties in the Southern Ocean. A very late lunch at the Old Schoolhouse Café at Niagra completes our Catlins visit. Historically interesting but the lunch is quite ordinary. The Catlins wildlife is significant and visitors can arrange to see native birds, sealions and penguins, however with Tammy, this is not possible. So for us, we certainly found the area of scenic value but not more so than some other wild coastal locations in the South and North Islands. Mr Google brings us easily back to Musselburgh Rise and our Gentleman’s Residence a few hours later.
Our last day in Dunedin turns out beautifully sunny and after a quick breakfast at home, we take the motorway briefly towards Balclutha, pulling off at Caversham where we had spotted the panorama possibility yesterday which works perfectly from the motorway pedestrian overbridge. The morning is spent exploring the CBD, then another splendid lunch at Ironic. The Otago Peninsula beckons for the afternoon. This is the southern side out to the albatross colony at the tip. It’s a very scenic drive, the road being right on the edge of the harbour with no barrier. Any sort of rough weather would see waves over the road. Out at the colony there are seabirds of all sorts, thousands of them, climbing and diving on the powerful wind gusts. We don’t go to the colony itself as we have Tammy with us, but enjoy a coffee in the visitor centre. On our return run we stop at each of several bays to shoot some colourfully muralled concrete bus shelters.
Rain is predicted overnight but luckily the morning dawns fine and negotiating the tricky access steps to load the California is not too much of a problem. Gravity helps! Our four night stay in Dunedin has given us a chance to relax, enjoy Dunedin's special ambience and shoot many images ready for our portfolio. Any change in the Dunedin pace of life from 31 years ago has been incremental so we can enjoy less traffic, easier parking and the general sense of an older era of preserved architectural grandeur.
Today we are looking forward very much to lunch at Fleur’s Place, the legendary restaurant near the Moeraki Boulders. Mr Google pronounces it Mo-ee-rarki, not Moraki as we had been saying. On the way north we visit Karitane, a wee coastal community set in a pretty bay. Fleur’s is on a small point of land tipped with an old broken down jetty. Some working trawlers are parked in the small horseshoe shaped bay. Fleur’s Place resembles an ancient retired Sea Captain's abode, adorned with old ropes, nets and fish pots. No fishy smell though and the blue cod and sole lunch which arrives from the kitchen is the best and freshest we have eaten anywhere. Another very good reason for a Dunedin return. Next stop Moeraki, where we access the beach from a car parking area, then a 10 minute walk over the sand takes us to the boulders. Water laps our feet in some places, so the sand is wet and along with a couple of shallow streams to negotiate, we are pleased to have brought appropriate footwear. The boulders are unusual, huge roundish rocks, lying on the shore line and in the shallows - if they had spines they would resemble World War II mines. Eroded out of the cliff face, one we notice split open seems to be full of small quartz crystals. Geologically known as concretions, the boulders are linked to Maori legend.
Our next 2 nights are at Geraldine and on the way we consider an inland detour via Alexandra and Ophir, but with the extra kilometres added it’s something to plan for another visit. We pass through Oamaru, a town definitely to return to, adding to the places worthy of photography right up this length of the East Coast. We drive through Timaru and Te Muka, continuing onto Geraldine as we will return to them tomorrow. Turning left at Winchester we shortly arrive at pretty Geraldine. A village atmosphere and the home of Barkers, famous for jams, chutneys and now salad dressings all made with local ingredients. Our little home for the next 2 nights is operated by Philippa who has been very helpful and responsive to any inquiry. The cottage in Waihi Terrace is set back a little from the road with metalled off street parking in front of the 3 bedroom house. A real blessing. It’s well set up with an enclosed lawn at the back which Tammy immediately thinks is great fun. We discover the only downsides are road noise and a weak shower. The passing trucks die away beyond 10pm but start again around 6am. We are not used to this constant rumbling so find sleep elusive. We do however, appreciate Wi-Fi and a washing machine. Our Geraldine day is well occupied with a relaxed saunter through the main street, including some Barker purchases and a great coffee at Verde.
We head south in the California about 11am to take a look at Te Muka and the shop dedicated to Te Muka pottery, a name synonymous with New Zealand made ceramics for many decades. We buy a couple of off-white jugs, just the right size for serving a little sauce or dressing. Reaching Timaru in nice time for lunch, we find an outside table at Monteith's Brewery & Bar, Bay Hill, overlooking Caroline Bay, where Tammy can sit at our feet. .Timaru has a generous collection of late 19 and early 20th century architecture and we spend a very rewarding 3 hours or so walking through the streets. Timaru is so rich in 19th Century architecture it is hard to single out a shining example but I think I can. The Timaru Hydro Hotel occupies the apex of Bay Hill and looks out from one side over Caroline Bay. I certainly noticed the security fencing around the building during our visit and without further investigation assumed the building was to undergo much needed renovation. But, no and I was horrified to see in the Sunday Star Times 15.11.17 pictures of this iconic building being destroyed for 'development'. I hope somebody can tell me the Hydro had suffered irrevocable damage from a natural event and there was no option, but I suspect greed is the motivator. I hope not. This historic building is gone and I am so grateful I was there just a week or two prior and captured some great frames. You can see them here.
The rumbling trucks seem to disturb our sleep again on our last Geraldine night but we don’t feel too washed out in the morning, so must have slept for a few hours. After loading the California we head out to find breakfast. The Blue Duck nearby, had looked promising but was closed today so we end up at Verde again. A very good choice.
Retracing our steps to some extent as we head homewards, gives us one return night at Kahui Cottage, Rotherham, before tackling the Lewis Pass again for Picton. This time, on the northward run we take the Inland Scenic Road – Mt Somers, Windwhistle, Darfield and Oxford, bypassing the slow trek through the Christchurch outskirts. This route is very scenically rewarding and not blighted by too much heavy traffic with a huge plus being the diversion we make to see Lake Coleridge, a stunning bright turquoise blue lake, snow tipped mountains soaring on all sides. The Coleridge Power Station is worth a visit too, because of its heritage concrete generating house, fed by large pipes taking water from the lake. There is also a delightful small park and picnic spot nearby which is very well maintained. Access to the Power Station and Lake area is all on slow gravel roads so we are now well behind schedule, prompting us to phone Ian letting him know of our much later arrival.
We feel revived after a very good outdoor lunch at Methven and continue non-stop to Rotherham, rejoining SH1 at Rangiora/Woodend, turning left towards Hanmer on 7, through Culverden, finally turning right, then a few kilometres past Rotherham we are there. Driving up Ian’s tree lined driveway, we park directly outside Kahui Cottage, suddenly feeling quite tired, but fondly remembering the cottage’s excellent bed. Ian has not only turned the heating on, but the electric blankets too – bliss. There’s also a fresh loaf of bread, dish of fruit and range of breakfast provisions. After a light dinner we head for bed, as does Tammy, snuggling down into her own bed and not a peep till the morning.
A dull, but fine morning makes loading the California easy. Ian and his visiting shearer are at work in the sheds behind the cottage, trimming up Ian’s small Coopworth flock. It’s time to take our leave, thanking and saying goodbye to Ian, until next time. With a longish drive via The Lewis Pass to Picton ahead of us, about 6 hours all up, we need to hit the road. Our ferry crossing booking is for tomorrow so this takes some stress out of the drive and it is less arduous than a couple of weeks ago coming south with fewer northbound heavy B-Doubles. Lunch in Murchison and arriving in Picton late afternoon, we take Tammy for a waterfront walk, passing The Oxley Hotel which has its original frontage, with apartments built behind. We return there for dinner and find it very busy with lots of good menu choices.
We are booked on the 10:30am Aratere, leaving us good time to breakfast quietly at Le Café. After a quick walk for Tammy it’s down to the check in office to await loading. The overhead signage tells us there is a 2 to 3 metre swell running out in the Strait which could mean an uncomfortable crossing. Time arrives to drive up the loading ramp and around into our spot on the car deck which is quite well placed this time being nearer the bow and away from the noisey exhaust fans at the stern end of the car deck. Tammy is set up with her treats, water and Bark (Bach) and we head up to deck 4 where we find a seat inside near the window, as it’s very calm through the Sounds with the weather dull and closed in. We have brought some sandwiches and enjoy these with a coffee from the shop. They make a very good barista coffee on board which gives Kiwi-Rail a big tick in our book. Once out into the open water of Cook Strait, we can feel the Aratere punching into the swell. Linda starts to feel queasy being inside, but we know exactly where to find some reasonably sheltered deck space facing directly aft. We can definitely feel the ship shuddering as she heads into the rising sea, hoping this is as bad as it gets today. Coming through the Wellington Harbour Heads the red Pilot Boat suddenly appears directly aft, weaving from side to side. I have not noticed this on any previous crossing and a crew member who joins us to watch, confirms it is unusual. Some abnormal, unexpected ship movements were noted earlier whilst crossing the Strait and it is this sort of thing for which the Pilot is sometimes called as a precaution, to observe that the vessel is proceeding normally. The Aratere had dropped a propeller the year before, so we are relieved when we reverse into the Wellington dock and drive off onto dry land.
Back on North Island home territory, we are sad to leave this South Island adventure behind. Our overwhelming feelings right now are that we are so lucky to live in New Zealand, a calm and truly beautiful country.
North on SH1 we look for a safe stop for a Tammy walk, and a few kilometres out of Wellington we eventually are successful. Straight on now to Country Lodge Kinloch for our last 2 nights. Our final morning arrives and we are on the road home, soon back to familiar grid locked Auckland. As we edge closer to home, the weather is grey, a typical Auckland spring day, compared to our travels being mainly in perfect weather. With this in mind, plus many great memories and a list of places we didn’t see, or wish to visit again, we will soon start planning our next South Island visit.