Since we’ve spent two weeks living in the middle of the southern island (queenstown and wanaka), we decided to head south to explore what the southern most point of the south island has to offer. We drove south from Wanaka taking Highway 6 to Invercargill. It made us drive back through some of the beautiful countryside we’ve already seen. The mountains had been dusted with snow -making us feel a bit like we were back in Colorado. We stayed the night in Invercargill. No offense to Invercargill – it was the first place neither one of us really liked. Driving down the main street on a Friday night, the streets were empty and deserted. Granted, it was a holiday in New Zealand, but businesses were closed down or empty and there were no people out walking. The architecture felt like a mix between a strip mall and an old mountain town. These factors combined (plus the promos for new episodes of the Walking Dead) made us feel like we had just driven in to a zombie apolocalpyse. We have now nicknamed the town Inver-scare-gill. The plus side – we used the time to watch the Wellington Sevens Tournament and cheered as the All Blacks won the tournament in our old town (we lived there a month, we can count it).
We did venture back to the downtown area the next day and while it was still pretty empty, the shops were open and people were friendly.
Leaving Invercargill, we drove the Invercargill Highway to the Catlins Coastal Road on our way to KaKa Point. We had read the Catlins were a beautiful park near the southern tip of the island, although many New Zealanders don’t venture down to this out of the way area. Not a lot of people, ocean, and a sign saying how close we are to Antarctica? We’re in!
As a heads up – the coastal road will take a long time to drive. Google Maps drive time does not take in to consideration the road is often winding and gravel. There are lots of places to turn off to do short hikes or take in a scenic view. Since we were using the drive as a way of getting to Dunedin, we used KaKa Point as our final destination for the day. KaKa Point is an extremely small town along the shore where you can see penguins coming in from the ocean at dusk or walk to a lighthouse high on a cliff.
We stopped only a few times on the drive. The first was a busy spot where we walked with a bus load of tourists to a lighthouse on the shore. Along the beach, four sea lions basked in the sun. They chased away the tourists if we got too close. *Note: Sea Lions are large and by looking at them you would think they do not move quickly. WRONG. They move very fast and have a mouth full of large teeth that they show while roaring at you like a bear so do take care not to get too close. Or at least be ready to bolt if they case after you. For a show, you can hang back just a bit and point and laugh at those having to run away. Endless entertainment.
These two sea lions were the first we stumbled upon. At first they only lay on their bellies, but as a crowd gathered, they quickly chased everyone away.
These two had a “moment” on the beach.
The southern island had gotten a cold front, so Will and I finally got to wear some of the warmer clothes we brought (yes! it wasn’t useless!). By the afternoon, the sun peeked out, warming our cheeks and making the landscape around us look like something out a of pastel painting.
After the seal lion entertainment, we ventured on to our next stop – the most southern point of the southern island. Follow the signs from the already gravel road to an even more desolate road (don’t worry, you’re going the right way), where you park in front of someone’s sheep farm. The path is actually close from August thru November due to lambing season. The cars face a field with the ocean in the distance, while behind you sheep graze among windswept trees.
A short hike down to the water provided us the opportunity with the sign – as well as getting soaked by crashing waves and almost being blown away. It was a blustery day.
The walk back to the car from the southern most point.
A bit cold, we drove down the road until we reached another beach area. There, a ranger pointed out a Fiordland Crested Penguin, not normally native to the area that had walked out on the beach just below us.
The sun once again came out, making the ocean incredible shades of blue – providing us with a view of picturesque landscape.
Then it was on to Kaka point.
ok. Here’s the deal with watching penguins come in from the water at dusk. No one knows when the yellow eyed penguins will come in. You park the car and walk down a path to a hideaway (a giant shed with cut out windows) where everyone waits to see them come in. We apparently just missed them coming in (eating was much more important because two hangry – hungry/angry roadtrippers does not a fun time make). Even though the penguins were gone, people still lined all the windows diligently staring out at the water hoping to catch a straggler. Everyone “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” so you think something is happening. At one point someone explained the sea lion on shore scared them away, but people don’t move away from the windows and it’s really hard to see. If you ever do this, go early, prepare to wait – bring really good binoculars and work on claiming a space. Or….walk away from the hideaway and see what you can spot from the trail. (we finally spotted one swim in from the water, but we were pretty far away).
Instead of Where’s Waldo – it’s Find the Penguin! In this picture it’s really hard to spot and ridiculously blurry, but it’s there.
A little further up the road is another hike to a lighthouse. Another lighthouse? Yes! It surprised us. We were disgruntled from the penguin viewing or lack there of (shouldn’t there be hundreds?!?! perhaps we should get our facts straight) and a short hike up to a lighthouse sounded like the best medicine.
The hike winds around a cliff, going through a tunnel of trees, past sea lions roaring below you to a lighthouse high on a cliff. The sun was setting behind us enhancing the greens of the moss covered rocks behind it while casting a twilight like glow on the hill behind us.
We spent hours driving through and exploring the Catlins and didn’t even scratch the surface. We missed out on Cathedral Cave, waterfalls, and a ton of hikes – but it didn’t matter. Every place we stopped had its own beauty and entertainment. If you’re venturing south – it’s a must see, just make sure you pack some warm clothes.