The New Zealand Diaries: of the importance of time in the Catlins’treasure chest (17 ad 18/01/16)


It was only yesterday that I reached Bluff after a choppy ferry crossing from Stewart Island and yet my scenic tour of the Catlins, the far South Eastern corner of the South Island, is already nearing its end.

Incredible how much one part of NZ varies from another. Whereas on the West Coast,  so much of the landscape is just truly majestic and striking the moment you come round a bend in the road or reach your destination on foot along a walking track, the Catlins are marked by a more subtle, gentle, patient beauty: the kind of beauty which does not jump right out at you but grows on you as you take time to listen, observe, wait to spot something special. Not of the grandeur of a Milford Sound or the lakes I have seen in the past few days, it is perhaps not the kind of spot that would attract bus loads full of tourists for quick stop-overs…..mainly because it does not provide the instant “wow” factor for a 2 minute photograph….yet it is equally as glorious.

Take Waipapa Point, for example. The day was just ending and so the white wooden lighthouse was set against a backdrop of a dark blue sky with golden grass on gently rolling hills gently blowing to and fro. Nearby, trees whose crowns had been blown sharply sideways by the strong sea winds reminded me of the harsh climate that coastal plants and trees have to be able to withstands despite this picture of gentleness and peacd.

Slope Point, which I reached after a gentle dusk drive past gazillion and one peacefully grazing sheep, was not spectular in itself-a simple yellow sign board at the end of a field was all there was to remind me that I had reached the Southernmost tip of the South Island (which is not, as many believe, in Bluff at the most photographed road sign ever!). But that in itself was special……in the Catlins, things “just are”. No big pomp is made about them, a simple road sign is all that there is to alert you to some of the sights….whether you take the time to discover the beauty is left up to you.

I am glad I took the time… else could I have savoured the sight of golden hills with peacefully grazing sheep, the quirkiness of NZ’s tiniest waterfall, named-tongue in cheek- “the Niagara Falls”, or have enjoyed my walks through the rainforest on my way to McLean Waterfalls, admiring odd tree formations (one looked like a swinging man) or pretty birds or flowers on the way? The petrified forest at Curio Bay equally took time to appreciate-the more obvious petrified tree trunks aside, you had to look closely, take time to stroll to discover the imprint of wood fibre and other evidence that the sea now inhabits space what was, billions of years ago, a large rainforest area.

And then there were, of course, my friends the Hector Dolphins at Porpoise Bay. These local, black and white dolphins are among the rarest, smallest dolphins in the world.  I cannot begin to describe how happy I was when,  eyes squinched and scanning the waters, I spotted groups of 2-3 of these beautiful creatures playing in the waves, diving up and down,  once even jumping out and spinning in the air, other times just surfing the waves side by side, about 10m away from the beach,within easy eye-sight. I saw so much more of them than the photo shows, but just got tired of looking through the camera-the memory of these elegant floating, dancing, playful creatures will have to remain in the treasure chest of my mind without a photo.

Tonight, I am booked into a cute little campsite here at Kaka Point, to ensure I can charge the car up with power again and have a nice warm shower. Last night I stayed on a free government -run campsite at Weirs Beach just after Slope Point, which was lovely and peaceful. I am about to head off to Nugget Point in the hope of spotting some yellow-eyed penguins before turning in for the night, feeling peaceful and relaxed amidst all this gentle, peaceful, unpretentious beauty.