01/25/11 - Dunedin to Catlins Coast
We drove south from Dunedin on a wet, gray morning with the intention of idling along the coast. First stop was Nugget Point. It wasn't exactly pleasant outside, but we’d driven all the way there on an unpaved road, so we pushed ourselves to go out in the rain and see what all the fuss was about. What followed was a nice little walk along seaside cliffs to a lighthouse high up on a hill. As the wind whipped against our hoods, we gazed into a ravine below to spy upon some fur seals playing in rocky pools, like children in a bathtub. Very adorable. They were obviously enjoying the weather far more than we were.
When we reached the lighthouse we could see those notorious nuggets below; jagged vertical sentinels standing proudly against the force of the sea. Yes, the sun was masked by cloud and the rain was wet and chilly, but the view was gorgeous. Worth the effort, without a doubt. Birds and seals alike gloried in the remoteness of the locale; their safe oasis at land’s end.
After determining that the rain wasn’t going to let up, we decided to make a lazy day of it and checked into a hostel instead of camping outdoors. We chose Surat Bay Lodge because it was on the ocean. I imagined it would be a nice place to sit, drink a hot cup of tea, and get some writing done.
Katie waited in the car as I rang the bell at the office. No response. I tried again. Nothing. I didn’t want to be a pest, but I finally gave them a third ring. Not a peep. Was anyone around? We’d almost decided to move along when a young man came out barefoot and spattered with paint. He was busy repainting the kitchen, he said, and he thought his partner was going to answer the door. His name was Jerome and he was from Belgium. His partner/girlfriend was from Ireland. Eventually we found out that the others staying there were from England and Spain, and then there were some Chinese emigrants who lived on the north island – yes, actual Kiwis! Well…kind of.
The rain had stopped by the time we finished lunch, so I coerced Katie into walking along the beach with me. The area was known for New Zealand sea lions. The males have flat noses unlike normal sea lions, which have dog-like faces. Sure enough, we saw one of these guys pretty quickly. A BIG one. We came across him sleeping alongside two females. Being me, I wanted to get closer (Don’t worry, I didn’t get too close). It felt safe enough until the male sat up and started barking at one of the females. All of a sudden I realized how ridiculously HUGE he was. It’s one thing when these creatures are sleeping soundly on a beach, but quite another when they’re barking and snarling at each other. Katie and I both looked at each other with eyes as big as saucers and slowly backed away.
Down the beach we found gigantic bundles of seaweed, more sea lions, and black scavenger birds with red eyes. They looked like wicked little things as they pecked at anything they could get their beak on. They weren’t too cooperative about my getting a picture, but I was persistent and nabbed one. Take that, you little buggers!
There was a gorgeous arm of land reaching out to sea at the end of the beach. It was calling to me. I expressed a desire to conquer it and Katie concurred. So, off the beaten path we went. We pulled ourselves up a sandy hill and through tall grass, finally ending on solid ground. The grass was thick and bushy, and some of it was already flattened, possibly by other people who'd had similar ideas of blazing their own trail. We followed in their footsteps and used what little pathway we could. Each step felt like we were treading on plush carpet five feet deep. It was slow going, steep, and just as we started huffing and puffing the sun decided to pop out. It was lovely, but suddenly far too hot. Since no one was around, we just pulled off our shirts and trudged up the slope in our sports bras. The cool air blowing in from the sea felt wonderful.
At the first spot where the ground leveled off I sent Katie ahead so I could get some pictures of her at the end of the bluff. Her presence sent the seabirds into an absolute tizzy. Its not often they get guests out there, I'm sure. They fluttered around, screeching through the air, while Katie sat and relaxed, waves tossing in behind her. Then I joined her and we both marveled at the stunning vista. It was rather majestic. There was even a weathered rock archway to the left of our view. It was something special, knowing that here was a place people rarely sat, and there was a view people rarely saw. That breadth of land and sea was ours alone.
In the end, our lazy day turned out to be anything but. That short walk stretched into several hours of trekking and climbing and animal watching. I guess we’ll have to wait another day to take it easy.