01/26/11 - Catlins Coast to Manapouri
In the morning we ate breakfast with a British couple also staying at Surat Bay Lodge: Joy and Dave. They were retired and traveling around the country for a spell. Decades ago they’d received a gift – a set of placemats adorned with pictures of New Zealand. Year after year they’d enjoyed these beautiful images, always longing to see them in person, and now they were finally making it happen. How awesome is that? They were a very nice couple and we wished them safe travels as they departed.
Still intent on seeing the Catlins, we set our sites on Purakaunui Falls. In order to reach them we had to travel 5k on an unpaved road, but we felt it was worth it, and besides, good ole Scotty could handle it! I spent most of that drive with gritted teeth, squeezing the armrest, hoping a pothole didn’t put us in dire straits. We survived unscathed.
The weather was cloudy but dry as we walked the short path to the falls. The forest hung, moss ridden and lovely, all around us. The falls turned out to be small and picturesque. Apparently it’s the most photographed waterfall in all of New Zealand. It was here that Katie experimented with our camera trying to achieve a blurred water effect. Since she’s so technically savvy she got it dialed in right away, and the technique resulted in some rather cool photos. We were excited to give it a try at our next stop, McLean Falls, but just as we embarked on the forty minute walk to reach them the rain started falling…and we didn’t have our raincoats with us. Not very Girl Scout of us, I know.
Most of the path was under tree cover so we thought we could handle it, and besides, it was just a drizzle. Then the rain got heavier, and a huge group of school kids came tramping through. I was getting colder and wetter and now there was a roadblock of children milling about in front of us. We took careful steps through the mud and kept taking photos, despite the rain, and we got some very nice shots of the falls…just before our camera fell in the mud. I quickly retrieved it. Now it was wet and dinged up, which made me anxious, to say the least. I dried it, protecting it from the rain as best I could as we headed back.
Katie enjoyed our little adventure out in the wet weather, but I was in a foul mood by the time we made it back to the car. The camera was damp, I was soaked, and our last day to enjoy the Catlins was turning into a monsoon. We sat in the car for half an hour drying off and eating snacks. The camera worked fine after it aired out, and my grumpy frown turned upside down by the end of those thirty minutes. So it was raining – what are ya gonna do? I couldn’t change the weather. Onward and upward, right?
We drove on to our next stop, Porpoise Bay, where Katie had high hopes of finally seeing dolphins. We’d been aiming to see Hector’s dolphins at some point on our trip, and this area was known for their presence. We wended our way through a very cool campground with tall bush growing in a labyrinthine pattern. Finally, we reached the crescent shaped Porpoise Bay. Rain was pounding on the sand and no one was around. I could imagine it being an amazing beach on a bright sunny day, but today the shore was abandoned, left to the elements alone. We sat and waited, hoping some dolphins would pop up despite the gloomy conditions, but apparently they also weren't fans of the weather. Not a fin in sight. We moved on, hoping our Hector’s dolphins would be spotted later on in our travels.
Onward we went to Manapouri, our destination for the night. In order to get there we had to drive through Invercargill first. The guidebook hadn’t given this city any rave reviews, and labeled it as a stopping point on one’s way to more exciting locations. I can’t say we disagreed. Admittedly, the dreary weather wasn’t casting Invercargill in the most flattering light. It seemed a bit run down and didn’t have anything of interest to showcase. We looked through our guidebook and read about a hip little eatery called the Zoo Keeper’s Café. Just the kind of place we were looking for. Primary colors bounced off the walls with animal prints teasing the edges. Of all the choices on the menu we settled on a venison burger. Since we were in New Zealand it seemed appropriate to choose a twist on an American classic. Plus, I’d never had venison before! We ended up devouring it (we were pretty hungry) and both really enjoyed it. Now, I should mention that they mixed garlic and onions in with the venison, and there was sauce all over it, so I didn’t really feel like I understood what venison tasted like yet. In that state it had the flavor of meatloaf. But either way, I liked it and planned on having more.
We buzzed our way across the countryside and drove right up to our hostel in Manapouri, Freestone Backpackers. Here we planned on staying four nights total, broken up over a week and a half. We were very happy with our choice. We had our own private cabin on a hillside with a spectacular view of lake Manapouri as well as gas burners, a sink, dishes, a breakfast nook, and a wood burning stove! As luck would have it, the rain stopped on arrival, so we got to lug our bags up the hill under dry skies... And then the rain started again. But it was no matter, we had food, shelter, water, and a hot stove warming our feet.
An hour later the clouds cleared. We sat back, basking in the amazing view; a deep blue lake framed by mountains and trees and rippling clouds overhead. Tomorrow we were scheduled to cross that lake, buss over the pass, and embark on our Doubtful Sound overnight cruise. The scenery was definitely whetting our appetites.