Southland

Southland took us away from the mountains but still provided plenty of interest. We did our usual disappearing down caves and tunnels by visiting Clifden Caves. Unfortunately this one beat us. Ray didn’t like the squeeze and stopped. I went on but not all the way as we met people coming out who said it was too deep. We tried from the other end and climbed down a ladder where I could hear a waterfall but it got too tricky. Our trip through Tunnel Hill on an old railway line was much more sedate and successful.

The coast was very varied as we visited a picturesque harbour with baches ( New Zealand’s version of holiday houses), the graveyard for the obsolete boats from The Bluff oyster fleet, a petrified forest, a blowhole that was 200 metres inland and didn’t blow but the sea surged in impressively, a lighthouse on a rugged rocky point and lots of panoramic views.

The Catlins is famed for its wildlife and the chance to encounter seals, sea-lions, penguins and dolphins up close. It didn’t disappoint as we stumbled on sea-lions on the beaches, saw seals frolicking in the water, spied yellow eyed penguins returning from the sea (though our close encounter with penguins had to wait until Moeraki) but missed out on Hector’s dolphins.

Waterfalls are the other famous feature of the Catlins and I wasn’t disappointed. We saw the well publicised and magnificent McLeans, New Zealands answer to Liffey Falls – Purakaunui, and lots of other less well publicised gems that sometimes took a bit of finding but were worth the effort.

As the bottom end of the island dips into the Roaring Forties the plant life has to adapt to the gales that regularly blow. We saw some very windswept trees down south.

Tunnel Beach near Dunedin has an interesting history. Apparently a fond father dug the tunnel down to the beach to give his daughter her own private place. Now it gives tourists a thrill and great scenery.

We then headed up to Dunedin where we toured  the town in the rain. The railway station was the standout with its grand architecture. We also visited the Otago Peninsula for more coastal walks.

I’ve always thought Moeraki Boulders looked fascinating and now I’ve finally seen them. We visited them in the drizzle and then I returned for a less than spectacular sunrise.

It was then back inland again as we made our way back to mountain country with a stop off at historic St Bathans, a ghost town now with a lake formed by the goldmining and surrounded by mountains with fresh snow. It even dropped more on us while walking around Blue Lake in the form of hail that turned the ground white.

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