Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dunedin Part 2 - Southern Scenic Roadtrip

[Kyle]On the advice of Rich and Cyndi (our neighbours aboard Legacy), and plenty of others, we set off in the rental car on the Southern Scenic Route.

First came Tunnel Beach; really cool rock formations reached by a ridiculously steep path, with a second hidden beach only accessible via a tunnel through the rocks.

Then we crossed the Taieri River and stopped at a few scenic spots before reaching Molyneux Bay and Kaka Point.

Stopping off to see ancient fossils (not so impressive)

And the old Gold Rush 'Sod House'

Molyneux beach was very relaxed and soothing.

Next on the itinerary was Nugget Point. We saw lots of Fur Seals, including several adorable little pups who were learning to swim in tidal kiddie pools. Another more upsetting scene was of an adult eating a pup it had just killed.

Nugget Point - lighthouse, dramatic rocks and fur seals

We hiked several trails to several waterfalls until it got too late in the day to do so. Then we pulled into our accommodation at Chaslands Farm Cottages. The cottages were built to accommodate farm workers in season. They were dated and no-frills, but clean and private, which was all we needed. It felt like a strange time warp watching Maryanne cook and then sitting town to eat in a big 1960s kitchen.

Parakaunui Falls

Florence Hill Lookout and a handful of the many 1000's of NZ Sheep we spotted during the roadtrip

We started our next morning with a trip to Niagara Falls. These were deliberately given the ironic name by a surveyor who had been to the big ones. I wouldn’t mind going over theses in a barrel, or even better, an inner tube.

The other Niagara falls
A tongue-in-cheek name that made it all the way to the tourist guides

We then headed to Curio Bay, home to a colony of Yellow Eye penguins and also one of the world’s largest and best preserved petrified forests. The penguins eluded us because they were already out fishing by the time we left our cottage. The trees were a bit slower, though, so we had no trouble catching up with them.

Curio Bay and the scattering of fossilized logs

Afterward, we headed to Slope Point because it was nearby and therefore we couldn’t just drive past it. The Big Deal about Slope point is that it is the southernmost point on the South Island. It is reached by a windy path through a field owned by a farm called Antarctic View Farms. When I say windy, I mean blowy, not sinuous. There’s not much there except the canister of the automated lighthouse and various signs implying there was nothing out there past the sea until hitting Antarctic ice. It was just hazy enough that you couldn’t see Stewart Island, so the illusion was effective.

A windy slog to visit Slope Point... just because

We then drove to nearby Waipapa Point, which had a big, pretty, traditional lighthouse and a big beach where Sea lions haul out for a rest. We spent an hour or so there, watching them trying to find a comfortable spot in on the beach to nap. One poor female just seemed like she could not get comfortable, much to the chagrin of her mate, who was happily dozing on a lumpy pile of rocks.

Waipapa Lighthouse and sea lions

After Waipapa, we drove to Bluff, the South Island’s southernmost settlement. Most of the information we had said there wasn’t much to see there. The town only existed because it was a big port and because the ferries to Stewart Island left from there.

It actually had a little more charm than that. We got some really good fish & chips and took them up to a lookout for lunch with a view. We walked off our lunch with a hike on the nearby coastal path which included the Big Chain. Some artist had made two big chain sculptures, one in Bluff, one on Stewart Island. They are supposed to connect the two islands, at least in spirit. I think it was based on a story about how Stewart Island is the anchor, chained to the demi-god Maui’s boat, the South Island. There’s a lot of Maui folklore around here.

Bluff by mid-afternoon

Bluff also has a small, but excellent Maritime Museum, to which we arrived thirty minutes before closing. It was full of a half a day’s worth of stuff to see. They had a big, open ship’s engine with eight-foot long pistons. For a 50¢ coin, you could walk around it and watch it run for two minutes.

In the yard out back, they had a retired oyster boat that you could crawl all over. It wasn’t cleaned up or anything, just put there pretty much as-is. It definitely took whatever lingering romance there may have been about making a life at sea in such a way. Accommodations below were miserable looking. The bunks were basically hard boxes in the middle of all of the machinery space. The galley and the engine room looked like they were designed by someone who was trying to burn the boat down to collect the insurance. The engines were covered by and surrounded by pools of oil and fuel and the battery bank was sitting next to them on a shelf next to a bunch of open wiring. They weren’t strapped down or anything, just ready to slide into a puddle of diesel. Begonia looks like a regular German nuclear power plant by comparison. I don’t like loose stuff to chafe and Maryanne insists on everything being clearly labeled.

Also amusing were the displays of New Zealand naval uniforms. They seemed to be short on appropriately military-looking mannequins, so they used female department store fashion mannequins with too much makeup and striking poses like they were trying to show off wrists full of gold bangles.

When the museum closed in Bluff, we drove to the nearby “real” town of Invercargill. We came to see the water tower, but got waylaid by the Botanic Gardens.

At Invercargill Kyle was waylaid again by the Aviary in the Botanic Garden
And we had to follow the signs to the stumpery

The water tower is exceptionally nice. Rather than having open truss work beneath, it had a lovely, ornate, 19th century brick building, like a cross between a big power plant and an ivy-league university library.

We couldn’t park at the water tower, so we parked at the botanic gardens next door. We decided that since we were there, we would have a look around. The Botanic Gardens were far too vast to take in in the time we had, but we got to see a couple of good things. The first and best was that they had an even better aviary than the one in Dunedin. We got to see loads of friendly parrots including one Kea that really liked to ham it up. I also befriended a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo who really needed an understanding friend to help him with all of his new head feathers.

New feathers grow out in a wax sheath that looks like porcupine quills. They are pokey and uncomfortable until the wax is broken and the soft feather inside is freed. Most birds rely on a mate to reach the ones they can’t, but this poor guy was in the cage alone. Once he realized I wasn’t going to hurt him, he let me sort out as many feathers as I could reach through the small grid work. Afterward, he scratched all of the wax out of his yellow crest and then proclaimed himself a “Pretty Bird”. It was all I could do to pull myself away, but we had a long way to go to get to our farm house, so we had to go.

Before we did that, though, we had to go see what all of the signs for the “Stumpery” were all about. I thought it was some arcane term for a grove of trees, but it was actually a big pile of stumps. They were arranged artistically into various shapes. The thought is that they will decay and become a base medium for lots of ivy, moss, ferns and the like to colonize. In its current state, the Stumpery looked like the perfect setting for the spooky forest in a kid’s book

Our main focus the next day was to see Cathedral Caves, which Rich and Cyndi had told us was not to be missed. The problem was that the caves are only accessible at low tide, which was at midday, so we had to kill some time.

To do so, we hiked to almost every waterfall in the region and then took in the Tautoku boardwalk, which goes over a marsh to where you can see some rare marsh birds. We met a nice Yorkshire couple there who had spotted a some of the aforementioned birds. They lent us their binoculars for a look. I was unfortunately distracted by my first real sandfly experience since Fiordland and I was keen to get the hell out of there.

Koropuku Falls and McLean Falls

Tautuku Estuary (boardwalk trail)

That was fine. Cathedral Caves had just opened. The caves are on public land, but the only place to park and the trail down is in Mauri land, so we had to pay a small fee to park and use the trail down to the beach. The woman who directed us to our parking space seemed soooo done with the busy season of tourists in their rented RVs. My hilarious comments about such yielded only a blank stare of bitter resignation. Fortunately for her, she had her spiel down pat, so she only seemed fed up when we could get her off script.

We were given a detailed map to the two caves, complete with the specifics of the spelunker’s survey and a short history. We hiked the long trail down to the beach and followed the line of people to the big attraction.

We spent a couple of hours exploring Cathedral Caves, and the caves beyond

The two caves have enormous entrances which narrow as they get deeper. (The force of the eroding waves gets diminished with distance.) At the very back, the two caves connect, which makes for a nice loop trail. Since Cathedral Caves is such a popular attraction, it was filled with people taking selfies. There were groups of them. Does no one know how to point the camera away from them anymore?

Anyway, the little brochure implied there were just the two caves. Since the tide was down, it was possible to walk on the sand around several headlands to LOTS more of the same type of deep caves, each with fewer and fewer selfie-takers.

In the first one, we found an adorable Little (Blue) Penguin who was clearly wishing the tide would come back in so that all of the people would go away.

In the next, we found three juveniles hiding away in their nests. They won’t be able to swim and hunt until they molt their fluffy down and grow the smooth, waterproof feathers of the adults.

In all, we found half a dozen more caves in addition to the original two. It was a struggle to get back to our car before the lot closed, when a $40 fee is imposed for people who want to be let out after hours. I get a feeling that’s where the real money is made.

Lake Wilkie Trail - looking for Whisteling Frogs

We stopped for a late lunch at the Whistling Frog Café, where we had a real pizza from a wood-fired oven. Pizza has become such a rare thing in our remote travels that we hardly ever pass one by.

When we were done, we headed to Papatowai to see the “Gypsy Mechanic”. This guy has managed to make a living for himself by spending all day making quirky contraptions out of whatever he can find. Allen from Dunedin had a wind-up toy that he got there of a swimmer narrowly escaping the jaws of a shark that was just brilliant and convinced us we just had to go. The “shop” is a repurposed school bus chock a block full of Rube Goldberg-style wonders.

The Lost Gypsy Gallery, at Papatowai

When he closed on us, we realized it was time to return to the real world. Before we did, though, we took a trip to Baldwin Street in Dunedin, which is reputedly the steepest public street in the world. Apparently, there are a few other places disputing this claim based on heavily nuanced arguments about how the actual grade is measured and whether it’s from each end of the road or only for the steep bit, etc.

A silly side trip to the 'steepest street in the world'
The slope (apparently) is about 1:2.86 (19° or 35%).

Whatever. Baldwin is a steep damn street. I’ve even lived in San Francisco, and I don’t remember anything that steep. Steep streets are tough to portray photographically because if you point the camera down at the street from the top, it just looks like a mild hill. If you keep the camera level, the street is way at the bottom and it just looks like you don’t know how to frame a shot. You’re just going to have to trust us. Baldwin is a crazy steep street. So much so that I actually became worried about the poor people who live there because I wasn’t so sure it would be safe to park an ambulance or a fire truck in front of most of the houses. We drove it, but then we parked at the bottom and took the steps to the top. Well, I think that was enough for one day!

When we awoke the next morning, Maryanne made it clear to me that she wanted us to dispense with our “jobs” with no undue delay so that we would be able to get in some “fun” before we returned the car.

So, I did all of my usual weather stuff, put the dinghy in lifeboat mode and got Begonia ready for a couple of rough days at sea. Maryanne went to the store(s) and spent hours buying a whole carload of provisions as it would be months before a grocery was so close at hand. When she got home, we quickly loaded and stowed everything and then it was off to return the car before our deadline.

It would have seemed like “fun” slipped off of the list, but we managed to stop at the Otago Museum on the walk home. The main attraction there is the live butterfly exhibit, housed in a giant, three-story atrium. You’ve got to love New Zealand. The Butterfly Police here are called Docents. They were very informative about which species were interesting or rare and actually taught us how to gently pick the little guys up with our fingers.

Ahh, the Butterflies at Otago Museum special exhibit - a three story room where they were fluttering everywhere - magical

I’m so exhausted now, I’m actually looking forward to a couple of days at sea.

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