Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Matai Falls

Purakaunui Falls

Spoonbills; estuary near Jack's Beach

Jack's Bay

Jack's Blowhole

Nugget Point

Spot the Yellow Eyed Penguin

Preening time

Time for bed

Taieri River Mouth

Looking back down our path

Our picnic spot at John Bull Gully

A view from the welcome seat

Evening walk on Brighton Beach

River mouth at Brighton

Sylvia's Comments

With the New Year festivities over it was time to hit the road again, so saying farewell to our neighbours, and having been given instructions as to where to park at Woodstock Festival, we left the campsite. We drove the short distance to the parking bay at the start of a ten minute walk to the Matal and Horseshoe Falls. Once again our walk was through bush and at the end we saw two spectacular water falls with plenty of water flowing over them. Further along the road and after another bush walk, we reached the Purakaunui Falls. These waterfalls are probably the most photographed of all the falls in the Catlins and whilst I did not think they were the best, it is probably because they are wider than most falls and the water flows down 65 feet over three distinct cascades. With all the water pouring over today they did make a pretty sight.

To reach these falls we had turned off the Southern Scenic Highway onto a gravel road, we continued along this and eventually arrived at Lake Catlin, which is really the mouth of the Catlin River. We followed the road around part of the lake taking us back to the main road and into Owaka. This is the Catlins main town with a population of 395. As we walked along the main street we were surprised to meet up with Robert and Roz (our camping neighbours at Papatowai) having lunch outside a cafe. With a recommendation as to how good the fish and chips were we went in and purchased some.

After lunch we set off to find Jack's Blowhole, which was up another gravel road and took us around the other side of Lake Catlin. Here we saw many different species of wading birds in the mud flats, whilst it was great to see them it also meant the tide was going out so the blowhole would not be as spectacular. We reached the beach area where we parked the van, and then took the walk to the blow hole crossing paddocks with sheep grazing in them. It was an up and down path which gave us some great views into the next cove down the coast.

The blowhole is named after Chief Tuhawaiki who was nicknamed 'Bloody Jack' for his frequent use of that phrase. The blowhole is 180 feet deep, 471 feet long, 232 feet wide and 654 feet inland from the sea and is connected by a subterranean cavern. It was an impressive sight and we were able to see the small blow as the water bashed into the side. Today the sea was calm and the tide was going out, it must be a really impressive sight when it is really in full flow. On our return journey we met some more walkers heading up to the blowhole and it felt good to be able to say "not much further" and see them perk up. Once back at the van we had to retrace our tyre tracks to the main road, and a little further on we were turned off onto yet another gravel road and headed back down towards the coast. Our destination was Nugget Point where we had read in our guide book that Yellow Eyed Penguins nested here. But first we needed somewhere to stay for the night so on reaching the t-junction we headed in the other direction to Kaka Point where we booked into the camp and immediately left to drive to Nugget Point.

The road between the two points is along the coast passing some lovely sandy beaches and rocky coves, at the end it climbs steeply up to the point and the lighthouse at the end. From the car park it is a fifteen minute walk to the light house but it took us much longer as we kept stopping to watch the many NZ Fur Seals lying about on the rocks below us or just frolicking in the water. This is the only area in NZ where NZ fur seals, seal lions and elephant seals co-habit the same beach. Not being able spot the difference from where we were standing we just assumed they were seals. The lighthouse was built in 1869 and stands at the end of the promontory looking out over a number of large rocks. When the setting sun catches them they take on a golden hue, thus their name, as they look like gold nuggets. We returned to the van and had a quick sandwich tea before driving the short distance to the penguin hide.

Yellow Eyed Penguins (Hoiho) are the world's rarest penguins. They breed only on the south coast of mainland NZ and the Stewart, Campbell and Auckland Islands. Nugget Point supports about 20 breading pairs, and associated juveniles, although this varies from year to year. The penguins usually begin to arrive on the beach from 3pm onwards and can come in singularly or in groups. If they are disturbed by humans they will delay their return or even not return and so the chick will suffer. They are the shyest of all penguin breeds and are so stressed by human contact it is difficult to rear them in captivity, so they are not seen in zoo's. Once on the beach they may hang around for a while preening themselves or they may climb up to their nests. They call out to their partner or other penguins and it is a very noisy call. The Maori name Hoiho means noisy bird. We were lucky tonight as there were 5 penguins hanging out on the beach when we arrived and another 3 came in from the sea. We sat and watched them for around one and a half hours and we both felt privileged to have seen them.

Thursday morning we headed off along the coast before our road turned inland and we rejoined the Southern Scenic Highway once more and arrived at Balclutha the end of the Catlins area. We had been recommended by many NZ people to visit this area and we were not disappointed. It is a lovely area and so unspoilt. A few days later I read in the newspaper that over the Christmas and New Year period there had been bumper crowds in the Catlins with all businesses recording record turnover. Motorhomes were queuing at petrol stations for fuel. I am pleased to say we did not experience any of this, yes our campsite was busy but it was with local people and there was always the comings and goings of rental vans. When we were out and about we did not find it crowded and were still able to find places where we were on our own.

Balclutha is South Otago's largest town and acts as the 'Gateway to the Catlins. It is known locally as the Big River Town standing on the Clutha River, NZ's largest river. We stopped to do some shopping use the internet and have some lunch on the river bank before continuing on our journey. Our drive this afternoon took us through some lovely farming country with gentle hills in the background. The wind was beginning to become quite strong so when we arrived at Wahola we pulled into the lake side camp ground. We went for a walk, or a blow would better describe it, but had to give in after a short while and retreat back to our van. From there we watched the waves whipping across the lake, it was a wonder I was not sea sick. It was an interesting evening being buffeted about in the van.

Friday morning dawned and the wind abated somewhat. So we set off on the Scenic Highway heading for the coast again. Our road took us up over some hills giving us good views of Lake Wahola and the coast in front of us, before dropping down to the little costal township of Taieri Mouth. I had read in our book there was a 4 hour river walk up to John Bull Gully and thought this might be a nice walk to do. So having packed a picnic we set off. Once again NZ had a surprise for us, after a short walk along the banks of the Taieri River the path climbed steeply up and up. At one point we looked up at some sheep in a field high up on the hills. One and a half hours later we were looking down on the same sheep. We had been fooled by thinking a river walk went along the banks of the river. Over here it means you may be walking along the side of the river but not at the same level. We eventually arrived at the top of the hill to find some thoughtful person had put a nice bench there. It had the most amazing view and we could have stayed there all day, but we had a little way to go to reach the gully which was down at the waters edge. We enjoyed our picnic lunch in the nice peaceful setting and prepared for our return walk. At least this time I had the knowledge of a seat to spur me on. When we reached the seat we sat and watched jet skies and motor boats zipping up and down the river, thankfully they had not been about when we had lunch.

Returning to our van we had a well earned coffee before driving off to Brighton for the night. We parked our van, cooked tea and then went for a short walk along the beach before retiring for the night. After a very windy afternoon yesterday we were treated to a really lovely day today and the evening was a warm summer evening, which meant our beach walk was very enjoyable, and it was also flat.

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