Day 26: THROUGH THE CATLINS TO CHRISTCHURCH
Julie and I got up early despite not wanting to leave the bed considering how cold it would be the moment we’d remove the sheets. But we knew that ahead of us was a very long drive to get from Invercargill to Christchurch. Making matters worse from a time standpoint, we were also planning to drive through the Catlins Forest while also holding out hope to visit Mt Cook.
It was probably unrealistic to think that we could do all these things in one go (especially since Mt Cook or Aoraki as well as Lake Tekapo were quite a detour from the coastal route we expected to be taking to get all the way up to the South Island’s largest city.
In any case, we made our early checkout from the motel and proceeded to head right into the Catlins since Invercargill was essentially close to the doorstep of the Catlins Forest.
As we were driving, we could see that the skies were clearing up. We were wishing that this good weather would show up earlier on the trip, especially during the Milford Track. Our psyche was so trained to wet and miserable weather day after day that we really appreciated a promisingly sunny day like this.
Of course even as I say this, there were still pockets of squalls here and there.
After roughly about an hour or so of driving, we’d eventually get to the signposted turnoff for McLean Falls. The Southern Scenic Route that we took to get here was unsealed, but it looked like there was road work being done to completely seal this road.
But being as it was, we wouldn’t benefit from the improved road conditions and we pretty much had to deal with a pretty long and bumpy experience on the Southern Scenic Route.
Once we were on the turnoff for McLean Falls, we persisted on another unsealed road leading through an idyllic pasture while sharing the road with sheep. There were many of them, and we actually had to insist to get them out of the way lest we be stuck.
In a couple of spots, we were met by a fence where we were supposed to open the gate, drive through, then close the gate so none of the sheep would escape nor get into the protected Catlins Forest.
Eventually, we’d get to the car park and trailhead for the falls at about 8:15am. And so we were on the trail making our way towards the desired McLean Falls. We’d eventually get to some lower cascades that had a tinge of brown in its waters meaning that the flow might have been swollen from the recent days of rain.
Shortly after this initial cascade, we then got to the main part of the waterfall, which had a satisfying rectangular drop followed by the angled drop we had just witnessed earlier. There was an upper overlook that the sign pointed us to, and that was where we took most of our photos.
Next, we continued east on the unsealed road where we then saw a signposted stop for Florence Hill at around 9:25am. As the weather was clearing, we could see attractively blue-green colors that the Southern Ocean waters were showing to us. Of course that belied how violent and Antarctic the weather could get down here.
Next up, we arrived at the signposted trailhead for Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls at around 10am. Even though we weren’t the first ones to park here, it seemed like we were the only ones on the trail.
First up, we went up to the Horseshoe Falls. This waterfall had more vegetation and obstructions so we never really got a clean look at it. I didn’t know how this waterfall got its name, but at least we knew what this small falls was about.
Once we descended back down to the main trail, that was when we shortly made it to the Matai Falls at about 10:10am. This short waterfall had a more satisfying appearance despite its somewhat diminutive size (probably 10m or so).
Given how dark it was down here, I had to set up the tripod and take a long exposure photograph. So I took some pretty otherworldly shots showing how moving water could eventually become almost dreamy and cloudy if you set the long exposure long enough.
We had our fill of Matai Falls at around 10:25am and next headed towards the Purakaunui Falls.
Even though there were multiple ways of getting there, we took the most obvious sign that we noticed, that then took us south towards the popular and well-established multi-tiered waterfall. Apparently, it was said to be the most photographed waterfall in the Catlins.
We’d eventually make it to the trailhead for Purakaunui Falls at 10:45am, which not surprisingly wasn’t the quietest time as there were at least three or four other cars that were already before us.
This was another waterfall where I was experimenting with long exposure photographs given its texture. So once again, I had the tripod set up and then I tried to figure out how to take photos of it despite there being overgrowth conspiring to conceal some of its multi-tiered drop from both sides as seen from the official overlook.
We were done with Purakaunui Falls at around 11:15am, and then we continued heading in a more north-northeasterly direction as the Catlins Forest section of our Southern Scenic Route was coming to an end.
However, we made one more detour at Barrs Falls at 11:40am, and even though the sign said it was a 10-minute walk to the falls one-way, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get to the falls in only about two minutes. Talk about exaggerated distances and time!
This waterfall was different from the others in that it was a small falls with a rippling texture on its slope. Given how close I was to the falls, it wasn’t easy to capture its full size, and I had to be content to take photos of just part of it.
Now that we were done with the Catlins, we next made our way towards the highway, and it wouldn’t be until the next two hours or so before we then made it to the surprisingly charming city of Dunedin (“dun-EE-din”). Apparently, there was some Scottish influence here.
It was too bad that I knew we couldn’t spend too much time here, but at least we tried to make do with what we could see in such limited time by trying to have a quick lunch here in the Octagon in the centre of town. We actually made a futile attempt at consulting the LP for good spots to eat, then go looking around for them. Complicating things were that parking in the Octagon was very temporary at best and we kept a close eye on our car in case the parking enforcer would come by and issue tickets, which we witnessed being done to other people.
In any case, it was after 2pm when we starting our search for a good lunch spot, and just about all of them were closed so we settled for quickie takeaway food at a cafe while just loitering in the Octagon lawn area.
After our very short stint in Dunedin, we then continued on the highway at around 2:45pm. We were intent on gunning it to Christchurch while holding out hope that we might fit in a visit to Mt Cook, but even I could see that that was becoming more of a pipe dream at this point. I guess I had to resign myself to the fact that I wouldn’t see New Zealand’s highest mountain on this trip. Who knows when will be the next chance to try again?
In any case, we were looking at one of the brochures we had picked up from the i-SITE in Dunedin, and it had the Moeraki Boulders on it, which turned out to be on the way. So after noticing a sign on the drive north saying something to the effect of the Moeraki Boulders, we went ahead and made a stop for it. What the heck, we were already here anyways, right?
So at 3:30pm, we found ourselves at the beach containing the Moeraki Boulders. I’m not totally sure how these boulders had gotten here, but they were pretty cool things to check out. Plus, the beach itself was relatively quiet. I couldn’t imagine a beach being this quiet in So Cal. Plus, it was a beautiful day today. Why is it that the days we need good weather like this the least tend to occur at precisely those times?
Anyways, we enjoyed ourselves using the Moeraki Boulders as photo subjects while letting our toes touch the wet sands here. Again, we could have stayed here much longer, but we knew we had to check into Christchurch and try to get whatever sleep we could get for the morning flight back to Auckland tomorrow.
So we left the Moeraki Boulders at around 4pm and from there, I was starting to get road fatigue. So I switched with Julie for her first taste at driving on the other side of the road. She at first was a little hesitant to do it, but I needed to get caught up on sleep and so for the next several hours, Julie was in control while I got my much-needed nap.
Eventually as night time started to take over, we were entering the city of Christchurch, and we switched driving responsibilities once again. At that point, we then went looking for our accommodation, which was somewhere not far from the airport. Since it was already past 9pm, there was no chance we’d find a decent dinner spot on this night. So we just checked in, ordered takeaway pizza over the phone, and then just packed our stuff and tried to get cleaned up in our room.
It wouldn’t be until after midnight that we would finally conk out, but we would still have to wake up early (around 4am) to ensure we’d catch our early morning flight around 6 or 7am.