Within two hours of getting back from our Mid-semester break, I was back in the car yet again for another epic adventure. I went with my flatmate Pema and one of her kiwi friends and a friend of hers down to the Catlins to go camping for a night and then exploring the next day. I quickly emptied out my clothes from mid-semester break, refilled my backpack and hopped back in the car. We drove into the night and eventually were winding down curvy dirt roads through the Catlins to our campsite. We set up camp in the rain and wind and then sat in the tent for dinner, card games, and hanging out under the light from our headlamps. I had no clue where we were or what was around us, but I knew that when we woke up the next morning and I poked my head out of the tent there was no doubt in my mind that we would be somewhere beautiful. The next day the rain had mostly cleared and when I opened the tent door up, we were right on the coast of a beautiful beach next to cliffs that plunged straight into the sea. There were two surfers out on the water catching some massive waves and other than that it was just out little car. We packed up the tent after having some yogurt and muesli for breakfast and then lit the dirt roads to do some exploring. We first went to Purukaunui Falls, which was a short walk through a dense forest that reminded me of the rainforests of the west coast with big ferns and moss covering almost any surface. It was damp and smelled of decaying old wood. There was even a tree that had been hollowed out that you could crawl into and poke your head out of. When we reached the falls, they were incredible! It was a broad but short waterfall with several different levels that made it look kind of like a series of staircases linked together. After the first amazing fall, we continued on towards another, larger one, McLean Falls.
To get to this fall was a much farther drive than the first through the rolling hills of sheep, along dramatic coastline, and past the thick forests, all on curvy dirt roads. I would have been happy with the drive alone, but the several short tramps that we got to do really made the trip. We got to the trailhead and headed on our way. Not far down the trail Lydia, our kiwi friend, picked some leaves off one of the many trees in the area. She handed one of the small green and pinkish/red spotted leaves to each of us and told us that after about 10 seconds of chewing them that they started to taste like bubblegum. Originally we were hesitant to put them in our mouth out of fear of being tricked into some goofy prank, but Lydia put the leaf in her mouth and began to chew so we followed suit. After the ten seconds of chewing though I still tasted nothing, and if anything this strong spice started to burn my mouth. After a little while longer, my mouth was on fire with the bitter, spicy taste of what we now discovered was actually a spice used by people like crushed red pepper. The taste of the leaf lingered on my tongue for the duration of the day with hints of the bitter spice. We kept walking alongside a nice creek until the creek had turned into an enormous fall. McLean Falls was much larger than the first one we had seen and was more dramatic. It was a long single fall that moved into a slanted fast moving creek. The mist from the fall scattered along our faces and we climbed along the damp rocks to get a better view. We stayed and watched the swift water pour from the tall cliffs and rush through the thick forest for a while, just enjoying the sound of the water passing by, and then headed on to our next destination.
After seeing two falls, and tasting a local spice tree we headed for the southern most point of the South Island, Slope Point. When we got there the thick forest had cleared out and been replaced by windblown slopes. Down here the Southerlies really blew, to the point where the trees here grew on a slant towards the north and were permanently sidewise, displaying the strength of the wind here. Needless to say then, the wind raged at this point. We walked through a lambing Pasteur and over to the edge of the cliff to where there was a sig showing us how far it was to the South Pole and the Equator. The wind at the edge of these cliffs was so string that you could lean your full weight into it and it would hold you up. We were thoroughly entertained by this for probably at least 10 minutes and just couldn’t help but lean in and start laughing hysterically at the force of the breeze. The waves were also stirred up by the winds, with these huge rollers making their way into the shore, breaking on the cliffs, and sending water spraying 20ft in the air. Set after set rolled in driven by the strong wind. It was definitely a barren, weathered location. From here we left back to Curios Bay where there was a petrified forest amidst the coast.
The weather at Curios Bay was quite similar to that of Slope Point, with the big rollers just beating away at the coast and that combined with the petrified forest below almost made it a somewhat eerie place, but still incredibly beautiful. Walking along the rocks near the cliffs you could see the fossilized wood and long trees. We even saw a fossilized leaf in perfect form on one of the rocks. It was a really interesting place to be in the world amidst the cliffs, the harsh sea, and these beautiful remnants of a forest. We enjoyed the sights of the rollers that were threateningly large on the cliffs and then took off for some more adventuring.
At this point in the day the sun was starting to get lower so we knew we only had time for one more thing, so we headed up the coast to see Jack’s Blow Hole, an interesting off the beaten path sight of the Catlins. The blowhole was off of Jack’s Bay, which was a beautiful beach where surfers were catching perfect barrel waves in the lingering sunrays. We walked down the path that lead through some lambing pastures and I got to see my fist close up lamb with mother sheep along a hillside where a rainbow was now hitting as well. The lamb was an adorable little white fluffy creature that you couldn’t help but let out an “Awwwe” at. Further down the path we saw another lamb, but this one was a newly born one who hadn’t even taken his first steps. He was not the same fluffy white, but rather a gray green from having not yet been cleaned by the mother who stood concerned and ready to protect her lamb nearby. It was really neat to see such a new lamb. BY the time we had seen the blowhole and come back it was taking its first steps and baawing, the beginnings of its life as a sheep in New Zealand. We then continued down the path to the cliffs edge where you could see the sea below crashing on rocks and we were able to hear the screeches of penguins below coming into shore for the night. A couple minutes later we hit the blowhole, which wasn’t what I would consider your typical blowhole. Rather, it was a large chasm that the waves had carved out from the beach. The water would pour into it from two different hollowed out arches in the rock and then fill and flow back out. It was really incredible and awe striking seeing such a big random hole in the earth. From here we hopped back in the car just as the sun was setting and made our way back to Dunedin. We concluded our trip with a classic kiwi fish and chips from a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant and then parted ways after a full and exciting day until th