Still vanning along the south coast we are now in the area known as the Catlins. Truly another bottom of the world area with mainly gravel roads, few tiny towns, countless sheep, rolling hills, and many scenic stops along rugged coastline or tramps through rainforest dotted farmlands to beautiful cascading waterfalls.
On the first day’s drive we stopped at Waipapa lighthouse briefly, about 3km down a very bumpy riveted gravel road, where I jumped out and snapped a few shots and hoped to get back in unnoticed by the littles (one sleeping), but unfortunately mission failed. Next stop was at Curio Bay at a 180 million year old fossilized forest that can be only seen at low tide. It also happens to be very close to the Southern most point of New Zealand. We spent some lazy time on the side of a grassy hill overlooking yet another beautiful bay with numerous dolphins surfacing and playing in the waves right out front.
We spent two nights between Invercargill and Dunedin, the first being at the doorstep of MacLean Falls (30 min narrow, steadily climbing trek ending with a great view of a 22m high falls set in lush rainforest), and just around the bend from Cathedral Caves. The campground was not much more than a gravel pad with a small piece of lattice between sites, but they had decent hot showers and it was just a quick stop.
The stars aligned for us on day two when the girls both slept in until 7:30 (parents of the world rejoice), which meant we could head to the caves for a perfectly timed exploration at low tide in a rarely occurring pre-nap outing. Little did we know (okay maybe some denial) that before becoming a family that our lives would absolutely revolve around naps for the next, oh, five years, and these precious children would not care to alter their schedule for us when travelling. But, when your children are happy everything in the world is more beautiful and that doesn’t change either, based on location. I digress…
The cathedral coves were about a 15 minute easy walk through dense bush and down to one of the most lovely beaches ever to be seen by us, with deep blue water, lightly crashing waves and a long wide stretch of smooth, soft, light brown sand. At low tide (within 2 hours each way) we could walk down the beach to the caves which were impressive and much deeper than we had expected, requiring a “torch” or phone light to navigate in some parts. We were lucky enough to see a little penguin family at the back of one of the wettest caverns, using both the shared word and a flashlight from some friendly fellow travellers.
We drove onward for another couple of hours (which included a 14km detour on gravel roads which set us back about 30 min) towards the town of Kaka Point where we would later spend the night. But before pulling into the campground we made our way up to Nugget Point lighthouse for our second walk of the day. This time was about a 15 minute walk along the edge of a cliff and although it was a relatively wide, flat path, I think just the height of the cliffside was enough to give us both intense vertigo and regrets for even looking down. I wore Zo in the pack and hugged the inside edge, while Josh had Ry in tight hand grips and urged her to walk because putting her up on his shoulders was not psychologically healthy for anyone.
At the end of the 900m path was a beautiful view with blue sky meeting intense blue ocean. A tiny white lighthouse perched (unfortunately unaccessible due to high fences) but a perfect lookout was built just in front of it to capture the view of the nugget shaped rocks protruding out of the sea. There were also seals (or maybe sea lions) way down at the bottom of the cliffs that you could clearly hear, but barely make out without binoculars.
We have recently discovered that the secret to getting a toddler to walk (she completed both treks to caves and lighthouse in one day) is to provide food, similar to Hansel and Gretel. You keep a pocket full of pretzels or teddy grahams on hand, but instead of dropping them to find your way home, you slowly provide them along the path to reach your destination. It’s a bit tricky on the way home though as there really isn’t much prize in the finish line, especially if you didn’t ration your snacks.
Our second night was spent in Kaka Point, where we didn’t really leave the camper except to refresh the laundry, as everyone was super tired. Bed was early for everyone, and Zo didn’t even get her PM nap because no one wanted to leave the camper to make quiet, and we were all too tired to walk around giving her a chance. Sometimes, c’est la vie.