One of the Catlins 'must-do's' - Cathedral Caves
Before we went travelling, I had never heard of the Catlins before. Actually I had never heard of countless places before; it was only through the Facebook motorhoming groups I belong to and their incredible photos that the Catlins ended up on our to-do list. If you've never heard of it either, the Catlins is an area between Baclutha and Invercargill which is sort of between the Otago and Southland region. I'm using the Wikipedia definition because it's a place that is very hard to describe. It covers vast areas of farmland, but it is like any other farmland I've ever seen, it's so staggeringly beautiful. There are mountains, rainforests, beaches, lakes, you name it; it's got it. Forget Queenstown and your other touristy places, the Catlins has more things to do than any other area we've come across. Where else in the world can you see sheep grazing on one side of a hill and sea lions and penguins flip-flopping and hopping about on the other! We were so exhausted after a week there that we literally couldn't take in any more, we had seen so much! But it was brilliant and it was there that we found the first place we really, really wanted to live.
McLean Falls. The Catlins has a LOT of waterfalls!
We spent the duration of our stay at a family run campground called Hillside, near Kaka Point. There is an NZMCA ground at Niagara further along the route but we found our location much more convenient and closer to where we wanted to be. Besides, Hillside was brilliant! For $10 a night you had all the facilities you could possibly need, it was close to everything and the family even makes home cooked scones with jam and cream for the campers every Friday. Throw in some gorgeous rural views with glorious sunrises and sunsets into the bargain and you have a really lovely and peaceful place to stay.
Roaring Bay, just up the road from our campground
Spooning seal style at Cannibal Bay
One of the things I was most excited about was the possibility of seeing seals and the endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin, also known as the Hoiho. We didn't have to wait long to see the seals, there was a whole bunch of them at Cannibal Bay, which was the very first place we went to. Pardon the imagery but on first arrival at this small, rugged and very quiet little bay, it looked as though the beach was littered with enormous lumps that looked like giant dog poo! It was in fact, lots of sleeping seals. Big ones, small ones, furry ones, sleek ones - every now and get one of them would stretch and get up and waddle lazily over to another before flopping down alongside and fall immediately back to sleep. The other one, if it woke at all would open a sleepy eye, raise a flipper as if to say 'Oh hello, it's you', before doing the same. They didn't give a hoot about us and Minnie being there as we wandered around, quietly observing. It made me very glad that we hadn't paid a fortune in Dunedin a few days earlier for the privilege of being able to see them from a small boat!
I'm coming to get youuuuu!
Oh hang on, I've changed my mind...
Yep, I'm done now...
Muuuuum! Where are youuuuu!
One big, happy family!
Whilst we saw an awful lot of seals we weren't fortunate enough to see the timid Yellow Eyed Penguins. I think the seals we saw at Roaring Bay and Nugget Point probably had a bit to do with that! However in the days which followed there wasn't much that we didn't see. The Catlins is home to some incredibly beautiful waterfalls and it was lovely walking through the rainforests to get to them. One of the things we liked best about the Catlins was that there was so much that Minnie was able to do with us, which is rare in conservation areas. She absolutely loved it there and was clambering over rocks and climbing up waterfalls with us! It was a really special time for all three of us. As usual, our favourite places were the ones off the beaten track (who am I kidding, almost all the best spots in the Catlins are off the beaten track!) We drove miles and miles of winding, narrow, gravel road and although I didn't need Michael Buble to get me through any of them, a few of them were close! The road to Cathedral Caves, which is only open for two hours a day at low tide, is quite possibly the worst road we have struck yet! Fortunately it was worth the drive.
Feeling right at home here!
What we weren't expecting was to feel so comfortable and at ease in the Catlins. I guess we had no pre-conceived ideas at all but with every day that passed, we didn't actually feel like tourists, we felt as if we were at home. Everyone from the campground owner to the people in the little town of Owaka was so welcoming and helpful and we actually ended up spending a couple of days just driving around and researching the area looking for land. We did find some but fortunately the locals were quick to let us know where NOT to buy e.g. the flood prone areas! Small blocks of land in the Catlins are relatively unheard of as the area is made up of hundreds, if not thousands of acres of enormous farm blocks, but who knows? Maybe a kind farmer or somebody out there somewhere will be nice enough to sell us off a tiny piece. I'm sure they won't miss it and in turn we'll treasure it. We live in hope; for now, the search goes on!