From Dunedin we continued south toward the Catlins Coast, an area with lots to see including petrified forests visible at low tide, waterfalls and lots of great views. We stopped in Balclutha because it was lunch time. Balclutha, located on a river a little inland, was not a large town, but it did have an I Site and several restaurants. We tried the local Indian place and had a delicious meal and took the leftovers with us. The woman staffing the I Site was full of advice for our trip along the coast and loaded us up with a more detailed map and information about closed trails – saving us a drive up to a waterfall we would not be able to see. She did encourage us to check out several other waterfalls that didn’t have great signage, so without her advice we would have missed them!
Along the this very scenic drive we made stops that took us out to scenic overlooks, lighthouses, and a petrified forest that appears during low tide. Another low tide activity was the walk out to Monkey Island. We initially hit Monkey Island while the tide was high enough that you could not walk out and climb to the top, but after we had continued on and enjoyed a great lunch, a short hike and some more great views, we were heading back to our hotel and we decided to see if the tide was down enough, and it was! The “island” is just about 50 meters from the shore, but the tide is big enough that the beach extends out and you can climb up to an observation platform on top, Nice views.
We stayed in Invercargill for a few days on this leg of the trip, and it is an interesting city. The downtown was a little run-down and a number of the buildings had notices that they needed remediation to meet earthquake proof standards which may have contributed to the number of empty buildings. Based on random bits of information gleaned here and there, it appears that changes to national building codes in response to the Christchurch earthquake are creating many challenges for smaller cities and towns, especially as older buildings in their central business districts are being hit with these remediation orders. But, like many cities and towns here, it does have a lovely public garden with an aviary, so we saw some very colorful and noisy birds.
One of Invercargill’s claims to fame is that it is the home of Burt Munroe who still holds the land speed record and was memorialized in the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian.” There is a motorcycle museum, and the actual motorcycle Burt Munroe rode is displayed at the local hardware store, along with an interesting array of other motorcycles, old cars and machines and some of the motorcycles made to shoot the movie in 2005.
From Invercargill we drove down to the southern end of Highway 1 to Bluff where we boarded a passenger ferry to Stewart Island. Stewart Island is the third largest island in New Zealand and is mostly national park and has one of the major tramping tracks (we call them hiking trails) so the ferry is pretty popular. We stayed in the town of Oban and took advantage of a number of the smaller tracks around town. The longer trails have tramping huts where hikers can stay – 60 bunks and a long drop (latrine), but as most of you know, that is not our travel style. The trails took us to one of the first homes built on the island, several amazing lookouts, along beautiful coastline and down to some lovely beaches.
The island is pretty hilly, so on the last day we decided to rent electric bikes so we could get to the end of the road and check out the views from there. We had great fun and found the bikes to make the hills easy to climb and great fun to descend! At one point, we stopped for a view at the bottom of one of the hills and then needed to head back up. Well, we don’t ride bikes all that often and we aren’t presented many hill riding opportunities when we do ride at home, so starting an unfamiliar bike with electric turbo assist on the up hill did present an interesting challenge. I got myself started and was headed up, Dan seemed to be trying a new uphill strategy and was taking longer to get started than expected, but he waved me on and I continued up hell and around the corner. I waited at the curve (it had a marginally smaller uphill grade) for a few minutes but he still didn’t appear. Eventually he caught up, with some grass hanging from one pedal. “I went into the ditch” he explained, and I thought he had just failed to stay on the road. When we made our next stop to enjoy the sights, he winced and held his ribs, “I must have hit harder than I thought.” Apparently, after his loving wife rode off without him, he pushed the turbo boost on the bike and it took off into the ditch with him before he took a tumble. A few days of rib soreness and sympathy from me were the result.
After returning to Bluff, we stayed the night and were able to enjoy some world famous Bluff oysters in Bluff! This was even better because it was Easter weekend and the liquor laws in New Zealand make the sale and public consumption of alcohol during the holiday a pretty interesting proposition. Not sure what all of the requirements are, but many restaurants and bars are not able to serve alcohol or allow BYO and our hotel didn’t plan to be able to serve it on Good Friday. But, for several reasons, not just my inquiry, the owners were able to meet the requirement. They called on the previous owner of the hotel who had sold to them a few months earlier and entered her second and well deserved retirement. She agreed to come in and be the “duty manager” required to allow them to serve wine and beer that evening. Turns out she is originally from Cincinnati and moved to New Zealand 40 years ago, retired to Bluff, bought a small hotel and ran it for about 10 years and then retired again last year