Milo started school and Naomi started preschool last week, but in the middle of all this change I still want to do a throw-back to our Southland trip when my parents were here with us. We traveled to the Catlins and as this is a unique and often overlooked corner of New Zealand, I thought you might like some photos.
The Catlins are a hunk of green rolling coastland way down in the southeast corner of New Zealand’s south island. Miles and miles of remote coast, acres and acres of luxurious grass or dense native forest, mats of bull kelp swathing the rocky outcrops. I had never been there; Jeremiah took Milo down on their way to Stewart Island, but as Naomi was a 2-month-old newborn, I opted to skip the drive and fly down with her instead. Jeremiah booked a bach down here at Curio Bay when my parents came in February, and we parked ourselves in the center of all this remoteness for a week.
On the way down we stopped at Moeraki boulders–we’ve been here before, but we wanted to show my parents, and, to be honest, I don’t get tired of these bizarre formations.
The thing about Moeraki is that EVERYONE stops there…which at least makes for good people watching. These chinese girls got all dolled up for their portraits on the rocks. They reminded me of the famous painting (shown below).
Nugget point isn’t far from Curio Bay, or final destination. Jeremiah looked with longing at the clear water full of bull kelp beds which must be just teaming with butterfish.
“Deep relentless forces buckle the layered land, hiding bays and beaches between the long low folds of mountains, with rugged rocky headlands butting into the sea.” Such coastline is also conducive to sea caves, some of which are accessible at low tide. Two years ago when Jeremiah visited here with Milo, low tide provided a dry-foot passage to the cave. But after two years sand has shifted, and access is now decidedly wet.
Pastoral, that’s what the Catlins is….at least the part that’s not beach. I learned on a podcast that all cultures around the world have an amazingly similar ideal of a beautiful landscape–green, fertile, watery and open. Remarkably like the Catlins.
While we were there, Mom and Dad occasionally mentioned that a day was a bit windy, but taking a look at these bushes, I’m sure the breezes we felt were nothing compared to the tearing punishing wind that the coast CAN endure.
This poem was on the walk to Nugget Point, a touristy little walk to a lighthouse. I thought it offered a great description of the wind-bitten vegetation: “shorn by drying salt on driving winds, woven tight, giving shelter to all within.”
While Canterbury is browning in the summer heat and Otago is “golden” brown tussock, barren all year long, the Catlins are green. We had remarkably good weather for our week there, but a green landscape means that it rains rather a lot.
The house we stayed at is owned by the local farmer who leases something like 900 hectares of land for sheep, beef, and dairy. He gave us permission to walk the land, which they’ve recently developed for dairy, so we got a few off-the-beaten-track views.
The cottage where we stayed was quaint, nice for summer time. The farmer who works the land originally lived here, but he and his wife built a beautiful new house where they live now, and I’m sure they’re glad come winter. The wife (she’s German) said the house was so drafty that the carpets fluttered and she thought she had mice. The new house has central heating and air-tight windows, as well as a commanding view of the beach.
Here she is, our home for the week. Curio Bay is a good 30 minutes from any sort of grocery store, so we brought all our food for the week with us. Talk about meal planning! But I’m pleased to report that we did not go hungry.
We had a few pure sunny moments in the week, but I think this dramatic look is more typical of the view from the cottage. Curio Bay has its own pod of Hector’s dolphins, an exceptionally cute 4-foot species that likes to surf. Really, they do. The beach is well known by surfers and even boasts a surf school, and every day those dolphins were out there INSIDE the waves as they crested. They’d swim across the wave as it rose so their speedy little forms were lifted and silhouetted in the thin water. Sometimes they’d jump completely out of the water. I went out on a boogie board one day and they swam around not 10 feet from me, exhaling their breath noisily. They were really fun to watch from the cottage window.
Little blue penguins were another Curio Bay specialty. We saw their shuffling tracks one morning but despite our best efforts (Mom went out nearly every evening), we never saw one in the flesh. Yellow eyed penguins we did see. Funny creatures, penguins, paddling like a duck on the water, proficient divers, but super awkward on land.
With the beach at the front door, what more could a kid want? If the beach is a bit chilly, well, the wet suit saves us a lot of sun-screening trouble.
Even in high summer, weather in the Catlins can require cold weather gear….
Or you can enjoy mellow warmth on a sunny porch.
We visited the petrified forest at the end of the road on a sunny afternoon, not planning to swim, but the pools were bath-water warm and we eventually gave up on dry clothes.
Did you say “petrified forest,” you ask? That’s right! The story goes that once upon a time there was a big volcano loaded up with precariously-balanced ash slopes. And there was a big rain, and all that ash came sloshing down the mountain sides, smothering the low land forests up to a meter deep. Then miracle we call chemistry happened, and silica minerals in the ash swapped places with wood minerals in the trees (I obviously am out of my chemical depth here), and in matter of weeks the trees had been turned to stone.
I couldn’t get over the level of detail preserved in some of the wood. This trunk is actually rock, not wood, but is has the same color and texture as wood.
Here we are, each of us with our collected treasure. The Curio Bay petrified forest is a reserve and no rocks may be removed, but there is petrified wood at lots of beaches along this coast, including this one, which is also home to blue moki and blue cod.
“Naomi, can you kiss the fish?” Well yes, apparently she can, but she didn’t like it. “Me no kiss fish!” she protested, when we tried for a repeat performance.
Sea lions haul out on some of the beaches, and they are a different beast to the regular fur seals we usually encounter. Snub nosed and bad tempered, they snarl at each other and at any human gawkers that come too close as they toss sand over their stinky bodies while lounging in the sun.
Petrified forests mixed with vibrant seaweed rock pools–who could ask for more?
“Get my buttie!” they squeal, as the waves lap in. It’s interesting to see what strikes their funny bones, but they were definitely feeding off each other’s delight, giggling and shrieking in turn.
Jeremiah had several successes with spear fishing during the week, including these two–blue moki and trumpeter. Just a couple minutes after he emerged from the water with his catch, a 5 foot shark swam into view in the clear water. We watched it circle, smelling the fish blood. It was a small one, but great white sharks are chillingly common along this stretch of coast. Well well, Jeremiah likes a bit of adrenaline now and again.
We spent most of our time on the coast, but just inland there are preserved pieces of native forest with towering fern trees and gorgeous rimu, what I think were kamahi, and countless others.
Waterfalls were abundant in the forest–it must rain a lot. “How do streams keep flowing when it’s not raining,” Milo asked, prompting a discussion about spongy soil and water holding capacity.
Sunrise over Curio Bay–I was up for an early morning run and was lucky enough to catch it.