Saturday, February 13, 2016

Catlins Coast Letter

10.02.16. A letter to our sons:

Hope your trip to Nelson & beyond went OK Luke & that everything's OK at Cassels Brewery Jake. I didn't feel Tuesday's mag 5.7 Kaikoura quake, too far south. Did you?

Leah's now back into her second week's teaching at Lake Tekapo & I've climbed Mt John 4x since her return, to get hill-walking fit again. I climbed once with Leah last weekend & the other 3x mingled with tourists, mainly Chinese. Nice sunny February weather. I'm hoping to find 2 DOC huts up Lake Tekapo on Mt Gerald Station & do more Mt Hay Station tramps this summer. Hopefully Leah will start Monday evening, yoga classes at Lake Tekapo, so I'll have looooong Mondays for my walks. As it's high tourist season, thousands of tourists pass through Lake Tekapo daily, with overcrowding at the camp site & public toilets. And rubbish discarded on the shore too. The new pedestrian bridge to the Church of the Good Shepherd is a good wander.

Our Catlins Coast trip we did in the last week of Leah's Xmas holidays:

Day 1: Drove Fairlie to Dunedin & stayed at Leith Valley camp site, in wooden chalet rooms. That weekend Dunedin had a vintage car rally, so the camp site was full of vintage campers & vintage cars too. Wandered Dunedin Botanic Gdns & student rental streets near University of Otago. We saw those streets on TV when students' booze up shenanigans hit the news. Some rentals have odd names above doors. Wandered varsity grounds too, Bought Thai takeaways near the camp site.

Day 2: Drove Dunedin to Balclutha to Kaka Point on Catlins Coast. Lunch at rainy Balclutha. Drove beside wide Balclutha River a bit to Kaka Point with great views of the bay where Balclutha River meets the Pacific. Drove a dirt road to Nugget Point & walked a DOC track to the light house with views of a seal colony on rocks below & Nuggets / stacks scattered in the sea beyond the light house. Looking southwards from Nugget Point I counted 4 headlands & bays.

Catlins Coast consists of a series of rugged headlands & bays with hilly farmlands behind, where the tarred road sidles the headlands. We drove dirt roads to reach the coast.

We had blue cod, chips & salad supper at the only bar / restaurant in Kaka Point. A sandy beach walk settled our food. We slept at a B & B near the restaurant.

Day 3: Busy. Drove southwards to Surat Bay, a few cribs at Newhaven & more cribs at Pounawea across the bay. Great views of Surat Bay from Pounawea camp site.

Drove to Owaka with its new aluminium, waka sculpture. Saw Owaka Museum & its history of Catlins Coast shipwrecks. Saw an Owaka house with hundreds of teapots in the garden.

Drove to Purakaunui Bay: Sheep on the dirt road, two seals on the beach & DOC campers nearby. The tall cliffs by the bay are worth the side trip. A good surfing bay.

Drove southwards: Walked to Purakaunui Falls, Drove further south & walked to Matai Falls & Horseshoe Falls above. Walked a bit of the Rail Trail through a rocky, bushy cutting.

A Rail Trail information board read:

"The building of the Catlins River Railway line between Balclutha and Tahakopa was started in 1879 and completed in 1915. It closed in 1971. The line was of great significance for the 19th and 20th century settlement of the Catlins, as it provided reliable transport for people, timber, farm produce and supplies before roads and road transport improved.

'In common with many early branch lines it was very tortuous, with deep cuttings. Because of the nature of the country many steep grades were encountered.' (Russel Glendenning - legendary local railway man).

The 1 in 40 average grade of this section of the line was one of the steepest in the South Island railway system and the fully laden trains struggled to keep going uphill when the rails were slippery."

Further south we enjoyed views of Tautuku Bay & Peninsula from Florence Hill Lookout: Waves rolled in from the Antarctic, a bushy sandy beach below.

Drove through coastal bush & stopped at Papatowai for a windy, beach walk & coffee at the Lost Gypsy Gallery, a hippy bus filled with funny gadgets for sale.

Drove south through native bush & walked to Lake Wilkie, a glacial, kettlehole lake, in native bush. A farmer wearing gum boots, was worried about a drunken worker, lost in the bush. We told him we'd seen the drunkard, waving a beer bottle, wandering way back on the main road. The farmer drove off to find him.

Didn't see Cathedral Caves - closed for the day.

Drove south through more native bush & walked to McClean Falls.

Drove south through coastal bus to Waikawa where we settled into a two bed room house opposite Waikawa Museum.

Early evening we drove to Curio Bay to see the fossil forest at low tide: There were many lengths of petrified wood on a tidal rock platform. I slipped on kelp while coolpixing. Like at Lake Tekapo, there were many tourists along Catlins Coast. Leah chatted to a Chartres Frenchman cyclist, who'd already cycled Australia & was now doing NZ. Leah told him we'd visited Chartres Cathedral during our 1981 Eurrail trip.

A bronze plaque on the roadside near the fossil forest read:

                                                   "CURIO BAY FOSSIL FOREST

This forest grew in the Jurassic period. About 160 000 000 years ago. In a semi-tropical climate and consisted of trees like the kauri and lesser trees such as cycads and conifers. As well as fern like plants. Grasses & flowering plants had not yet come into existence.

The forest occupied the low swampy coast of a land that once extended south from this point. The coast continued north-west from this area across northern southland. And most of the rest of NZ was beneath the sea.

The forest was killed suddenly by being buried under a flood of ash from a volcanic eruption on the ancient land. And the ash now forms the hard sandstone beds in the cliff edges. Long after the ancient land disappeared and present NZ emerged. These sandstone strata were cut back by action of the sea. To reveal the broken logs and stumps still in the original position of growth. The present rock shelf around the stumps is the original floor of the Jurassic forest.

Known fossil forests of this age are very few throughout the world. And this the most varied and remarkable of them all.

This forest is absolutely protected and it is an offence to damage or destroy it in any way, or to remove any souvenir from it."

Day 4: Returned to Fairlie via Catlins Coast again, Dunedin & stayed a night at a two bed room holiday home at Waikouaiti. Nice sandy beach there, a big hill, Cornish Head above the north end of the beach.

Our new Nikon Coolpix camera worked well, so we have pics to show. Lots of native bush & bird life along Catlins Coast, like spoonbills, gulls, pied stilts, oyster catchers, paradise shelducks, NZ pigeons...

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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