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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (12) – The long drive to the Catlins


We were by now around two thirds of the way through our circuit of the south western half of the South Island of New Zealand, and having woken up in the Milford Sound Lodge (A on the map), we had a fairly long drive ahead of us to the other side of the Island, and the region known as the Catlins (C, D and E on the map), having chosen to travel via the Southern Scenic Route (B), just to add a few more kilometres to our day! To be honest, making days over-long and over-complicated is something of a habit of mine, and Mrs Dr T has graciously come to accept this as a bit of a fact of life!

Departing from Milford Sound and on to Manipouri

The great advantage of staying in Milford Sound (apart from the quieter time to explore the evening before), is how quiet the road back to Te Anau is in that direction in the morning. We had it to ourselves for pretty much the whole route – which is great if you want to stop to take pictures, or watch kea, and just for the general driving experience. The route itself is very beautiful, passing through the high mountains of the Great Divide, and then past lakes, flowers, and so many trees. A particular memory I have is of looking back in the mirrors as I drove and seeing leaves being thrown up into the air behind the car from the sheer number lying in the road.

Another thing so common in New Zealand, but alien to us in the UK with all our hedgerows, is the sheer number of colourful lupins that adorn the roadside.

We had a long way to go, so generally pressed on until heading through Te Anau, and deciding to head for a cafe in Manipouri (on the shores of the Lake of the same name) that we’d read about in a guide book as being particularly nice. It sits (it looks to have become more pub and less tea and cake these days) in a converted Church building, overlooking the lake.

Onwards and Southwards

From Manipouri we rejoined the main road and began our journey southwards towards Invercargill via the Southern Scenic Route. We’d plotted a couple of things we wanted to see on the Coast later in the day, and heard good things about this route in general, and decided it was worth the extra mileage (and the odd gravel road). Invercargill itself wasn’t massively impressive, but there were plenty of great vantage points along the Coast, including McCracken’s Rest, where there was a lovely view over dramatic seas. We were really lucky with the weather which was giving lovely bright skies and sunlight glinting off the waves too.

Curio Bay and Cathedral Cave

We had planned two specific sites to see during our drive. First up was Curio Bay. This is the remains of a forest, now turned to stone (petrified), having been buried about 180 million years ago as the result of volcanic activity. There shoreline contains a large number of these petrified tree trunks and is a remarkable site.

The second site was the Cathedral Caves. This is a large sea cave (nearly 200m deep) near a vast expanse of sand, set the other side of some private land (fee payable) from decent road access and parking. It suffers (similarly to Milford Sound) from being one of “the” things to see in the region, and it definitely felt reasonably busy on the walk to and from the cave, and in the cave area itself. Access to the cave is tide-dependent (don’t get caught out). For us, the vast sandy beach was probably more fun than the cave, and the forested walk down is stunning – rich with such different sights, sounds and smells from woods and trees back home.

You do tend to see the same sorts of people everywhere around NZ – people follow similar routes. In particularly, there were a lot of youngish (late 20s, early 30s) couples, without children – I guess, like we were, using the increased disposable income that often comes with that life stage to do some distant exploring!

  • Curio Bay scene
  • Curio Bay tree trunk
  • Oyster Catcher at Curio Bay
  • Cathedral Cave scene
  • Near Cathedral Cave
  • Forest near Cathedral Cave

And finally to our destination

Our destination was the small settlement of Kaka Point, and the beautifully appointed bed and breakfast of Molyneux House. Booking everything from the best part of 12,500 miles away, using nothing more than some internet skills (and the odd guide book) can lead to issues with accommodation choices not living up to the photos / reviews / website. In this case, we were certainly not let down. Wonderful hosts, a monstrously comfortable bed, superb views, and a delicious breakfast meant this was one of the highlights of the trip. A really great place to stay. The only let down for us is that, with the settlements being so small and far apart, evening food choices can be quite limited – a lot of stuff with chips, and often very pricey. This is, however, a minor quibble, and one rooted in the relative privilege of living in a European Country with lots of people packed in, and hence lots of pubs, restaurants and cafes! Of course, the other side of this is that you get to see seals just hanging out on the beach when do you head out for dinner – and there’s some great sea-food options too.

After an earlyish dinner, there was just time to go to the penguin hide at Roaring Bay, and take some distant pictures of yellow-eyed penguins, before turning in for the night after a long day!

Next up is a day out in the Catlins, with a waterfall, vast stretches of sand, and some seals!