Our next stop, Dunedin, is known to be the ‘Scotland’ of New Zealand and indeed, we find the Scottish accent creeping in a wee bit.
When we arrive a few days of bad weather are on the cards so we make the best of it in the huge campsite lounge room, watching ‘Lady Bird’ in the cinema and drinking ale in a pub with decent WiFi.
On our last day the sun has managed to push the heavy, soaking clouds away and we make a trip to the Otago Peninsula to visit the Royal Albatross Centre. For $50 each we get to learn about the endangered bird species which has an impressive wing span of 3 meters, before going to a shelter from which the 4 Albatross chicks can be viewed from a safe distance (safe for the Albatross chicks).
The next day we’re off towards Owaka, staying in New Haven, right next to Cannibal Bay. On the way we’re taking a small detour to see Tunnel Beach and ‘The Nuggets’. The former is a dramatic stretch of rocky coast, featuring arches and unusual limestone formations. The previous landowner built a hand-hewn stone tunnel to provide his family safe access to the beach which can now be used by the public.
The latter offers a viewpoint to examine the element-trashed, rocky headlands reaching out from the ocean, on the furthermost of which stands a lighthouse. On our little wander we discover a few groups of playful sea lions hanging out in the various natural-formed pools and sun-bathing on the rocks.
New Haven / Cannibal Bay:
Despite the short drive of only 2 hours from Dunedin, our frequent sightseeing stops mean that we arrive at our next campsite in the late afternoon. It’s located right next to the inviting, sandy but wind whipped Surat Bay beach. I wish I could exchange our cool autumn winds for some summer sun. We prepare our dinner in the communal kitchen, safe from the winds, and use the generous 250 MB WiFi allowance as best as we can.
Here a little side note about internet access in New Zealand:
It’s rubbish. Living in the UK or Europe for that matter (since the UK is still in Europe) we are extremely spoilt in regards to being connected to the World Wide Web at all times, in almost lighting-fast speed, pretty much everywhere. In New Zealand mobile data is expensive. $30 per 1 GB expensive! In comparison Alex gets 30 GB for the laughable price of £15 in the UK.
Access to your precious mobile data is not guaranteed. In towns and populated areas you tend to get 3G but often when you’re on the road in between said places mobile data disappears.
WiFi is generally provided at campsites, albeit sometimes at a surcharge, but is frustratingly slow. Usage is often restricted to a limit thought acceptable in Europe back in the 90s, such as 250 MB. These factors combined make the generously provided Internet almost unusable. So unusable in fact that once connected to ‘proper’ WiFi at Pete’s house we managed to blow his monthly WiFi allowance within 3 days. (We blame our iPads synchronising in the background the pictures we took over the past few weeks but it is still somewhat of a bewilderment to us).
That said, given the size of the country and the relatively small population — remember that the vast majority of Kiwis live in Auckland — it’s kind of a miracle there’s any internet connectivity at all.
Many who read this will protest against my outrage and think that surely not being connected to Social Media and news all the time is a good thing, it will allow us to soak up New Zealand even better not having all these distractions and maybe even that the world was a better place before the Internet started to rule us all. And yes, to a certain degree I agree. However, accepting our digitalised world as it is there are certain digital needs that come with it. After all these blog posts don’t upload by themselves.
Now, back to the ‘main’ blog post.
The next day we explore Cannibal Bay which is supposed to be a prime spot for seeing wildlife. And indeed, after detecting some snoring sea lions, almost camouflaged by the mountain of sand on top of them, we notice a group of sea lions towards the end of the bay. These ones are anything but asleep. The group seems to consist almost entirely of male sea lions which appear to be fighting for dominance and pride, for we could not identify a more immediate prize such as food or a female sea lion. But then we are no marine biologists either. The fighting reminded us of the play-fighting behaviour dogs display: a lot of snapping and growling but no serious blood wounds or the like.
Cannibal Bay has some other more dangerous but less spectacular wildlife too. The beach is littered with baby Portuguese Man-O-War proudly sporting their inflated Cornish Pasty like sails and long blue tentacles. Wearing only flip-flops we gingerly hop back to the van.
Satisfied with our wildlife experiences we retreat to a cafe for the remainder of the day.
Our next stop is Invercargill but on the way we want to stop at Curio Bay to see its fossilised Jurassic-age trees. Once we arrive we also discover a campsite and take a look. Our Lonely Planet doesn’t have much favourable to say about Invercagill and seeing the beautiful view on offer we decide to stay, a decision that is later confirmed by locals to be the right one.
The fossilised trees are in surprisingly good condition and you can clearly recognise tree trunks and stumps in what used to be a lush forest. Volcanic ashes combined with rain have flooded this forest and so preserved it until this day.
In the evening we prepare a simple dinner and enjoy a beautiful sunset looking out over the sea. Soon after dinner we have to give in to the cold winds, however, and retreat inside our camper-van.
Tomorrow we start the day with some chores and do laundry before exploring the nearby Cathedral Cove. What might sound like a religious excursion is indeed a walk through lush rainforest before entering a coastal cave tunnel system on the beach. Because of its location the “Cathedral” can only be accessed during low tide and even we get wet feet when an unexpected surge rushes in.
After dinner I drag Alex back to the fossilised bay to see the famous yellow-eyed penguins which nest here. Unfortunately, there’s only one couple left as its already towards the end of the nesting season but I remain hopeful, along with perhaps 50 other onlookers, of a sighting. We position ourselves, stand and wait. And wait. And wait. After over 1 1/4 hours of waiting the sun has set, our legs are sandfly bitten and we can barely see a thing.
But then. Some onlookers spot them and point them out. 2 penguins have indeed made an appearance, however, the moment wasn’t quite as magical as hoped. All we can see are 2 white stripes in the far distance (the penguins’ bodies). After a short time even the white stripes disappear and all we’re left with are sandfly bites and a couple of blurry photos. Disappointed we retreat back to the van.
Instead of stopping in Invercargill we have decided to push through all the way to Te Anau. The drive is supposed to be beautiful and I’m keen to explore the local glowworm cave.
First though we stop at Slope Point, which is the South island’s most southernly point.
By the time we arrive in the Fjordlands (where Te Anau us located) its late afternoon and we are greeted with buckets of water ringed out from the soaking clouds above us, something this area is renowned for. We park our car in a campsite and off we go on the glowworm cave tour.
A short boat ride later we arrive at our destination and are given instructions not to use light, phones or cameras inside and to be quiet so that the glowworms are not disturbed. We enter a low tunnel entrance and are walked through a small, dedicated section of the vast cave network. We can tell that this is a well oiled operation with metal steps, railings and nuanced lights in place. The main part of the tour entails a little boat ride into a cave where a sheer amount of glowworms can be spotted. We take a seat on the cozy boat and remain silent (as per instruction). The dim, red lights get turned off and soon our eyes adjust to the darkness. Already we can spot the little luminous lights the worms are giving off to attract their dinner. The deeper the boat floats into the cave the higher the glowworm concentration. I find the whole experience quite captivating and amazing.
Back in the ‘open-air’ again we are shepherded into a nearby hut for a glowworm-presentation and warming tea and coffee.
Despite the sheer amounts of rain we’re already looking forward to our 5-day trip into the Fjordlands due to start in a couple of days.