New Zealand South Island

26 February – 5 March 2017

Once we turned inland in search of fishing access spots, we were no longer in the hustle and bustle of the constant line of tourists' camper vans, which seemed to stick mostly to the coast road. We headed inland from Palmerston along the Shag River to Waipiata on the Taieri River but the fish weren't co-operating. We spent the night for free at Omakau right on the river watching the rain fall.

Next morning we pressed on to the small town of Alexandra where we picked up some DIY supplies to make secret modifications to our camper, before visiting the interesting Central Stories museum.

Our lunch stop was made at a beautiful spot at Butcher's Dam where we attempted to entice the fish and decided instead to take a walk around the lake before heading on to Pinder's Pond on the Clutha River, where we free camped. The river was running fast, but the pond itself was a fun fishing opportunity when the trout began to rise and gobble up black moths.

On waking the next morning we discovered that the camping spot we'd selected was down in a dip, meaning the sun didn't reach it, so we were freezing. The camper was quickly moved before breakfast to thaw us out.

Otago Peninsula

Our inland loop brought us back to the coast near Dunedin and we drove out to the very tip of the Otago Pensinsula, a challenging trip on narrow, winding roads but worth the effort for the views along the way.

Our destination was the Royal Albatross Centre, located on a headland at the northern tip of the Peninsula. Here the Royal Albatrosses made their only land stops of their lives to nest and breed. We took the pricey tour to the hide from which you could see the nesting giants, which obliged us by circling overhead, displaying their impressive wingspan.

It's good to sit down!

Wing span vs arm span!

Finding ourselves on the coast near the city of Dunedin after the tortuous return journey, we were worried about finding somewhere to camp. We didn't need to worry though, finding a cliff-top spot right on the beach at the sports field in the town of Brighton. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the beach.

We pushed on south to the Catlins area which spans the south eastern corner of the island. People on limited touring time often miss this area but its scenery justified the side trip.

We stopped at Nugget Point to hike to the lighthouse. From here it was a joy to watch seals frolicking in the rock pools below.

Free camping in Brighton

Brighton sunset

Taking a tern.

Lighthouse at Nugget Point

The Nuggets

Onward to Purakanui Falls, an inland spot which offered a shaded walk through old forest to the main attraction. Here we were amazed by the massive Fan Trees, which, as our trip went along, turned out to be quite common in New Zealand.

At our next stop we had our first encounter with New Zealand's notorious sandflies. At Curio Bay, as we viewed the petrified remains of an ancient forest now submerged at high tide, the bugs feasted on us. Our walk around the remaining live forest across the road was much less blood-thirsty.

We spent the night at a free camping spot right on the beach at Fortrose.

Fan Tree

Purakanui Falls

Rocks that were once trees, Curio Bay.

Sunset at Fortrose.

The fisherman had a fishing licence burning a hole in his pocket so it was time to head inland and consult our fishing access guidebook. During the course of the next few days we were to learn something more about licences, in this case poetic licence in descriptions, as we battled our way to some of these easy accesses!

Our first attempt was on the Mataura River at an access called Gibson Road (over-statement). “A road leads to the access, with parking for several vehicles at the end.” We consulted with a farmer working the fields at the beginning of the road and he advised that, while he'd never actually gone down that road, it was probably OK. Hmm.

With hindsight we should perhaps have parked on the main road and hiked but nervously we drove Charlie-the-camper down a single track gravel road, trimming the undergrowth at its edges as we went. Part way through the half mile journey we began to get an ominous feeling that we may find ourselves reversing the whole way back to the road. Finally reaching the end, we found the parking area; a spot barely big enough to turn our van and that was only possible as there was only one other vehicle there.

Well, as we'd made it, Phil went fishing. Our only company in the picturesque spot was a couple of Tasmanians. It seemed to be a trend that the only people fly-fishing at that time in New Zealand were tourists. All the locals were later discovered to be camping, bumper-to-bumper, along the canals which passed by the salmon farms, and doing their fishing there.

Phil landed a fish and was happy to get Charlie the hell out of the sketchy spot where he was parked, before we were blocked in, so we continued along the Mataura.

Mataura River

We came across another access point, this one with parking in a lay-by right off the main road at the Maori war memorial at Tuturau. This seemed like the spot for us. We crossed the road, scrambled the fence and battled our way through grass as tall as us to reach the river. There were several amusing moments when we lost each other in the ridiculously tall grass, reminding of us the old joke about the “where-the-f***-are we tribe”.

By the time we returned to our camper it was almost dark and a secluded spot behind the trees beckoned as an overnighting spot where we could pick all the grass seeds from our clothes. Well, there was no “No overnight camping” sign.

Next morning we drove to Gore for information and flies and spent some time fishing near Riversdale. From there we went south again to an “easy access” behind the Dongwha fibre board factory.

We turned into the factory car park and diverted through a bumpy field to the parking area, glad there was nobody coming the other way. We were surprised to find nobody at the parking area, another field, either. Perhaps that should have warned us.

Off we set along the “well-marked” trail to the river. It looked promising, an official path between two fences along the side of a farm field. About ten minutes in we began to wonder if we would need a machete, as the path became more and more overgrown. We negotiated our way past two unfortunate dead sheep but finally the path became thick with spiky brambles. Our choice was either to give up and turn back or to scale the fence and sneak through the farm field to the river. Not wanting to be defeated, we chose the latter. We did finally make it to the river which you could actually see if you battled through the trees which lined it. From there you only had to scramble down a cliff to make your cast, if you could find a spot where you wouldn't get your line tangled in the trees. Certainly frustrating but the determined fisherman was not deterred, especially when he spotted a group of large trout loitering by some kind of outfall into the river. It took a while but finally one was hooked and Phil was happy, until he realised that to unhook it he would need to tackle the cliff!

The spot was peaceful, for obvious reasons and we expected to be alone, after all nobody else would be crazy enough to reach this spot. Moments after we had this thought, a bewildered looking Japanese man crawled out of the shrubbery with his fly rod.

We headed back to the previous night's camping spot as darkness fell. We could see it across the river but by road it was a trip of several miles!

We'd been invited to spend time with cousin Richard's friends Trevor and Julie in Invercargill. As the forecast was terrible for the weekend, it seemed like the ideal opportunity. Unfortunately Julie was away with her marching band until Sunday night but Trevor gamely offered his hospitality anyway.

As soon as we arrived, Trevor whisked us off on a tour of the town's landmarks. Our first destination was E. Hayes hardware store. A strange sightseeing location, but this was no ordinary hardware store. Nestled among the chain saws and hardware bits and bobs was a motorcycle museum, set up in honour of Bert Munro of “The World's Fastest Indian” fame. The town of Invercargill's son set the under 1000cc world speed record in 1967, a record which still stands.

World's fastest Indian.

OK, no beach for us.

It wasn't the perfect day for a beach visit but we went anyway. The beach is one on which normally you can drive. In the bracing gale we were enjoying, however, the only car on the beach seemed to be stuck and even stepping out of Trevor's car to take a picture resulted in a painful sandblasting. We ended our tour with a trip to the local fishing store before heading home to cook dinner for Trevor and watch a movie.

The weather didn't improve the next day, so Trevor took us to their local swimming centre which was funded by the town's drinking habits! A trust owned all licensed premises in the town and liquor stores, and any profits were invested in projects for the town. To do our bit we later headed to Trev's regular pub, “The Northern”, for a couple of pints, before heading home to watch the local rugby.

Trevor was off to work the next day but kindly lent us Julie's car for a trip to Bluff, one of the southernmost points in New Zealand, next stop Antarctica. The weather again wasn't conducive and after taking the obligatory signpost photo, we returned to Invercargill to explore the lovely Queen's park. The hot-houses seemed a good destination for the weather.

After collecting Trev from work we had dinner with visiting family and later finally got to meet Julie on her return from Wellington. We were keen to head to Milford Sound for the forecast good weather but wanted to spend time with Julie too, so it was agreed that we'd be back with them the following weekend.

Checking out a NZ pub.


Extra heat in the Queen's Park hot house.

Dinner with Trevor, Paul and Carol.

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