All the roads are gravel

Driving around New Zealand does not always make sense. Our previous spot, the Mt. Cook village, was just on the other side of the mountain range and in the West you’d have the famous glaciers – Franz Josef and Fox Glacier -  where we would be going later after a looong detour on the East coast.

The east coast in our dreams meant animal encounters – penguins, seals, maybe dolphins and even whales.. but of course all these are season dependent. As we have learned many times by now, it is not the penguin season. Apparently, no-one knows what penguins do or where they go after they have raised their babies at the shore. One sign said they sleep in the ocean. The theory of relativity was finalised 101 years ago but we still don’t know where the penguins go!

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Dunedin, just enough to drive through the city twice as I missed a well-hidden turn to a super cheap auto store and we had to go all around again. Now we don’t need to try to sneak into hostels to charge our electronics as we have a power inverter. Unfortunately this has meant that as the Mac is always charged, we can spend way too much time watching shows during dark nights at the camping grounds since there is nothing else to do.. (Read?! I think I had to read a lot this year. Next night then.)

Tunnel Beach near Dunedin was our first stop and since it was already 10am, it was more than appropriate time for ice cream! There are small shops selling real-fruit ice-cream scattered around NZ and it is delicious.

This day was meant to be one of those ones where you drive a bit and stop a lot. My planning notes said we could do everything from Tunnel Beach to Slope Point with multiple stops in between in a day but as we have learned, my planning can’t always be trusted.

Drive to Nugget Point Lighthouse takes up surprisingly lot of time as you need to drive there and back on a slow curly road. But it was worth it – we saw sea lions! About 300m away and they were mostly brown lumps that moved a bit… but still!

 Someone is extremely happy after our first animal encounter!

Someone is extremely happy after our first animal encounter!

Now the time was already past 2pm and it wasn’t long before dark. So we decided to skip both Purakaunui Falls and Cathedral Caves and drive straight to somewhere near Slope point to camp. Only to be tempted to drive 25km one-way on a gravel road for the possible promise of close-by sea lion encounters at Jackson Bay. We walked the whole beach, almost lost Richie in the fog, saw some monstrous sea weed trunks but no sea lions.

 

Now we were kind of in a rush and the gravel roads just continued. To add to this, destiny threw another obstacle on our route – bridge renovation and a detour. We were directed to drive through the middle of the thick Catlin forests and I don’t think any other backbacker has driven through that Fanghorn-type of silently threatening forest. The thickness of that jungle-like view was astounding and it would have been quite an adventure to go and wonder between the trees. Only problem is that I’m not sure if you could get in, the green walls surrounding us were so thick.

 Catlins forest

Catlins forest

After a very long time we finally got out and were approaching Slope Point camping area, now we just had to navigate based on the map as there we hadn’t had phone service in the past 3 hours. That was also awesome because I had no idea what there was at Slope Point because my plan notes did not say anything else than “Slope Point”. Luckily we found the camping spot and asked other smart people around who enlightened us that is the Southernmost part of New Zealand we could visit the next morning.

And so we did!