Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Catlins (NZ part 20)

(NZ part one here)

The countryside to the east of Invercargil, one of the larger cities in the south, provides easy riding. We've gotten a good start this morning, despite a long day yesterday, and we keep a gentle pace as we zig zag on the country roads leading out of town and toward the coast. Having ridden a route through less populated areas recently, we are just a little overwhelmed by all the road options available again. We stop to look at our maps more often, and find that we now need to have a bit more specific a destination in mind in order to make route choices.

The Catlins area runs roughly from Waipap Point to Nugget Point, and includes a number of Reserves and Parks. The scenery slowly changes over to reflect this as we near the coast. More trees line the roads and hillsides, and the overall feel shifts to green. At times we ride through actual forest, which we haven't done in quite some time. The open Southland roads have been beautiful, but it is nice to be in a more intimate landscape once again. Sheep farms create a mosaic on the rolling countryside as we slip out of the rain shadow of the Southern Alps and bump up against the Pacific. As we crest a low pass, I get a flat, and we stop to work on the bike. The flat doesn't seem to bother me much as it provides an opportunity to stop for a moment, and enjoy the bucolic scenery and the sunny day. We can see our route flowing ahead of us, down into a valley, probably across a river, and then back to the water line.

We ride like this, along the ocean, then into the interior and over the gentle hills, through some forest, then back to the coast, over and over throughout the day, and the rhythm of it becomes very soothing. Our travels are not rushed at this point, as we have settled in to ourselves and living on the bikes.

We camp near the water, I believe near Haldane, Curio, or Porpoise bay. We hoped to see the petrified forest in the area, but timing of the tides does not work in our favor. (My notes are scarce for this part of the trip, but I'm determined to revisit this area and refresh my memory.) Eventually, we reach Nugget Point, an interesting geologic feature we have been pointed toward for several days. We spend hours walking around on the paths, watching the seals lounge below as the bladderkelp forest sways in the surf. This is the only known place on the South Island where fur seals, Hooker's sea lions, and elephant seals coexist, and the bird life is quite varied as well.

 From Nugget Point we continue north on country roads. Just at the edge of the Catlins we spend a rainy, blustery evening in the comfort of a hostel. The wind howls all evening and I sleep fitfully. Tomorrow our destination will be Dunedin, and the hospitality of a friend from the States.