Part two of our South Island, New Zealand road trip! From Wanaka to Dunedin, through the Catlins, and on to Invercargill.
Wanaka -> Dunedin
Waking up in Wanaka, we were excited to get the day started and to see some more of the town. Again, a lot of NZ felt like “home” to us, because of a general similarity to many of our places in the Western USA, Wanaka was no exception. It’s a nice small town on a lake, surrounded by mountains – which can describe a lot of Colorado and Washington, so hopefully you can understand how happy it was for us to be in a place that feels anything like the home you have been away from for so long.
We set off first thing looking for a good breakfast place. The map from the holiday park suggested a place “all the locals go to” with something like the best coffee in town, so we tried to find that. It wasn’t in the main “downtown” part of Wanaka, but it also didn’t exist at all where the map said it was. What we got out of the search for it was a nice drive all over a few neighborhoods and general sense of the town. We ended up falling in love with the area and in the end wish we would’ve spent more time there.
Wanaka, like many small towns, has a downtown area with all the shopping you could need, and where we found a replacement travel tripod, a nice man in a hunting/fishing shop to help Matt fix his pole, a few souvenirs, and a couple of books to keep us entertained (a coloring book for me and Pee Wee the Kiwi for Porter).
If you’re shopping, you can’t miss the picturesque Lake Wanaka, as it commands the view wherever you are. We watched some ducks paddle around and then toddled around looking at the water toys on the beach before deciding to head out. BUT WAIT! Before we left I needed to see what all the “Wanaka Tree” fuss was about. During breakfast, Matt was looking behind me at a picture on the cafe wall, saying he thought it was awesome. It was of the famous tree, so it was easy to convince him to go see it. Just a bit of a drive around Roy’s Bay, you can park at a walking trail on the lake and just walk down to find the tree. What is it? Literally a little tree growing in the water. The background of the lake and mountains provide for some really fun landscape shots with a unique subject in the foreground. I want to be one of those people who make glory out of any situation, buuuut, it was a cloudy, gray, late winter’s morning and the photos I could take just can’t compete with something more colorful.
It was definitely cool to see, and try my hand at photographing, but I fell more in love with the neighboring houses (swoon) and all the people running on the trail, again noting, YES, we could happily live here.
Now, with all of the above accomplished, we needed to set off to our next destination, Dunedin, because Matt had made plans to hunt with a guide down there the next day.
The drive to Dunedin was of course amazing, the landscape changing regularly, dramatically, and breathtakingly. We stopped once along the way for some coffee and ended up chatting with a couple very nice ladies who were loving asking us questions about where we’re from as much as we loved talking to them about NZ 🙂
Forgive me, but I have no photos of Dunedin useful for this post! Hands full of toddler, stroller, and coffee are my excuse!
The evening that we arrived in Dunedin, we booked two nights in a hotel (quite nice, but don’t piss them off and park your Jucy Lucy where they don’t want you to…), stocked up on a few more necessary groceries, and had a casual sushi dinner out. A hotel wasn’t necessary, but there were no holiday parks within walking distance to much of anything to see, and it was overcast and rainy for that weekend, so I didn’t want to keep the kid and I cooped up in a vehicle somewhere remote when we could be using our time to explore this town that friends had told us they loved. All in all, the expense was worth it, as was the ability to take hot showers in a real bathroom!
Part of the appeal of NZ for Matt was the hunting aspect, and he wasn’t about to travel all that way and not take a day (at least) for himself. If you know hunting at all, there is no guarantee that you will get an animal, and that wasn’t the point for Matt, he wanted the experience overall. But since he was going, I joked with him as I always do and told him to find me the biggest red stag in NZ and make it worth our time and money. And…he did!
It’s a pretty cool story, and he had a great day. His guide, Mark, was super awesome, as was his wife whom we met with later at her cafe. Maybe Matt will write up something for the blog one day…
While Matt was out hunting, Porter and I slept in, then set about walking all over the cute town of Dunedin (seriously, Google images Dunedin, you’ll find far better photos than I’d have been able to take!). While out we did some necessary errand running: a refill on cell data, a Starbucks mug purchase, and probably the number one thing we bought on vacation: an All Blacks kiwi bird that chants the Haka! Porter has camels from a few countries in the Middle East, each with their own song, so this kiwi purchase just made sense.
Let me tell you, my child did not go to bed without playing the soothing sounds of the Haka at least 20 times each night for the rest of our entire trip 🙂
Dunedin -> Invercargill, via The Catlins
Very early the next morning, we woke up, loaded into the Jucy motor home, and set off to the taxidermist with Mark to take care of that business. Matt arranged for his big beautiful stag to be mounted and sent to us here in Abu Dhabi (while the meat was donated). On the way out of Dunedin we stopped at Mark’s wife Sarah’s cafe (Cafe Vega, Green Island area of Dunedin) and tried to buy one of each sandwich and treat the cafe sold. Everything in the display looked so good! Sarah definitely hooked us up that morning, and I’m not saying this because they were genuinely so incredibly awesome, but the latte they made was the best I had in the entire country. If/when you’re in or passing by Dunedin, stop in for a meal and you won’t be disappointed, I promise.
Our goal for the day was to meander our way towards Invercargill, taking our time exploring Catlins Forest Park. There is a main road leading through the fairly vast area that comprises the Catlins, but it is certainly not like a main thoroughfare (there is a highway if you want to take a more direct/fast route). Many of the roads that lead to the spectacular waterfalls and other sites are down winding, dirt roads that are quite the experience in a motor home, haha. It was drizzly that day, so we muddied our Jucy Lucy up like CHAMPS.
First stop was at Purakaunui Falls! A quick walk through a really cool forest and you’re at this fantastic waterfall.
The landscape and flora in the Catlins makes it worth a visit, for sure. It’s so unique, with a mix of farmland and forests that consist of this mix of “normal” looking trees and very tropical, rainforest-like trees. We next drove to the trail for McClean Falls, but with the quite cold, windy, rainy weather and it being a longer walk to the falls, we decided against getting out. I KNOW! YOLO! But with a two-year old to consider…we weren’t really willing to get that adventurous…or sick. There was also the road to Cathedral Caves we saw, but those weren’t accessible at the time, anyway.
There was one sight that I was unwilling to compromise on and that was Slope Point, the southernmost point of New Zealand. Right on the coast, looking toward Antarctica, and with views of these crazy ass wind-swept (beaten?) trees!
Funny thing was…the wind was blowing the opposite direction of what these trees would suggest, ha.
The walk out to the distances sign was brutal, folks. I know I just said we weren’t willing to walk to an insanely spectacular waterfall, and to tell you now that we walked through a sheep field with no natural protection from the wind, and eventual rain, must sound really stupid. It felt stupid and irresponsible taking Porter out there like that and we questioned every ten steps if we should keep going. There were sparse signs, casually pointing in a southerly direction, and a path that we mostly guessed at, but we made it to the sign! Along with one other couple (who stubbornly wouldn’t move out of the way for a few photos despite there being no one else around and like ONE obvious thing everyone goes out there to take pictures with. WTF?). But at least we made it out there when we did because it was about to be locked off due to baby lambs being born.
Then we nearly ran back to the motor home and decided to just enjoy the sights from inside until we reached Invercargill – not much further of a drive.
The evening in Invercargill was pretty chill. We set up camp at a great holiday park and went out to eat at Speight’s Ale House where we had a much wanted dinner of pub food while the local rugby team played on TV. We met and chatted with quite a few people between the two places that evening and it was great! Very nice people all around.
The next morning was sunny, finally! And the town actually looked far more charming in the sunlight 🙂 We weren’t sure even as we were leaving what we’d do next as we had a couple more full days before our flight back to Australia. It was a toss up between more long drives into Fjordland, in the southwest corner of the South Island, or just heading to Queensland to spend a few days slowly enjoying one of the towns we kept falling in love with for once.
To be continued…