Travel New Zealand

Catlins & Lions


After a couple of days in Te Anau, we dropped down to the bottom east portion of the South Island to an area called the Catlins – a fairly unpopulated area that’s, once again, filled with more amazing, unspoiled sites, like this one above – Porpoise Bay.

Now, when we heard about Porpoise Bay, we figured it wasn’t named poetically, but still didn’t expect to find what we did.

You roll into the bay, and there’s just dolphins swimming around. Up, down, around, minding their own business, occasionally swimming up to a swimmer then veering off, back to their pod, to do what dolphins do. Then back into the surf to play in some waves.

While we saw plenty of lodges with the name “Dolphin”, there was no tour companies in site offering a swim with them.

They swim with you, if they’re interested.

It was awesome to see a spot like this without the marketing apparatus behind it i.e. DOLPHIN SWIM. $200: We’ll give your money back if they don’t show.

Granted, it’s probably well in place, and we may not have seen it. But the fact remains, that you can still get into the water, be around dolphins and not have to pay anybody a cent. I thought that was pretty amazing.

It’s next to impossible to get a photo of them, because they only swim up to show their dorsal fins, but this is the best I could do: (you see those three black specs, close together on the left side? Dolphins, not lens splotches. Promise.)


Rose and I spent a while staring out, watching them swim around. While the views look tempting to get in the water, the temps are around 10 degrees. So, as much as I love a dolphin…

Later on, we toured down the coast, heading East to a spot called Nugget Point, which is on the very edge of the East coast, and took shots along the way:


As we neared Nugget Point, we were told that we might spot a sea lion or two, lolling about on the rocky beaches en route. Just before the last turn up to the point we spotted this guy all alone, hanging about on a stretch of beach:

They’re hard to spot, because the beaches are full of kelp, camouflaging them. At one point, a jogger was going down the beach with his dog, and I was trying to alert him that there was a big sea lion in his path (apparently they bite). But the guy waved back at us, thinking we were saying hi, and his dog ran up and barked at the sea lion, probably waking it up a bit, before the guy realized it was a sea lion, and called his dog over before it got too close.

With all the action, by the time we got to Nugget Point, it was getting close to 7pm:


And, we’d decided we were going to push ahead to get to Dunedin. So, I barrelled along the highway, trying to get into the city limits before dark, taking the life of every insect I met in our one litre, grey Nissan barbarian, that beeps every time you put it into reverse.


Sadly, the beeline didn’t work. We got to a hostel around 9pm and they were full. Tried a few more places and no dice, so we broke our budget vow and found a hotel for the night.

Please note: I took out the word “Backpacking” from our search Tag, since we didn’t fit the bill this time around.

The good news is that we made it to Dunedin. And, just in time for a scrum.

More to come.




La-La, La-La-La-La on the Kepler Track



This mushroom has a name. If I were a biologist or botanist I would share it, then wax about its areas of origin and whether you could eat it and see everything in extreme detail for the next 12 hours.

But I have no “ist” designation. Only an active imagination that was largely fed by Saturday morning cartoons as a kid and comic books the rest of the day. And, within that context, this mushroom reminds me only of the Smurfs.


And, to a lesser extent, Tintin:


The point of all this is that these mushrooms dotted the side of the trail on the Kepler Track – a Great Walk in Te Anau (TAY – ANOO) – and, in my mind, gave our saunter a magic feeling as we walked along through a forest of ferns:


Mossy, fuzzy green that covered everything, and felt, at times, that we were walking through a 60’s shag carpeting store:


Plus, the requisite babbling brooks, and flowing rivers that immediately brought to mind a kid’s show I remember called: Fables of the Green Forest.


So, why all these allusions to pop culture?

One thought I had was that the landscapes in New Zealand in general, and on the Kepler Track specifically, have similarities to other forests I’ve seen, yet are, at the same time, wildly different. Plus the environments have an untouched, pristine quality that, to my mind, makes them seem almost unreal; so, the closest reference points I can conjure, for what seem like idyllic environments with combinations of plants and trees that are entirely unique, are fantasies about enchanted forests, because I’ve never seen anything like it in reality before (also there must be a reason – aside from just tax breaks – that fantasy film #1 – Lord of the Rings was filmed here).

A second thought I had is see paragraph 2 about an active imagination.

In either case, we were both under a spell walking along, Rose busy photographing as many red mushrooms as she could find, and me imagining Ewoks popping out from behind trees, Luke Skywalker speeding by on that forest bike he rode in Return of the Jedi and Gargamel on his hands and knees reaching under a tree looking for Smurfs.


Quickly the fantasy came to a halt when we met someone walking up the trail with a rifle slung over his shoulder.

“What are you hunting for?”, Rose asked him.

“Deer. There’s heaps of them here.”, he replied, then asked if I’d seen a young guy ahead on the trail.

“Yeah, he was running past us”, I replied

“Running. Aah, that little…”, “Ok, thanks”, and then walked on.

I immediately wondered if “deer” was a euphemism for his son, who may have been running away from him for a reason?

Then, 10 minutes later we ran into two more hunters taking a break on the trail. I asked them where they go hunting, imagining they have a designated spot:

“In there”, the hunter points to the ferns off the trail.


“Right. Okay. Well, good luck”, I replied and we walked on.

Immediately Smurfs, Star Wars and all other kids’ fantasies evaporated in my mind, and in their place were news stories I’d read of hunting accidents. Did those guys seem drunk? Maybe they’d fire towards the track?

I began to see headlines:

“Paradise Lost: Hunters accidentally kill tourists hiking”

“The New Game: Hunters kill two tourists on a hike”.

“Trail of Death: Tourists killed on Kepler Track” (that would go for the more sensational newspaper: Toronto Sun etc.)

Amid all of this – Rose and I were getting into our usual hiking zone of walking way too much. We agreed to doing a day hike on the Kepler Track, which is normally a three day hike, staying over in huts along the route.

However, we turned around on the track at about 12kms, which meant we now had another 12kms to walk back, and started to drag our heels.

As we got closer to the end, Rose complained of sore feet, and me a strained neck from staring too long, left and right into the forest for an orange coloured hunting vest, ready to take cover at the first sign.

We eventually ran into a Park officer on the trail who said that hunters were allowed to be there, but had to do it 500metres off the path, which offered some comfort, despite the fact that, I’m sure a bullet could make up that ground pretty easily.

It occurred to me that had we not known there were hunters, we would have remained under the fantasy spell, and probably interpreted the sound of a faraway gun shot as a branch coming down or maybe a woodpecker doing what he does best, and would have been blissfully unaware that the sound was Bambi being dispatched.

In any case, we got back to the car park, exhausted, and in need of airing out:


Though the idyllic bubble I was under for the first half of the walk had burst, and the Smurfs had fled, it remained a nice walk – which, if we return to do it again, I might add bright orange colouring to my hiking ensemble.

Next stop the Catlins on the Southern tip before swinging up to Dunedin on the East coast.




Walking, Wine: Wanaka


Wanaka is a town on the West coast of the South Island that’s a more subdued version of the nearby, sports crazy town, Queenstown – where things are punctuated by exclamation marks: Jet Boating! Bungee jumping! Skydiving! Soup and Sandwich!! Relaxing massage!!!!!

Instead, Wanaka more or less keeps to itself until winter when it swells a little for skiing at one of the many mountains surrounding it. Still, it’s no less attractive in the summer/spring months with a lake on its doorstep, drawing cyclists, swimmers and water skiers.

The drive in to the town was dramatic: after a series of windy roads with lush green trees, we popped over a hill to a lake, and mountain range:


Sadly this picture looks like any other nice looking picture you might see. Though it can’t fully translate the view, I think it’s a better option than me sharing all the synonyms I can think of for the word: “majestic”.

We kept stopping the car to take photos, and after pulling in to one viewing point, we ran into the same couple who we’d seen twice before at two other spots farther North.

I know, I know. What do they look like? We’ve talked about them enough now, why not include a photo? Well, the truth is we haven’t got one. So, ladies and gentleman, once again, for your viewing pleasure, Neeeeeeew Zeeeeeeealand:


Of course, a NZ destination wouldn’t be complete without some hiking time. We made sure to climb up the highest thing we could in a day, giving us a view of the entire city:


Wanaka is also at the top of the Otago wine region. So, we also planned a trip to the single winery in town for a look, and I immediately wondered if the owner just built the winery on the location for the sake of the view:



But the wine also turned out to be really good, which led us to ease off our dogmatic budget constraints, and spring for a bottle with a plate of food.

After sitting outside for a bit, Rose and I decided to play wine marketers, and did our best to put together an iconic shot of wine country. A shot we see a thousand times over in wine marketing material: wine bottle, glass with wine in it, hunks of cheese, if not all sitting on an old barrel, then on a piece of worn, rustic wood.

While we assembled the ingredients, I think the major lifting was done by the mountain and lake in the background:


We also met a couple at the winery who just finished the Kepler Track in Te Anau. Another “Great Walk” – which Rose and I had been debating about, but didn’t think we’d have time to fit in.

However, after polishing off a bottle of wine, somehow it seemed like it was always a good idea, and agreed we’d head there next.


Next stop: Te Anau and another light stroll.