Friday, May 28, 2010

Beach Highlights - The Catlins

The last two days in the South Island have seen major flooding, sleet, hail, rain, snow, yet just a few days ago, this is what I was experiencing in the far southeast of the South Island in that blissfully remote and rugged region called The Catlins. The weather was perfect - all the better to show off the many beautiful beaches that most of New Zealand seems to be unaware of. The beach/estuary above is at Papatowai, just down from the tiny community that boasts one of only two stores in the whole of the Catlins - a stretch of land close to 180km long. Understandably, the population swells every summer as holidaymakers descend upon this beautiful spot. And then there is Tautuku Bay (above). I stopped (like hundreds of people a year), at Florence Hill Lookout to look dpown on this stunning crescent of golden sand. There's no road into the beach - just a walking track through bush - and the owners of the cluster of little cribs on the far green headland (not visible in this shot), access their dwellings with tractors and 4WDs across the Tautoko River at low tide. Back in the old days, there was a whaling station and quite a community on the headland.
Curio Bay in the south of the Catlins is a different kettle of fish - not so much a spectacular beach as a rugged, swirling kelp forest that surges over the rocky tidal platforms with every wave. This is where you'll find a fossilised forest, clearly visible in the rock platform at low tide. Thought to be 160 million years old, it's one of the iconic attractions of the Catlins.
I loved this sign on the headland that separates Curio Bay from the calm sweep of Porpoise Bay (below). Such an understatement, given that the land drops away into the unwelcoming ocean below.
And Porpoise Bay may have been my favourite. This is the view I woke up to from my motel room - just a few metres from the sand, in the company of sea lions. The bay is 'home' to a large pod of rare Hector's dolphins in summer, known to come very close to swimmers. Perhaps the best thing of all about the Catlins beaches is the absence of people. Even in summer when the so-called 'crowds' come in, you can still have entire bays and long beaches entirely to yourself. This was my first trip down the Catlins for ten years and so much has changed in that time. For a start, most of the roads were gravel last time I drove down; now the entire main road is sealed, and even many of the off-shoots are sealed. I guess that's a good thing from a motorist's point of view, but me? I prefer the gravel and the sense of discovery that comes with venturing down remote, narrow, twisting, steep roads to pretty bays that feel as though they have been forgotten by all but the abundant wildlife.

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