Morning walks are one of those things: I like to take them, but I won’t get up for one. The good thing about sleeping in the trunk of a car is that sleeping in isn’t a luxurious prospect, it’s a chore. So it was that at the crack of dawn I found myself out of bed and ready to do something. Something… like a bush-walk.
I set off for Picnic Point, skirting the shoreline before cutting into the dense forest. It was like stepping into another world. The sound of the surf faded and was replaced by the twittering of birds, the sighing of wind through tree branches, the crashing of a deer through the undergrowth…
Refreshed from the walk, I set off to explore the highlights of the Catlins, and — after making a beeline for Owaka to replenish my fuel — I doubled back to visit Pūrākaunui Falls. The flow was low, but the falls still made for a peaceful spot, and I found a spot level with their base and relaxed.
Then, I had an idea. It had been a few days since I showered, and I figured a brisk dunk beneath the falls would be a nice way to start the day. Right? Wrong. Head ducked as I climbed back, I didn’t notice an outcrop of rock until my skull cracked into it. The taste of iron filled my mouth, and I staggered from the impact. Dazed, I brushed the top of my head and felt a nice little crater in my scalp. My fingers came away crimson.
After macgyvering a bandage out of a wad of tissue and a neck-warmer, I set off for my next destination: the unfortunately named Jack’s Blowhole.
It was the hottest day of my trip so far, and the climb up the bluff had me sweating before I even reached the blowhole. Still, it was a beautiful day, and the azure sky contrasted wonderfully with the verdant fields.
I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe a blowhole like the ones we saw on Savai’i, or something a bit larger. Whatever I’d had in my head, it wasn’t this. A huge sinkhole, into which the sea roared through an underground tunnel. The force of the water was amazing, and I stood clutching the railing and peering down for a long time.
Next up was Cannibal Bay, but as daunting as the name sounds, it was magnificent. Perfect sand, rippling from the touches of the receding surf, stretched the length of the crescent bay, and the stunning blue of the sky was mirrored in the water.
Further along, I came across a colony of sea lions, lazing on the beach and occasionally lurching upright to bellow and bark at each other. I gave them a wide berth, but enjoyed watching their posturing before continuing on.
Surat Bay was even larger, but just as perfect.
Something clicked then, something I’d almost given up on. Shortly after coming to New Zealand, I wrote a post on Facebook and mentioned how I didn’t think I could love New Zealand. It is too easy to get by and doesn’t have the exotic allure other places do. It’s too close to home. But I’d been working and without a car. I hadn’t seen much at all.
Now… now I realized I could indeed love New Zealand.
There was one more spot to see, one last stop on my tour of the highlights of the Catlins: Nugget Point Lighthouse. The walk from the parking area was a short one, and the sun was setting as I approached.
Nugget Point is one of those places where I felt like I was looking at a postcard. The water was too blue, the setting too dramatic, the light too perfect. But, impossibly, it was real.
I lingered for a spell, looking out at the ‘nuggets’ of rock dotting the sea. It was the golden hour, and the lighthouse behind me cast a massive shadow across the water.
My journey to the Catlins was nearly finished.
My camp site for the night would be in another unfortunately named place: Kaka Point. Surprisingly, the smell of it was fresh: of sea breezes and forest growth.
Located just above town, the campground was nestled in a clearing, and I treated myself to a steaming hot shower. The dust and grime and blood trickled down, and I stepped from the stall feeling like a new man. But before I could sleep, there were several things I needed to attend to — things which rhyme with dinner and beer.
How about you? Has your perception of a place changed mid-visit? Where was the place, and what caused the change? Let me know in the comments below!