I woke to the car shaking from the wind, to the clatter of rain on the roof. It had been a blustery night, parked by the seashore at Moray Terrace, but I’d caught a few hours of sleep and had made the snug confines of Te Namu as comfortable as possible. The day would start out right — with a sea breeze and a freshly brewed cup of coffee — and hopefully get even better, as I would be driving the Southern Scenic Route.
Our house has its back to the sea,’ writes Hester in her journal. ‘Below us, the ocean spreads to the sky, twitching wide and blue and hungry. One would think it to be infinite. But we, of course, know better.” – Tanya Moir
A short way from Fort Rose is the treacherous Waipapa Point, taken from the Māori for ‘shallow waters’ and the site of an 1881 shipwreck which claimed 131 lives. What bodies were recovered are buried nearby, and the lighthouse stands vigil against a repeat of the disaster. Squat and solitary, perched atop a small rise, it keeps a tireless watch, warning ships away from the pounding surf. Sea lions waddle out of the sea to sleep among the tussock, and I nearly stumbled upon a pair before I saw them.
Slope Point was next, along a bumpy gravel road which winds through pastureland and along the bluffs. The walk down to the lookout was a slick, muddy mess, and I walked slowly — lest I slip and start the day with a full-body slide through sheep excrement. The wind howled across the terrain, and a thick cover of clouds blocked any trace of blue sky above. The view reflected this, and nothing was visible save the wind-whipped seas. Still, the lash of each gust, the tang of salt, the feeling of being closer to the South Pole than I’d ever been… it all lent itself to a feeling of grand adventure.
This… this is what I came to New Zealand for…
I kept driving the Southern Scenic Route, to Curio Bay and Tumu Toka — the petrified forest. When the tide is low, a tangle of fossils can be seen frozen in the rock, crusted with algae and barnacles. A sliver of time, frozen and ripped out of history. A window to the past. I ran my fingers along the ancient stone and let my mind wander.
Curio Bay itself is best seen from above; a bluff separating it from the adjacent Porpoise Bay makes a good vantage point. The sea surged over a raised shelf of land, then retreated through cracks and crevices in the bed of stone. Tangled tresses of kelp turned themselves inward, then out again as the current had its way.
Porpoise Bay, named for the rare upokohue sometimes seen in its waters, is a near-perfect crescent — marked that day by dazzling beams of sunlight. The curling arc of a surf break appeared just offshore, and the spray from it caught the sunlight and sparkled. Then again, and again, and again. It was hypnotizing, and I watched from the be-pebbled beach.
But neither bay held my attention so much as the point which separated them. The volcanic stone was rugged and sharp, and the surf broke upon it with a fury. I found a perch and watched as waves smashed themselves to pieces mere meters from me, the surge caused by their demise nearly reached my shoes.
While I enjoy roughing it as much as the next backpacker, I’m an unabashed creature of comfort. I love my coffee, I love my cafes, and I love my baked goods. So when I saw the turnoff for the Whistling Frog Cafe and Bar, I thought to myself, ‘Go on, Nathan, you deserve a treat.’ So I got one.
Belly appeased, I carried on, and made an impromptu stop when I saw a wee sign by the roadside: a DOC sign for the Tautuku Nature Walk, with promise of a beach at the end. Why not? Within seconds, I found myself surrounded by local bush — the growth thick, lush, and tinkling with birdsong.
It was magical, but not as magical as when I emerged, blinking, from a tunnel of green.
A huge beach, perfect and smooth, stretched to either side. The expanse was empty; I was the only one there. Cackling like a child who’d just found an unsecured cookie jar, I ran to the water and played tag with the waves.
I could’ve stayed there forever, I think, but the sun was setting a quick pace for the horizon, and I had miles to go before I slept. I looked back once, from a bluff overlooking Tautuku Beach, and lingered before carrying on towards Papatowai.
I paid my camp fees, parked Te Namu in a cozy little nook, and hunkered down for the evening. It had been another fantastic day driving the Southern Scenic Route, and I couldn’t resist one last look at the map to see what the morrow would bring.
How about you? What’s a recent road trip you’ve done? Would you recommend it? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!