Tag Archives: Southland
Southland in the Summertime
The Southland of New Zealand is some of the flattest part of the South Island, which meant that when I took a bus down to Invercargill, there were no hills to block the wind blowing in straight from Antarctica. It was cold, is what I’m saying. And raining. But by that time, I’d grown to expect that of New Zealand, although I can’t say I ever got excited about it. So I went ahead with my plans to rent a car and explore the Southland.
Like any good American, I got in my car and headed west. I drove along the Southern Scenic Route, which hugs the coast from Dunedin down to Invercargill and then next to the mountains up to Queenstown. The road reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway in California for the obvious reasons–coastal road, lots of twists and turns–but also because the towns I drove through were small, laid-back, usually boasting one tourist spot or small picnic area to break up the journey with.
I stopped next to a large statue of a whale in Riverton to look at the sea, but it started to rain pretty hard, so I got back in and drove for no more than three minutes, just to the other side of the small bay, where the rain had stopped and puffy white clouds scudded across the blue sky. What was going on? I don’t know, but this sudden stop/start pattern repeated a few times throughout the day. I think the Southland was showing off.
Colac Bay is a popular surfing spot, and a crude statue of a dude riding a cresting wave marks the beach, but the rain was back at that point, so I moved on down the road. This was a different experience from my Coromandel adventure; I had only myself in the car, there were fewer cars on the road and fewer twists and turns, and I wasn’t driving on a busted tire. Like a good American, I enjoyed the certain kind of cheerful freedom that only a road trip can bring.
I followed the signs for Cosy Nook, a little bay with some houses from the 1800s, when Pakeha set up a fishing village close to a Maori fishing village. (Faded signs informed me that where I stood was technically part of Mullet Bay, named for a bay in Scotland, and the real Cosy Nook was around the corner; more correcting of names, like Milford Sound/Fiord.) Looking at the gray skies and small, clapboard houses, I had strong flashbacks to visiting the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts during spring break in high school.
Back to gorgeous weather at a lookout showing Steward Island in the distance, and then I was in Tuatapere. (I still have a hard time saying the name, but I think it’s close to “Too-ah-TIP-ery.”) Tuatapere is the most southwestern town in New Zealand–or “the last NZ town to see the summer sun set,” as the town sign poetically put it–and it also bills itself as the sausage capital of the country. I had a dinner of sausages bought from a local butcher, and they were indeed tasty.
I stayed with a lovely couple I met on Couchsurfing. They’d moved down from Auckland for a change of pace, and were happily settled in to the small-town life. It’s a very small town–my directions to the house included turning right at the woodpile, and left on the road parallel to the railroad. I checked out the antiques museum/tearoom and the charity shop, and I peered in the windows of the closed toy library. (Are toy libraries a thing in rural America? I’d never heard of them before, but they’re a brilliant idea. Apparently, they’re big in rural Canada too.)
Leonie, my host, had time off on my second day in town, so she took me around to see the sights. We went to Lake Hauroko, which is the deepest lake in New Zealand (462 meters at the deepest point). Part of the path was flooded when we went, so we just did a short walk along a path lined with ferns in various states of unfurling.
Next we went to the Clifden suspension bridge, where a tiny kitten appeared out of nowhere and followed us around for awhile. A couple of women had parked their campervan next to the bridge, taking advantage of the remote location to do some free camping. Free camping–camping wherever you find a spot–is possible in a lot of New Zealand, but there are restrictions, and information booths will usually give you a map of places that are off limits, so you don’t incur a fine.
We ended the drive at Bluecliffs Beach, which I never could have visited on my own because you need a 4WD to get down there. We braced ourselves against the wind and admired the sea, and then Leonie noticed the seagulls to our right were behaving oddly. We looked closer, and they’d made their own water park! A tiny stream of water had branched off from a river and cut through the sand to the sea. Just above the tide line, the seagulls were climbing into the stream and letting the fast current carry them down to sea. Then they’d flap back up the short distance to what they’d apparently decided was the starting point, and did it all over again. It was so fun to watch.
After our day in the brisk air, Leonie and I went back to her house and promptly made tea. I don’t like the taste of coffee so I never drink it, and I’ve never thought much of tea, but being in New Zealand changed my habits a little. Literally everyone I met who invited me into their home offered to make a cup of tea–British roots showing, I think–and it’s rude to refuse. I became a bit more discerning than “whatever you’re having” and now I know I prefer black teas with just a little milk, no sugar. You never know what you’ll pick up on your travels–the fantastic and the mundane.