Southern Scenic Route -Day one

Leaving Dunedin we head south on the Southern Scenic Route to The Catlins, one of the most sparsely populated regions of New Zealand.

It is quite a long drive so we decide to park up overnight in Baclutha, a strange little town where,even though it is Saturday, nothing seemed to be open?

A river runs through the town and it seems like a good idea to park up on the riverbank for the night, or it would have been if it weren’t for the NO PARKING signs everywhere! We eventually find a place with no signs,  but given all the dire warnings, we ask at one of the houses nearby. The elderly lady says she is not sure but it probably isn’t ok, but we are welcome to park on her drive for the night – Kiwis are so friendly!

Sunday morning we move on and park outside the iSite tourist office in the centre of town to use their wifi until it opens.  As we settle down to eat our Sunday morning breakfast of bacon and eggs (fresh from the Dunedin farmers market), a school rugby team meets up in the car park prior to their match and starts practising by passing balls all around us. It took me back to my school days -sub zero temperatures, frosty grounds – I loved it then as they seemed to love it now.

Eventually the lady running the iSite arrives so we pop in to pick her brains as to how best to plan the next few days driving around the Catlins. She tells us what not to miss and, equally important, what not to bother with and where we shouldn’t drive without 4WD!

The “Southern Scenic Route” is well signposted, which is just as well as we rarely see any vehicles as we stop off at various places along the way to take short walks to places of interest along the way,  Surat Bay Scenic Reserve and Nugget Point & Lighthouse were but two that immediately spring to mind.

Eventually we find our way to our overnight camp at Lake Pounawea. It is whitebait season so we see lots of people camped up and making the most of the harvest ( at $90 a kilo at market , who can blame them?). Considered a delicacy in New Zealand, it is not like the Whitebait we get at home in England – they seem to mash it up and make it into fritters. Definitely an acquired taste one New Zealander told us and I have to agree!

We have stayed at some incredible places in New Zealand and this one must be in the top five. Such a stunning location right by some woods which lead on to a massive estuary and then the dunes right out across wide beaches to the ocean beyond.

In late winter the campsite is virtually empty so we choose a nice spot under the trees but close to the shower and kitchen block. Not that we need the kitchens tonight as this is allegedly the fish and chip capital of New Zealand. we had already sought the advice of the campsite the owner as to the best place to get fish and chips in Owaka.

Teapot garden next to the chip shop??
Teapot garden next to the chip shop??

But before we set off in search of the chip shop, we witness the most incredible sunset over the lake. Leaving the sunset behind we find the fish and chip shop, collect our haul of blue cod and the freshest scallops ever and head back for to the van for the night – and yes, they were delicious!

In the morning I wake up in plenty of time for the sunrise and, if anything, it is more impressive than last night’s sunset. The rainbows only adding to the experience. Dawn really is the best time of day and insomnia does occasionally have its advantages!

The campsite owners had provided us with the low tide times so took a walk out through the woods to a waterfall and then along the lakeside and estuary – all directly from the property. Very quiet, few people around but lots of seabirds as we wandered out through the sand dunes to the massively wide, sandy beaches.

Not far from the campsite is the Petrified Forest – perfectly preserved stone trees lying by the beach. This place is amazing!!

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