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Tuesday 24th October: Invercargill to Dunedin - THE FOUNDATIONS "Build Me Up Buttercup"

Surprisingly, we woke fairly early to the jolly chatter of birdsong. The sky was blue, the sun was rising and the wind was weak. We quickly washed and scrubbed up and hit the scenic Southern Coastal Highway through the rural, remote Catlins.

We'd picked up a Catlins leaflet the day before indicating the highlights available in this remote area. Some of the more interesting points - such as Slope Point; the Southern most point on the South Island were closed for lambing so the options were a little bit restricted. The stops we selected were Curio Bay, Matai Falls, The Tunnel Walk and Nugget Point.

The first stop, Curio Bay, was located a fair way off the beaten track, down a gravel road. The place is a fossil hunter's paradise. At low tide, acres of petrified forest can be seen in the sea's bedrock, a preservation of forest 120 million year old. However, not much seemed to be visible to us, so we soon scooted on to Matai Falls, about a further hour away, stopping only to see the ironically named, miniscule Niagara Falls.

The little stream and 'beach' at Curio Bay. The sea was rough on the day and the waves crashed up the little stream and threatened to drown the beach.

Matai Falls were a short walk through native bush away from the highway. The falls were split into two, the lower section called the Matai Falls whilst the higher section, visible only after a steep walk were the Horseshoe Falls. Both were small, but aesthetically pleasing.

A view from Florence Viewpoint on the scenic Catlins Coast.

So we were soon back on the road again, sunshine occasionally interrupted by a short, fleeting burst of rain. Hardly a car went by during our journey to our next stop. This happened to be a short walk down to a 100m long railway tunnel, long since closed with the Catlins branch line in the 1970s. Like any tunnel, it provided a mix of the atmospheric and spooky with little side nooks and crannies always giving the opportunity for you to heighten your senses. Once again, this was only a short diversion followed by a short by arduous drive down unsealed gravel roads to Nugget Point.

The tunnel that leads nowhere. Literally. At the other end, a large growth of native bush blocks and further progress along the old line.

Nugget Point, on the exposed Pacific coastline is a haven for all sorts of wildlife. Yellow-eyed penguins, blue penguins, sea lions, fur seals and elephant seals can all be seen here. Parking near the tip of the point, we then took the short stroll out to Nugget Point's lighthouse passing colonies of lackadaisical seals and sea lions, basking on the rocks below. Passing the small groups of delighted onlookers, we also took in the scenery from the Point's Easterly tip. Following this, we took the short walk down to the Yellow-eyed penguin viewing hide - none could be seen though. We then hit the road again for the long, but easy journey North across Otago to the state capital, Dunedin.

From left to right: (i) Jenny and Nugget Point lighthouse (ii) The rocks off the tip of Nugget Point that the lighthouse warns of (iii) A view of the rocky Nugget Point from Kaka Point beach.

The roadway firstly followed the coast, past long, deserted golden sandy beaches at Kaka Point before turning inland to the town of Balclutha. Nothing particularly piqued our interest here, but the huge River Clutha at least deserved a little attention.

By now, we had joined the main North/South route that runs all the way from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island, via the Picton ferry to Bluff at the foot of the South Island. Despite being the 'main road' it is still mostly single carriageway with an occasional passing lane. It is, however, fairly straight and we soon arrived whilst it was still light in Dunedin.

Having signed in at the holiday park, we jumped into the heated indoor pool for a limb-soothing soak. We followed this with quick showers before dressing for dinner and driving into Dunedin City Centre.

After difficulties finding somewhere to park (most car parks were multi-storey with a 2.0m height limit, our camper's height was 2.5m) we quickly zeroed in on a restaurant Jenny used on a previous working visit to Dunedin a couple of months previously. The restaurant, called the Terrace, specialises in stone grill cooking. Basically, this is here you are presented with your food on a searing hot stone and the stone's heat cooks your food so you can have your, for example, steak cooked as little or as much as you like to your own taste. We both ordered stone grill porterhouse steaks. I have to admit that even though I like my steak rare, it is somewhat disconcerting and nerve racking to have the cooking of the steak to 'rare' in your own hands.

At least I know that I survived to write this!!

As soon as dinner was over, it was back to the camper for an early night - not aided by the confusion caused when another campervan had taken our allocated spot! Being English and preferring to avoid conflict, we just took the nearest free spot and informed reception. Then, to bed.

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