The morning we left Dunedin, we spontaneously decided to change plans. Instead of going north to do some cycling on the Otega Rail Trail, we went south. It was the accounts of two people that convinced us the Catlins cannot be missed. What a lucky decision!
This region at the southernmost part of New Zealand is a mix of deserted sweeping beaches that go on and on and on, a rugged coastline, formidable cliffs, watchful lighthouses, rivers, lakes, dense forests and rolling hills in all shades of green dotted with zillions of grazing sheep. If you are breathless after reading this enthusiastic description, so were we when travelling through this spectacular landscape.
With this change in scenery came a change in the tourists we met. Around the east coast, it was mainly young Germans in the famous Backpacker hostels, now there was a much wider range. The climax of international encounter definitely happened in Owaka, where we spent the evening chatting with five visitors from Israel, two Jews and three Arabs. Not that they were travelling together, but we had a lot of fun and even exchanged thoughts on politics without causing any frictions.
On Gilles birthday we did what he loves most, walking along miles of deserted beaches under blue skies and miraculously no wind, plus all kinds of short “nature walks” around lakes and through marshland. The night we spent on a farm 15 kilometres of Owaka in the super comfortable “Falls Backpackers”, which we had all to ourselves. We cooked up the storm to celebrate the occasion: various dips for starters, grouper accompanied by scallops and shrimps for the main dish and berries for dessert. Of course, all this enhanced by very good local wines! The place was like heaven: spacious, super clean rooms, powerful heating when necessary, a well equipped kitchen, but unfortunately it was booked up for the next few days, because of the Easter weekend.
Easter happens so much more subtle here than in Europe, no zillions of chocolate bunnies in the shop windows, so we did not even realize this holiday was around the corner until other tourists casually mentioned it. For the first time we made a few reservations since many New Zealanders use this four day holiday to enjoy the last days of summer, engaging in all kinds of outdoor activities.
In Owaka we walked along Cannibal Bay for hours watching sea lions close up which lazily soaked up the sun. We never made it to “Nugget Point” to see some more wild life, because the weather had changed, with heavy rain and strong winds. We only jogged down Roaring Bay for few minutes before we rushed back into the car. We were rewarded with seeing two yellow-eyed penguins though.