ACROSS THE DITCH: Invercargill to Owaka 16/02/18 to 22/02/18

ACROSS THE DITCH: Invercargill to Owaka 16/02/18 to 22/02/18

2018-03-03T07:41:13+00:00March 3rd, 2018|Lee & Paul Update, NZ Ride|

The wind picks up as we leave Invercargill, something they are all accustomed to down in this part of the world. We take the Southern Scenic Route and it’s very pleasant to be on this road again, taking in the views of the coastline and the weather patterns. A stop at the Orepuki Beach Cafe goes without question so we can enjoy another Cheese Roll in the special atmosphere of this roadside gem.

The weather over the ocean at Orepuki is blocking out Stewart Island, what an awesome sight over Te Waewae Bay

We head north after Tuatapere and the scenery changes as Fiordland starts to flank our left side. A light drizzle starts as we press on to Te Anau and we find another cousin with a warm house. We have only ever caught up with Andrew and Donna at weddings, so it’s rather nice to have them all to ourselves as the skies open overnight with torrential rain. The next day we head off to ride the Milford Sound loop, up and back in one day, and the waterfalls are running down the mountains.

The Mirror Lakes on the road to Milford Sound

Alpine valley on the stunning Milford Sound road

Milford Sound is rated as one of the top travel destinations in the world and sees over a million visitors every year, with Mitre Peak the main attraction. It towers almost 1,700 metres above the Sound, imposing and unmistakeable. For those that don’t know, it also goes straight down around 1300 metres under the water.

One of the world’s most photographed mountains, Mitre Peak

Gotta get the bikes in this shot!

The return ride is more seamless, with less traffic and stops, and the tunnel is uphill this way. It took 19 years to construct the 1.2-kilometre Homer Tunnel through a sheer rock face and allow tourists to drive in to the remote Milford Sound.

Waiting for the all-clear through the one-way Homer Tunnel

Fiordland encompasses the whole southwest corner of the South Island and is a remote, wild region that is   home to huge steep mountains, glaciers and cheeky kea parrots. It’s vast, untamed and empty, and a bit of a must-see on any trip to New Zealand. Its coastline is marked by 14 fiords or “sounds” and most of these are very hard to access. Doubtful Sound is a more intimate, peaceful wilderness experience and has been on Paul’s radar since the late 70’s. Back then we took a cruise across Lake Manapouri and toured the power station, so this time we take a bus up over the Wilmot Pass which divides the Sound from the west arm of the lake. It’s one of the few roads that traverses Fiordland National Park and offers magnificent views of river valleys, wild mountain scenery and cascading waterfalls. At the top is a grand view into beautiful and magical Doubtful Sound and the drizzling rain is constant.

Doubtful Sound from the top of the Wilmot Pass

It feels ancient and prehistoric, as if we are given a glimpse of what all of New Zealand must have looked like before humans arrived. The spectacular prehistoric forest is full of 600-year-old silver beech trees, all covered in moss and dripping wet. We board our cruise boat and head into the wind, which sends clouds of spray across the water and tips the boat right over at times.

Strong wind squalls put the boat on a distinct lean

Wind squalls whip up the water, Doubtful Sound

Paul’s dream comes true on Doubtful Sound

The rain provides hundreds of magic cascading waterfalls

Some of the tourists on the boat have not been listening as they complain about the weather! The bus driver over the pass reckons they get nine metres of rain annually (so barely a day goes by without rain). It’s a pity they feel this way as we find it absolutely magical, pristine and oh so remote – there aren’t many places like this left in the world.

This narrow untouched and unspoilt wilderness where the mountains come straight into the sea is magic and leaves a lasting impression as we head south and ride into the Catlin’s, an area of significant forests and rugged coastline.

Waipapa Point Lighthouse guards the site of many shipwrecks

We ride out to the historic Waipapa Point Lighthouse, another bleak location where families existed to keep the waters safe for shipping. The road winds around the Mataura River, with a million duck-shooting huts, to the most southern point of the South Island, Slope Point.

Duck-shooting is big business on the Mataura River

The land drops away to the sea with nothing between us and Antarctica and the strong winds make it easy to see why the tussock grass is permanently flattened!

Blowing a gale at Slope Point, the southern-most point of the South Island

Permanently flattened tussock grass at Slope Point

More sloping trees at Slope Point showing effects of the wind

The wind increases and buffets us with strong gusts as we ride this dramatic and beautiful part of New Zealand. Southland farms are neat and distinctive as they “top” the grass in the large paddocks, maintain the weeds on the fence-lines and everything looks seamless and well-kept.

Dusk at Curio Bay from our tent-site (out of the wind but it’s still only nine degrees)

We ride into Curio Bay where the camp is right at the point with all the sites amongst masses of native flax bushes, providing a natural wind-break and wonderful views. The area is home to the rare yellow-eyed penguins, sea lions and seals and a petrified forest in the rocks. It is cold and windy but the bay is protected and we are entertained by brave tourists venturing out in the cool water to swim with the friendly dolphins.

The ride through the Catlin’s Forest Park is 53 kilometres of very rateable road with awesome corners, hills, native bush and sea views.

Florence Hill Lookout, N.Z. just keeps delivering

Parakaunui Bay, beautiful but too cold and windy to camp

It’s really cold as we ride into Owaka (the edge of a cyclone is expected) and set up camp behind the Catlin’s Inn in a lovely sheltered area. We wear extra layers to bed and the skies open overnight, so the warm pub becomes our lounge-room as we wait for the storm to blow over…

Attractions in Owaka

Paul is saying “WTF”!

Story of the Week

We met John Lang at the Field Day in Waimumu and decide to look him up on his farm south of Mossburn. He was a neighbour in the small beach community of Langs Beach where I grew up and his family owned all the farmland and several beach-front properties. I used to baby-sit him and would have last seen him when he was around 8 years old!

Farms were more affordable in Southland when he was on the hunt for one in the 80’s so he and Yvonne moved down 17 years ago and bought 3,000 acres. They milk 1750 cows per day and have designed and built 2 massive barns to house the herd in the winter months, a concept where they believe the herd produces more and for a longer time. 

They have 400 yearlings, 400 rising two-year-olds and Yvonne looks after the 800 calves (bulls, replacement herd and bobbies).

We get a tour of the farm and see his extensive rotational cowshed which holds eighty cows at a time. There are two homes for his own family and his father-in-law and seven more for worker’s on the property. What they have created is massive but the “pull” to our hometown means the pair hope to move back north to retire in the near future…

Tip of the Day

We met a guy in Invercargill with an amazing hot-house full of the brightest, sweetest-tasting, humongous tomatoes and he reckoned a tablespoon of epsom salts dissolved in water and spread around the plant bases every fortnight was his trade secret…just in case you didn’t know.

Show Me A Sign

Milford Sound Road is notorious for tourists driving on the wrong side of the road so arrows are painted on both lanes and these signs remind them. 


The Cheese Roll in Southland is something of an institution. With a variety of renditions, it can be found in most cafe’s and it’s definitely worth sharing the low-down on how to make them.

Basically, you cut the crusts off a white sandwich loaf of bread. Make a mix of grated cheese and herbs of your choice, mixing until a bit gooey.  Spread a dollop across each slice of bread, roll up and bake in a moderate oven until golden.  Yep, it’s that simple and the fun starts with the variations and how locals will tell you that their ones are the best! My cousin, Carolyn, made an awesome batch using grated cheese, reduced cream, a shake of Maggi Onion Soup Mix and a brush of melted butter on them before baking…yummo! My cousin in Te Anau, Donna, gave me her sister’s recipe which makes up 2 loaves of bread (the plate for that next party):  Mix in a bowl 2 beaten eggs, a small cup of milk, 1 dessertspoon of mustard, 125g butter, salt and pepper. Add a small chopped onion, 500g grated tasty cheese and some chopped chives. Place a dollop along the middle of the bread slice, roll up and bake your rolls in a moderate oven until golden…


  1. Meg March 5, 2018 at 8:02 am

    I’ll join the chorus, stunning photos and lovely writing as always!

    • Lee March 5, 2018 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks Meg, so many amazing bike roads here – around every corner!

  2. Dave March 4, 2018 at 8:34 pm

    Great road trip Lee & Paul I’m sure we used one of those hanging teapots 🤔 😘🤗

    • Lee March 5, 2018 at 9:44 pm

      Hey guys, followed a lot of your Ocean to Alps trail…looks like it was more of a challenge than the Rail one! Well done! xxx

  3. Alison March 4, 2018 at 5:14 am

    Another great lot of photo’s so enjoying Just spoke to Paddy O’Reilly Lee if you are going near Temuka would love to see you both.x

    • Lee March 4, 2018 at 5:21 am

      Hey Ali, few things going on but will keep it in mind. We thought of Russ so many times in Southland xxx

  4. Vera Zappala March 4, 2018 at 4:52 am

    I forgot to say that I loved ‘Teapot Land’. Have a girlfriend who would love to see the photo.

  5. Vera Zappala March 4, 2018 at 4:50 am

    Great to read about your travels. I have been offline for a few weeks so I have a lot of reading to catch up on.
    Always amazed with your detail and interesting sidelines.

    Take care

    • Lee March 4, 2018 at 5:15 am

      Cheers Vera, always good to hear from you! I hope your friend enjoys the teapot photo more than Paul enjoyed the experience!!

  6. Susan Hird March 3, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    Good ole Southland weather!! Beautiful places make it well worth coping with though.
    Have been hanging out for this blog!!

    • Lee March 4, 2018 at 3:19 am

      A lack of strong WIFI and Service in remote areas of Southland has not been easy for blogging! Loved it down there xxxx

  7. Kelly & TIm March 3, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    What an amazing part of NZ. I think you’ve just inspired us to do the Milford track next year and check out those duckshooting huts!!!

    • Lee March 4, 2018 at 3:16 am

      Good idea! Never seen so many huts in one place! Tim would be in his element xxx

  8. Beverley March 3, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Love the teapots……beautiful scenery. Thanks for the update.

    • Lee March 3, 2018 at 9:06 pm

      Hey Bev! Hard to find phone service and Wifi down in some of these parts (not good for blogging) but we’re loving it all xxx

  9. Aunty March 3, 2018 at 10:39 am

    You have inspired me to do that trip to Southland I have been thinking about for years 😀😀. Won’t be on a motorbike though!!

    • Lee March 3, 2018 at 9:03 pm

      There’s something about Southland Aunty…and the people! It was so cool seeing Granpop’s bike in that hardware store!!

  10. Aynsley Beede March 3, 2018 at 9:20 am

    Hmmm,ymmm, too bad I already had dinner. Alister, Hilda and I are now having a great discussion about Southland’s cheesy dishes.
    And Doubtful Sound, yes, there is no other!
    Keep those wheels turning and travel safe. XX

    • Lee March 3, 2018 at 9:01 pm

      Southland definitely stands alone and was a pleasant surprise. Has Hilda made you some cheese rolls yet? We’ll have to get Carolyn to do hers again at the Reunion! Keep in touch as we could cross paths in Westland…xx

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