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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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
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…