The Catlins

Penguins and a long time waiting

After staying in Invercargill for a couple of nights, I decided to make a little trip to the Catlins since they are just around the corner. A 2h drive if you have your own car (that is completely driving through them). Hitch hiking in New Zealand I would usually expect a +10min for each section of the line...not in the Catlins. Since Easter, the lady in the tourist centre in Waikawa told me, the number of people that come in dropped from 100 to 10 a day. Same picture on the road. It took me quite a while to get out of Invercargill, but with a nice detour, where Rick the garage builder showed me the Waituna Lagoon I reached my destination.

Having arrived at the campground in Curio Bay I was told it would be far too cold for camping (way to go to loose your customers camping ground lady), therefore I stayed at a cozy, little hostel and was grateful to have a warming fire to pass the early darkness. Who the hell invented daytime saving anyway? Certainly not a traveller. Typical situation in the hostel: 7 Germans and one poor Asian couple that didn't have a chance to join the discussion as we were of course speaking German all night. I felt bad, but didn't make the effort to talk to them either. Only excuse I have: I was tired and busy strumming away on the Ukulele.

Before the German gathering, I was witness of something amazing: Penguins. Being an animal that a standard European only gets to see in zoos, penguins have a special uniqueness about them. It is pure delight to see these cute little creatures hobble on their way from the ocean over stones to the bush. I already saw penguins in Oamaru. But to be honest sitting in an observatory doc hut up on the hill looking down on the beach, more or less having to guess if that's a penguin or not, it wasn't near as astounding as in Curio Bay. Yellow-eyed penguins come ashore on the fossilised beach every evening. And every evening there's a group of paparazzi waiting for them. It's kind of weird how we humans – including myself – are that fascinated by a couple of birds just doing what they do. I wonder what the penguins are thinking when they see us... Anyway, for a second I felt like David Attenborough and it was great.

The following day I set off in a loop to see some of the scenic highlights of the region. Leaving the hostel, I heard a car approaching, which made me run to the road, because who knows when the next car would come. Got the ride with a girl who checks fire alarms. An Australian couple in a camper then brought me to the southern most point on the South Island – Slope Point. Another Australian couple took me to Waipapa Point, which is a lovely beach with a couple of seals and a lighthouse. So far so good, didn't have to wait too long for those cars to stop and the next one – a sheep truck – wasn't too bad either. Anyway I had my Ukulele to entertain me and the sun was shining. That was going to change after being dropped of in Fortrose. I got blown away, literally, it was so windy I had troubles walking and the sun was never to be seen again. In addition my next ride was a long time in coming. After 15 minutes the first car finally showed up, at the same time a dog came running towards me and jumped me with joy as if we're long lost friends. You can guess that instantly killed my chance for the car to stop. As soon as the car was gone, the long lost friend lost interest. What a timing...

“The further south you get, the friendlier the people”, that's what they say. I started thinking that's not true. I spend half my day waiting on the road, almost regretting my choice of travel, until a backpacker group (two Germans, a French and another German following on a motorbike) picked me up. After long thinking and discussions what they want to do, we had a look at the Purakaunui Falls, which were actually as picture perfect as the AA brochure claimed. I was glad to leave the group in Owaka and hit the road again. Suddenly I didn't mind the waiting anymore, I got reminded why I like travelling by myself... I'd rather “waste” my time waiting for a ride than arguing with travel mates and finding a compromise for 4 different mindsets. Good for me though; I forgot my phone in their car which I discovered 5minutes later, of course they hadn't moved an inch as they were still discussing which hostel to go to... Ended up on the campground in Kaka Point. Because it was raining and the owner (who happened to be the aunt of my last ride) pitied me with my tiny tent, I got the keys to a cabin with a heater. Not bad for $12.

Next day was much better again for hitching. Took me two rides to Invercargill with a wonderful detour via the pituresque Nugget Point. Waiting time: 2 minutes.

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