We are currently in Dunedin, which is also pronounced strangely. Say: “Done” and “Eden” together quickly. This city, in the southeast side of the South Island, will always mean rain to us, I bet, because it has been raining for almost 24 hours straight, since we arrived yesterday. It is also cold, or just on the border between cool and cold. The rain has really followed us all over the island. I think that we just caught one of those 2-3 week rain squal periods that we experienced when living in Sydney through the winter. The weather would turn overcast with pretty dramatic blowing rain and gray skies for weeks at a time. It isn’t as depressing as it sounds, but it can be quite annoying, because nothing every gets a chance to dry out.
Regardless, the past two areas of the South Island that we travelled through may turn out to be the highlight of the trip. From Te Anu, we headed up the road to Milford to spend a night on the edge of a giant fiord. The weather was even more schitzophrenic there, changing from fog to blowing rain to brilliant sunshine, all within an hour period, but the views made it worth it the trouble. We stayed at the Milford Lodge, one of the only places you can stay in Milford, because the flat area where the river meets the sound is rather limited. We took a boat trip into Milford Sound that went all the way into the Tasman Sea and then back to Milford. This got us very close to the walls of the fiord that run almost vertically into the water from more than a thousand meters in the air, at least in place. There are over 300 waterfalls in Milford Sound, and with the rain we were getting throughout most of the boat trip, they were operating in full effect, spewing water everywhere as they slithered down the rock faces and mossy lumps making their way to the water in the sound, which is composed of a layer about 3-4 meters of fresh, tea-colored water on top of a layer of salt water from the ocean.
Our boat went up underneath one of the largest waterfalls I’ve ever seen in my life, much higher than Niagra Falls. Usually, you associate wind pushing water around, causing waves and such. In this case, it was really the water doing the driving of the wind, which rushed off of the place where the waterfall hit after falling several hundred meters in gigantic sheets, blowing thick, heavy mist everywhere. It was difficult to stand in one place or take a breath in because its force was so powerful. As the Milford Sound area gets between 7 and 8 meters of rain per year, they have plenty of water to create all of the waterfalls, but there are only 2 or 3 permanent waterfalls there.
After only one night in Milford, we decided to move on. We had been planning to spend two nights, but the rain was so relentless and the biting sandflies were taking their toll on us. We drove back to Te Anu and then on into the Catlins, a beautiful hilly area between Invercargill and Dunedin, on the extreme south side of the island. There, we stayed in a wonderful farm hostel called Hilltop in Papatowai, which is really only two houses sitting on a hill in the middle of a sheep farm. The facilities were very nice, so nice that we decided to stay an additional night. The Hilltop proved to be the perfect base for a stroll through the Catlins, and we spent most of our day there trolling through the back roads and looking for sea lions, seals and penguins. (We found all of them, including viewing a rare yellow-eyed penguin, which is a threatened species). The waterfalls and green, gently rolling hills were wonderful, but nothing compared to Nugget Point, a thin peninsula that juts southeast from the Catlins with strange vertically-lined rocks that stick out of the water and trail off into the sea. Topped by a lighthouse, Nugget Point is a great vantage point to take in a 270-degree view of sealife, birds, and rolling sea. The weather even cleared up a bit for us to enjoy our lunch while gazing out over the Pacific. Wonderful.
We also enjoyed the company of Jean-Marc, a French fellow that also happened to be staying at the Hilltop, in our house. We shared a meal of fresh mussells that Jean-Marc found nearby, and Katherine cooked an Asian stirfry from our remaining tucker box (or bag, in our case) ingredients. The Marlborough wine is still holding out, too, so going to that region at the beginning of the trip was a good idea. We have just enough to get us to the end of our trip.
We are about to leave Dunedin for Akaroa, a town on a peninsula outside of Christchurch, where we will spend Christmas in the middle of the city in a pleasant bed-and-breakfast (thanks Mom and Dad Pennington!). Hopefully, the rain will let up a little before then so that we can enjoy some cool sunny skies before the heat of Sydney beats down on us next week.
Happy Holidays, everyone!