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Southland 3 – The Catlins to Dunedin

A magical place - The Nugget Point Lighthouse dates from 1869 and was automated in 1989

Have you ever coveted a view? This feeling doesn’t come over me often, but  having seen  pictures of  the Nugget Point  Lighthouse, I just had to see if it really did  look the way it did in the brochures. 

Before that though, my first mission this morning, apart from trying to get petrol out of an automated bowser with a foreign card, was to drive back to see Matai Falls, which I had missed the day before. This was a lovely waterfall with a second fall, Horseshoe Falls as a bonus, but someone had told me that the turn – off was about 20km back immediately after the bridge, so I had an interesting detour around the countryside first, and it was just as well that the service station was open by the time I got back to Owaka, (home of the Waka or Canoe in Maori). At least the proprietors did accept my card, but be aware that this happened to me in a couple of places, so be sure to carry other options if possible.

Looking for Matai Falls - not sure where I ended up here, but it was near one of the former railway towns (see below)

It is now officially tourist season and the main highway which links Dunedin with Invercargill is really busy.  After a quick stop at an abandoned railway tunnel, I was glad to leave the main road behind. The road through Kaka Point put me back on what remained of the Southern Scenic Route, which it was indeed, although there are the usual narrow and winding sections, the closer you get to Nugget Point.

Pretty Matai Falls (10m) - an easy walk from the highway, well for most people anyway

Bonus - neighbouring Horseshoe Falls

  1. This abandoned Railway Tunnel 264 metres long took men with picks and shovels two years to build and evokes another lost past. This was part of the Catlin River Branch Line - 1879 -1971, which really opened up the region. When timber reserves began to decline in the 1950's,  so did the railway line. It was closed in 1971

Nugget Point turns out to be positively breathtaking. It’s a story book setting with The Lighthouse, built in 1869 perched on an unbelievably beautiful headland. Birds wheel around rocky outcrops and far below you can see both fur seals and sea lions while an iridescent blue sea swirls around the strange rock formations known as the Nuggets.

The pilgrimage begins

The Lighthouse is quite small and not as impressive close up, but the setting is
The Lighthouse is built from local stone quarried on the site

The Nuggets

Looking down -The white flecks on these rocks are Royal Spoonbills. if you are lucky you will see fur seals and sea lions too

Western side of Nugget Point  looking back from the Lighthouse
Shaped by the wind

The wind is cold and it rains all the way to Dunedin. The only place I stop is at a little seaside takeaway to buy some what I hope are authentic Fush and Chups – the best value meal I have in New Zealand,  just before the Scenic Route rejoins the highway. It is on Molyneux Bay, which was once a busy harbour based around Port Molyneux at the mouth of the mighty Clutha River, the longest in New Zealand.   Captain Cook actually gave the name to a different part of the coastline after the master of the Endeavour, but the spelling changed and it became attached to this region.  During the whaling days in the 1830’s, it was a very busy place with a long jetty.  Unfortunately in 1878, torrential rain followed by a great flood, relocated the river mouth and left the town high and dry behind a sandbar one kilometre from the shore. Although no longer important for transport and trade, the bay is obviously still  popular with holiday makers and beachgoers since I have trouble getting a parking spot, even on this dismal day.

Looking east towards Cape Molyneux

 The township of Balclutha, where the roads meet, marks the end of the Catlins, the region through which I have been travelling. It got its name from the Captain of a whaling ship, one Edward Cattlin, who bought land from the enterprising Tuawaiki* or “Bloody Jack” in 1840, just before he signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Although many such sales were overturned, the sales to two Europeans in the Balclutha area were not, thereby starting it on an agricultural path – sheep and cattle mostly, which it has pursued ever since.  Clutha was the old name for the river Clyde in Scotland, and the Bal before it is Gaelic for town.

Free plug for this little place for value for money. Where else would you get good seafood if not on the coast?

Places I wish I had seen in Dunedin 

I wish I had longer in Dunedin. It’s a bit smaller than Hobart (128,800 people vs 150,000 respectively) and similarly located on a lovely harbour with hills all around. It appears to have some interesting buildings such as the old railway station and the university (the oldest in New Zealand)
and a multi storey red one on the way to the hostel, which was presumably a flour mill or some other kind of factory - never did find out. (Dunedin also had a Cadbury Factory just like Hobart and both, now owned by Mondalez International, an offshoot of Kraft, recently closed their visitor facilities).  

I would also have liked to see Baldwin Street, which held the title of the world’s steepest street  from 1987 until 2019, and most of all I would have liked to have taken the Taeiri Gorge Railway to Middlemarch, but none of that was to be. Between the rain and the fact the car was due back in Queenstown at the crack of dawn the following day with 312 km in between, left me little choice but to spend the night and head straight out in the morning.

* Spelling varies - in Fortrose, they spell it the other way