Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Angela and Cole's Catlins Adventure and Moke Lake Off-Roading Excursion

Angela came to visit!

After getting to see some of the sights on the North Island, including Hobbiton (the Shire in Lord of the Rings) and a sweet glow worm cave, she made her way to Queenstown, then the bustling metropolis of Otautau. We had one day to kill before our friend Emily arrived in Queenstown and our itinerary really took off. To fill the day, we decided on a trip to the Catlins - always a hit with the visitors!

We elaborately planned our day around the tide schedule so we could see the Cathedral Caves. So we got up early and hit the road by 7 so we could be at the caves at low tide. Surprise! The caves are closed for the season!  So that threw off our entire day. We were going to be at the blowhole at high tide, but suddenly we have two bonus hours to fill, and the weather was not cooperating.

But ever the intrepid travelers, we ventured forth and had a pretty fantastic day in the Catlins.

First Stop (aside from the disappointing stop at the entrance to the caves, which told us they were closed - the website never mentioned it... not that I'm mad or bitter that they tried to sabotage our day) : Florence Hill Lookout:

One thing I love about the Catlins is that I always discover something new when I go. Since this made trip number Four for me, I was shocked to discover that I had never noticed this tree that looks shockingly like a camel!  
I briefly actually thought it was a camel standing there, which would have been the only thing more exciting than a tree shaped like a camel.

After coming down from the excitement of this natural topiary wonder, we moved on up the coast to Pourakaunui Falls.

I tried to convince Angela that this tiny waterfall was the real attraction. I even made her squat down and take a picture with the waterfall. I like to believe that she believed me.

So imagine her delight when we walked on down to this beauty!
I was pretty excited, too. I was so thrilled with the perceived success of my practical joke that I decided to get acrobatic and balance on that rock for a photoshoot.

It really is a pretty place.

Moving on up the coast again, we stopped for some lunch in Owaka - I recommend the Nachos from the diner. (Nachos are always a gamble here in NZ).

Then on to Kaka Point for a stop at the Nuggets and the Penguin viewing hut. If you recall, I previously had a 100% success rate for penguin sightings at this spot, so the pressure was on. Problem was, our schedule was thrown off so bad by the caves being closed that we were far too early for a good chance at the penguins. We stopped briefly at the hut, but decided to head up the road to go to the lighthouse for a bit to give the penguins some time to finish their hunting/feeding for the day.

Turns out, it decided to really start raining at that point, so we had to sit in the car for about 15 minutes before making a break for it. That ended up being a great decision because we ended up with a cloudy but dry look at the lighthouse and nuggets.

Never gets old. 

As a new twist on an old favorite, I decided I would venture off the beaten path, and climb what was questionably a trail up the large ridge off to the side of the lighthouse ridge. Angela turned around to take a picture and I disappeared. By the time she noticed I was gone, I was here:

The 'trail' went VERY close to that edge a few times, so I just clung to the bushes as I took the steps on the edge. Having just rained, I didn't trust the ground to be super sturdy. 

But the reward was worth the risk. Check out this view:

A new look at the nuggets!

After making my way back down, Angela and I reunited at the nuggets viewing platform:

A couple more shots from the Nuggets:

Angela got some fun videos of some seals fighting out on those rocks.

Feeling like things were really coming together for us, we decided to give the penguin viewing another try. The hut is just in the next bay down from the lighthouse.
And after just 10 quick minutes, we got to see a rare yellow-eyed penguin. My 100% success rate lived despite still being a couple hours early for prime viewing time!

A quick stop at the blowhole finalized our trip to the Catlins.

Emily was arriving the following day, so we talked about our options on what to do before her flight got in. Angela liked the idea of a hike around Moke Lake, the place where you can get some insanely good reflection pictures. I thought that would be great because the day I went the first time, the road was perfect, dry, and made for a quick 20 minute drive from Queenstown. We should have plenty of time for the 1.5 hour hike around the lake, pictures, then head back to go get Emily.

What I didn't calculate in was the heavy rainfall the area had just gotten, which turned my nice smooth easy road into a mud pit. A miles-long mud pit.
It doesn't look too crazy, but there were a few times we went sideways and slid towards the lake.

But ever the thorough tour guide, I kept my foot in it, and we made our way on to Moke Lake.

A little 4x4 mudding trip never hurt anybody. You can imagine that I was VERY upset about HAVING to drive around in the mud for an hour.

And the trusty Hyundai Tucson once again proved its worth:
You can't see the mud all over it, but it was there.

And the views were magnificent. But since the drive took about 3 times longer than originally planned, we just had time for pictures, no hike, before  heading back to Queenstown to pick up Emily.

so great.

Angela taking it all in.

This place is real....
Just amazing.

Then we were off to go get Em for more adventures. But did all go as planned??? Stay tuned, my friends!

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