For all the perks living in a campervan brings – the open road, lake/beach/mountain views from our bedroom window, the convenience of it all – there’s a few drawbacks as well. Living on a travelers budget and with freedom camping a massive no no (as described here in this excellent blog) – we generally stick to DOC or the occasional free campsites provided. This means no electricity, no flushing toilet, no drinkable water, no showers, nowhere to wash clothes, and as for luxuries like WiFi, well you must be kidding. With all this in mind and having been on the road for almost a fortnight, I’m about to say something that’s probably never been said before. We were looking forward to reaching Invercargill.
The Catlins had been fantastic however, despite our ever growing stench. Moving on from my last update at the delights of Puraukanui Bay, we then left the coastal hugging roads and moved inland where we were met by swathes of native rainforest, a side of New Zealand I never knew existed. Ignoring the advice of 90’s R’nB wenches TLC, we proceeded to spend a morning chasing waterfalls; ticking off the Purakaukanui, Matai, Horseshoe and then the Mclean Falls, each more impressive than the last. Hidden deeply within densely lush vegetation, the ever growing sound of crashing water drew us along paths crowded with tangled vines hanging from a deep green canopy above, it was real boys own stuff.
Back to the coast then. With the highly anticipated Cathedral Caves closed and Porpoise Bay distinctly lacking in porpoises, we stopped for a look at the petrified forest at Curio Bay. Where once stood a mighty rainforest there were now some of the worlds best examples of fossilised trees situated accessibly within the shallows, destined to an eternity of freezing cold water and tourists clomping all over them. I’d be pretty petrified too. Tucked around the corner at the most Southerly tip of New Zealand’s mainland was Slope Point, at which ice cold polar winds buffeted the obligatory graffiti scrawled signpost and where once again we pilfered the beach for dinner. Cockles this time. We think. They tasted cock all like anything we’ve had before to be honest so we’ll go with that. Bleary eyed and freshly baby wiped the next morning, we took on the final stretch of The Catlins before civilisation, where we were treated to a domestic dispute and possible sexual assault (does this exist in the animal kingdom?) between some tetchy Sea Lions at Waipapa Point Lighthouse. Another one of those lonely, windswept outposts that New Zealand does so well.
And so here it was, Invercargill! As we tore into town at a speed local legend Burt Munro would’ve been proud of, the excitement was unbearable; shops selling more than just possum fur, people with the correct amount of fingers, cash machines, traffic lights! Everything we’d ever heard about the place – dull, lifeless, uninspiring – may well have been true, but as we stood under hot water while our clothes were freshly laundered and our phones were charged to life back next door, it was heaven.
Think of the wettest place you know – Manchester on a miserable November morning, India in monsoon season, a 50 Shades of Grey reading group – and I’ll bet that New Zealand’s Fiordland is wetter. Averaging about 7 metres of rain a year (for some perspective back home, London gets about 60cm) , a walk through the misty mountains here is likely to be more than a bit moist. From Invercargill we moved onto the lovely town of Te Anau where we quickly discovered there was just one day of sun remaining before a new wet front arrived, and the world famous Milford Track which we’d planned to do was partly closed. Not a great start. To compensate ourselves we took in the other end of the Routeburn track which we’d been snowed back from a few weeks ago, including the awesome views from Key Summit and the thundering Earland Falls.
It was on our return from these that we bumped into four chaps enjoying the late afternoon sun close to one of the huts. They were on one of their regular tramping meet ups; a few days of meandering through the various intersecting tracks with old mates, enjoying the peace and quiet and the great outdoors. As they talked with a glint in their eyes about the forest around them and the places they’d been, we asked them how long they’d been doing these long wilderness walks for, with nothing but a tent, good company and a nearby stream to drink from? 1949 was the answer. Suddenly a fortnight in the van didn’t seem so much.