By lone sea breakers

Driving to DOC’s Purakanui campsite in the Catlins proves a bit of a mission. It’s late and the unsealed road winds over hills and up isolated valleys, getting narrower and rougher.

There’s no sign of habitation, no other vehicles on the road and no cellphone reception. And when I finally arrive as darkness is falling, I pull snail off the road and into – a bog!

As I step out, my sandals sink into mud. But the van is level, the bay looks beautiful and it turns out I am not alone.  A couple of vans and two small tents are already here. So maybe I’ll be staying longer than intended….

After cooking up a stir fry flavoured with Laksa Soup and pondering how I might get inventive with tow ropes and nearby trees in the morning, I drift effortlessly into sleep.

Dawn makes the journey more than worthwhile.

A sliver of moon still hovers as red starts streaking the sky. It’s the start of a light display that just keeps growing in intensity.

Bright drifts of cloud find echoes in the wet sand.

I walk into this vastness of light to the sounds of sea break and oyster catcher call.

It is pure magic. And in this part of the New Zealand, magic is in plentiful supply.

There’s a timelessness about the Catlins.

Further South, in Curio Bay you can walk through forest remains that are 170 million years old.  Petrified for posterity by volcanic activity, trunks of trees alive when dinosaurs roamed the earth are clearly visible, their growth rings stuck in time.

The sea’s restless pounding has worn away the soft stuff. Only the obdurate endures.

This area boasts some of New Zealand’s oldest sedimentary rocks – laid down when it was still part of Gondwanaland. Since then, the earth’s relentless forces have tilted and folded the rocks, creating fault lines visible at places like Cathedral Caves.

Here, vast chasms run deep into the headland forming two sets of connected caves that can only be reached at low tide. Kelp abandoned by the sea spreads its long tresses over the sand at their entrance. Streams from the forest above cascade over bright green weed or drop like mini waterfalls over natural terraces that skirt the steep cliffs.

It’s an amazing stretch of coastline that’s rich in wildlife.

At Waipapa lighthouse, care is needed to avoid tripping over rare Hooker’s Sealions as they lounge in the sand dunes. Many are young bulls who’ve been kicked out of breeding colonies in the Auckland Islands. They have no fear of humans and can lollop towards you at speeds of up to 20kph. Unlike fur seals, their strong rear flippers are not fused together so they’re both faster and more agile on land.

At Waipapa, young bull sealions play out the endless game of dominance needed to form their own harem

Others just bury themselves in the sand

Colonies of rare Hoiho or Yellow-Eyed Penguins also live along the coast below Nugget Point or at Curio Bay – where the one below was performing for a bunch of spectators from the nearby campground.

Sure I can fly!

There’s a lot still to see – if I can extract myself from the mud. By 10am, the dew has dried and it’s threatening rain. I climb into snail, cross my fingers, put her into reverse, gently gun the motor and bounce backwards out of the mudhole.

Snails rule!  And the towrope can stay in its bag until another day.

About vjayne

I'm a writer / photographer usually based on Waiheke Island in New Zealand but currently traveling the country in "snail" - my mobile home and office. Along the way, I'm telling stories about the places I see or people I meet and building up a beautiful library of photos - of New Zealand's coastline and mountains, its walking tracks and wildlife. I'm happy to supply illustrated stories to New Zealand and offshore publications. My work background includes editing business and lifestyle magazines, crafting features on topics ranging from management and marketing to frogs and fashion, creating organisational narratives and promotional literature. Please visit my website for more information.
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2 Responses to By lone sea breakers

  1. Ruth Bliss says:

    Rob said, F**K the wildlife, where are the pictures of boats. However, I loved the wildlife pictures. Glad you’re not bogged down. Cheers Ruth

  2. Rosie says:

    These sunrise pictures are stunning. I am getting a collection together cos its what I want to paint. I did one that in retrospect IE after I painted over it wasn’t too bad! &

    Any chance you can email me the pictures direct. I am particularly interested in – just went back and had a look – and have to say all six of them!! If too big an ask then the two small ones! And if you don’t want to that’s also fine.

    GO Vicki! Love Rosie

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