Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Traversing the Catlins to Dunedin

Another early morning today; my alarm went off at 6:30am so that I could be fed, packed, and out the door of Bunker's Backpackers in time to check in at 7:30 and catch the 8:00am ferry off Stewart Island. Thankfully, the ride back to Bluff was a lot calmer than the previous day's afternoon ride to Oban; I didn't feel seasick at all.

Dawn arrives at Stewart Island

A beautiful homemade contraption at the
hostel. Turn the handle, and hear the sea
gurgle and burble away!

Amusing (if slightly odd) cartoons at Bunker's Backpackers

Morning at Halfmoon Harbour

Tia picked us up from the ferry terminal and took us over to briefly see and photograph the giant chain sculpture at Stirling Point; it was inspired by the legend of Stewart Island being Maui's anchor. Then it was off into Invercargill to pick up the rest of the Stray passengers, and we headed out on our day-long expedition through the Catlins, at times wending our way down narrow dirt roads, surrounded by green paddocks full of grazing sheep and cows.

Sitting pretty inside the chain at Stirling Point

1401 km to Cape Reinga! We really are at
the bottom of New Zealand...

Our first stop was Waipapa Point, where a lighthouse was erected after the shipwreck of the S. S. Tararua; on April 29th, 1881, the steamer bound for Melbourne via Bluff ran aground on the reef at the point, eventually sinking on the 30th. 131 of the 151 passengers died in the tragedy, and the public outcry over the preventable tragedy led to the building of the Waipapa Point lighthouse, and the recommendation that lifebelts be provided for all passengers. The point had an active community until 1976, when the lighthouse was fully automated.

The site of the original lightkeeper's house at Waipapa Point

Waipapa Point lighthouse

Surrounded by so much beauty, it's hard to believe
 that 131 people lost their lives here. 

Next we stopped at a beach site where many years of pounding waves have revealed a buried fossilized Jurassic forest; steady rains fell on nearby ash-covered volcanoes, creating rivers of mud, ash, and rock, which then swept down and buried the forest. The ash was rich in silica, and it saturated the standing trees, literally turning them into stone in the space of a few months. Having seen fossilized tree stumps before in Drumheller Park in Alberta, I knew exactly what to look for, but it was amusing to watch others walk around, saying, "Where are the trees?" when they were standing right on top of a fossilized stump.

The fossilized forest beach. Do you see the stumps?

A fossilized tree trunk

A fossilized impression of tree bark

The beauty and majesty of the pounding surf

I'd love to have a sign like that on my front lawn.

We stopped for lunch at Mrs. Mac's Famous Meat Pies (I didn't partake, as I had bought a sandwich at Subway earlier in the day), in Curio Bay, and were able to watch New Zealand fur seals flopping around on the beach.

A fur seal lazing about on the beach at Waipapa Point

In the afternoon we stopped for the Purakaunui Falls Walk, which reminded me eerily of Bridal Veil Falls in the sense that the river water was a dirty, silty brown due to being full of farm run-off. The falls themselves looked entirely different, however; they were much wider, shorter, and multi-tiered in three levels.

Purakaunui Falls

Another set of falls, slightly upstream

Tia got lost on the backroads of the Catlins. But with views
like this out the windows, none of us really cared.

Getting a head start on Christmas decorations

We arrived in Dunedin around 5pm, and within thirty seconds of getting here I was regretting my decision to not jump off the bus for a few days (I have to get back up to the North Island), but had also firmly resolved to come back. Our accommodation is Leviathan Hotel, which I am sure used to be one of the spiffiest joints in town, but it now a backpacker/lower budget hotel that is slowly undergoing restoration.

The Leviathan Hotel, sandwiched between
High St and Cumberland St.

The upstairs lounge

Besides its quaint, if run-down charm, the main attraction for me is it is right across the street from the Otago Settler's Museum, which has two steam trains visible on display from the outside! One is Josephine, a Class E Fairlie Patent from Lancashire that was built in 1872; she is the oldest steam train in New Zealand, and one of four of her kind remaining in the world. The other preserved train is Ja 1274, which made me homesick for Ja 1275 and Mainline Steam; but regardless, it was a thrill to see preserved steam trains.

Josephine, the oldest steam train in New Zealand

Ja 1274. Oh, how I miss you, Ja 1275 and Mainline Steam!

After checking in Tia took us in the bus to see the Steepest Street in the World: Baldwin Street, located on the side of a hill in a residential area. At 161.2 metres long, it climbs 47.22 metres, with an average gradient of 1 in 3.41, but getting as steep as  1 in 2.86 (19ยบ, or 40%!).

It doesn't look so bad from here...

... starting to look worse...

The higher one goes, the steeper it gets!

We struggled to the top, admired the view, and then realized what go up must come down; our knees were not happy with us as we trudged down the unforgiving asphalt. It must be quite the sight to see when 10 000 oversized Jaffas (chocolate balls coated in a candy-orange covering) are rolled down the street in July for charity.


 I also had a wander around Dunedin's famed Railway Station (opened in 1906), which earned its architect George Troup some comparisons to gingerbread houses (and the nickname "Gingerbread George"), partly due to it being designed in the Flemish Renaissance style (I think the choice of white accents and trim and a dark volcanic building stone also add to the gingerbread appearance).

The Dunedin Gingerbread House Railway Station

The building is incredible; I never thought I'd see train-themed mosaic floors or a train featuring in a stained glass window, but I have been proven wrong. This is where the famed Taieri Gorge Railway departs from, so when I return to Dunedin I will most definitely be visiting here again.

The elaborate foyer of the Dunedin Railway Station

Floor mosaic detail

One of the original ticket booths
(no longer in use)

Stairway to the mezzanine

Mezzanine balcony and stained glass window

A steam train stained glass window. I love it.

Doorways to the station platform

Bart poses by the Taieri Gorge Railway
carriages on the platform

Another place I will be visiting is the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, just across the street and over from the train station (interestingly, *also* just across and over is an old jail, the historic police station, and then our hotel. Hmm…) We got in too late to participate in a tour, but I will definitely be making time for that on my schedule for next time.

For dinner we headed out to Metro, a restaurant/bar/nightclub that gives 50% off menu prices and happy hour all night for Stray passengers; I got pizza, a rum & coke, and a chocolate ice cream sundae for under $20! So now I am sitting here on my bed, absolutely stuffed, and with leftover pizza for tomorrow's lunch in a box on the floor And now I must be off to bed, as we leave here at 7:30am tomorrow morning (ugh again!!). Night…


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