New Zealand

South Island Road Trip: Invercargill, Catlins and Dunedin

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As we left Milford Sound and headed back to Te Anau we reflected on how lucky  we had been for such an incredible first few days on the road. We had seen some of the most beautiful sights that New Zealand had to offer, leaving us eager to see more.

We slept in Te Anau that night and awoke early to begin the drive down to Invercargill. As beautiful as the Fiordlands had been we were anxious to move on, not for fear of running out of time, but because we were desperate to find somewhere that wasn’t raining (and more importantly, somewhere to shower).

Invercargill

The drive was long. We stopped at every ‘site of interest’, including a cave (very cool, but very eerie) and a bridge (not quite so cool). It was evening by the time we made it to Invercargill. The city is located at the very bottom of the south island, and it felt very… empty. As if no one could be bothered to visit because it’s so far away. There were a few shops, a lot of industrial bits, a few restaurants, but it just wasn’t quite the same aesthetically as the Fiordlands had been. It did have two alluring points however: it had stopping raining, and there were showers.

It was twenty past six in the evening. The shower was closing at seven (yes, there was only one) and there were seven of us to get washed. It was game on.

One by one we threw our $1 coins at the attendant and ran inside, undressing, washing, re-dressing. Girls first of course. It would have been fine if we were only getting changed back into our jeans, but we were going out. Out-out.

We all sat at dinner beaming at our cleanliness, repeatedly stroking our hair and commenting on how wonderful we all smelt. Which almost became redundant the moment our Devil Burger meals were brought out. We were really spoiling ourselves- a proper feed, a good clean. Whatever next.

The night was a bit of an odd one. We sort of did a bar crawl, but, and for a Saturday night, everywhere was half-empty. Even the Irish bar (much to Karen’s disgust)! We finally found a place with live music but by this point I was so tired and ready for bed that I couldn’t appreciate the incredible dance moves that the locals were throwing about. I hit the hay, and awoke to stories of how amazing the night out had become (just my luck), and as their hungover faces made their way to McDonald’s I paraded around the shops to top up my summer wardrobe. We reconvened in the afternoon, and after deciding that there was nothing worth seeing tourist-y wise in Invercargill, we went to the cinema. I can hear my parents words now…’You went all that way just to go to the cinema?!’ Yes, yes we did.

Catlins

The rest of the day was a bit of a fail after that. We went to Bluff’s point in the hopes of
finding some oyster’s for dinner (which are the specialty there, we weren’t all just having weird cravings), and we failed. And Bluff was even emptier than Invercargill. So we left there and headed East towards the Catlins. We found a beach that was supposedly famous for homing penguins, and that they come to the beach just before nightfall, which it was. But as we stood there, in the wind, waiting, there were no penguins. There was an awful lot of seaweed bobbing around in the water pretending to be, but no actual penguins.

So we moved on. With no particular campsite in mind we just drove around trying to find somewhere to park up. Which took ages. Every little lane we had to drive up to see if we could sleep at the end, every empty space had to be explored. It was a long process, but eventually we found somewhere, alongside some self-contained camper vans, beside a little lake in a town with a name that I will never be able to pronounce.

It was a windy little spot, but it was the first time we were all able to get out our camp chairs and sit around talking about absolute rubbish, whilst watching the moon rise over the lake. Finally it was beginning to feel like the road trip we’d had in our minds.

The next day we visited a few local tourist spots- some beaches, some waterfalls, some small walks – and decided, because of the wind, that we would cut our Catlins visit short and head over to Dunedin a day early. Enticed again by the prospect of showers, we all headed in convoy along the east coast and into the party city of Dunedin, where two things awaited me: one, another shower, and two, my baby cousin.

Dunedin

We all used a swimming pool shower this time, and whilst my road trip pals all decided to take a dip I rushed off to meet Bec’s. She’d been in New Zealand for nearly a week, of the two she would be there for, and I had only just gotten around to meeting up with her. I met her outside her hostel, and after a series of jumping and screaming and laughing, we headed off to find a drink.

It’s always a bit surreal having a piece of home brought over. I felt the same when Shannon first arrived, and again with Peter. It’s like a little scrapbook, where they’ve been cut out of England and stuck into your new world, fitting in and familiar but still a bit strange. I introduced her to the rest of the crew, and we all bonded over a pub quiz (a Wanaka group favourite), before heading to bed early ready for the next day. My birthday.

We’d parked our cars on a residential road, on a hill, so the nights sleep was a little…wonky. But anyone that knows me know that I love a birthday so I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Dave woke me up with a beautiful rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, followed by a wonderful breakfast of Nesquik (!) In bed. It was a bit interesting, eating a bowl of cereal in bed, in a car, on a hill (lots of chocolate balls went everywhere), but it was certainly an experience.

I received some cards and presents, and started to get ready for the day – sat in the front passenger seat, doing my make-up, I sensed a presence. I watched as a tiny cone-shaped hat appeared in the wing mirror, to quickly be joined by another.

‘Surprise!’ – five cone shaped hats surrounded me, exploding party poppers all around. My road trip crew had given me the ultimate start to my 23rd birthday, and it’s one that I will forever be grateful for.

The day proceeded as any normal birthday would. We met up with Becca, had a few drinks in the sun, jetted off to Cadbury world for a tour of the factory (and to receive a ton of birthday freebies!), and then continued having more drinks. Until it started to rain.

Drinking in pubs and bars was starting to add up. We all had our own drink in our cars, but no where to drink them because of the weather. We had but one option remaining. Club Betsy! The seven of us crammed into Karen’s car, and continued the party. The unique setting simply contributed to the great mood, and everyone was beginning to get very tiddly. As the evening went on we decided to venture into town to see what the night had in store. dun-1

Which, on a Wednesday night, didn’t seem to be too much. We found a little pub, and despite the lack of people, we were having  great time (most probably because we had already been drinking for hours at this point). As it got later we went off in search for something more lively. We tried a couple more bars until we finally found it.A Hong-Kong restaurant. No, we weren’t looking for food, we were looking for Karaoke.

Four hours later we emerged. We had been given our own little room, with lavish sofas and the largest TV screen. There were flashing tambourines, and a tray of shots on the table. What more could a girl need on her birthday? We had all been obsessed with the microphone, jumping from song to song and screaming at the top of our lungs. And at $40 an hour we hadn’t batted an eyelid. It had been worth every penny.

In our severely hungover states the next day, we decided to visit the steepest street in New Zealand. We climbed up, rolled our tiny Jaffas down (a little chocolate ball, that Kiwi’s take part in once a year for charity) and found the whole thing highly entertaining, before deciding that our hangovers were too much and we all needed some quiet time.

So we said goodbye to Dunedin, and Becca (temporarily), and decided to make our way to the next stop. Dunedin had been amazing. Not very pretty, but a vast improvement from Invercargill and a lot sillier than our previous stops. But our time exploring the cities had come to an end, and we were ready to see a bit more of the beauty that brought so many people to New Zealand.  On wards and upwards.dun-3

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