After Dunedin I drove to The Catlins, a national park on the southern tip of mainland NZ. Not exactly the most southern part of NZ as Stewart Island and some outlying NZ-owned rocks lie further towards the pole, and although remote it's not exactly what I'd call the wild frontier - Fiordland in the south west definitely takes that title. I drove through swathes of forest and farmland and around rugged coastline to get to Curio Bay, a cute, windswept hamlet with only a few backpacker places and a caravan park for accommodation. It was dusk and the local shop-cum-caravan-park-reception had a few packets of instant noodles, which were to be my only dinner option. The bay is the site of a petrified forest: some time in the Jurassic period, heavy rain fell on nearby volcanoes and the resulting ash-filled water swept through the forest, impregnating the trees with silica and turning them to stone in a matter of weeks. The wood didn't rot as it happened so quickly and therefore became preserved in situ. As if this wasn't a rare enough phenomenon, this tiny bay is also one of the few places in the world to see Yellow-Eyed Penguins, who nest in the bank and return from hunting just before sunset, like clockwork.
|Petrified forest, Curio Bay|
|Manapouri at dusk|
|Looking down to the start of Doubtful Sound|
The power station was conceived well over 100 years ago, which is staggering enough in itself, but it was deemed too costly to build at that time. When it was finally built in 1965, the Wilmot Pass cost £1 per cm at today's exchange rate - easily the most expensive road in NZ. Most of the energy from West Arm goes to an aluminium smelting plant - without this, it could power most of South Island.
I spent that night back in relative civilisation in Te Anau, in preparation for a trip to Milford Sound further up the west coast. Milford Sound is bit more touristy, mainly because it's more accessible but it was still a fantastic sight. The road to Milford was jaw-droppingly scenic and virtually deserted, with lonely creeks and a splendid mountain pass before dropping down to sea level at the start of the Sound. Both Sounds had waterfalls in abundance and I expect these would be even more impressive after a few days of heavy rainfall. The photos of the Sounds really don't do justice. It's so difficult to get a sense of scale from these pictures.
|155m Stirling Falls, Milford Sound|