The South Island of New Zealand is, understandably, all about the West Coast. But after leaving Dunedin I was keen to stick to the coast and head south, which meant a drive through the Catlins and a couple of days in a lovely, quiet little seaside town.
The drive down from Dunedin into the Catlins felt more like the English countryside than what you might typically expect from New Zealand. The East Coast is more rolling hills than snow-peaked mountains, but it’s pleasant nonetheless.
Roads around the Catlins were far quieter than I had expected. Again, most people will focus their time elsewhere on the island so while there are other visitors in this area, it’s just… relaxed. It’s a beautiful place to explore at leisure. On a walk to one of the waterfalls, there wasn’t a sound to be heard other than the birds in the forest, including the amazing sound of a tui now and again.
Unfortunately, the roads in this area started to turn from sealed into open gravel and that meant taking it slower and eventually cutting back onto a more mainstream route. But not before visits to Curio Bay (the furthest south I have ever set foot), “Niagara Falls”, and Fortrose. The South Coast is scenic, often untouched and a beautiful area to explore.
To get to Riverton we had to drive through Invercargill. Having not done any research on the city, I had a somewhat naive image of it being a typical mid-sized city, with a few bars and restaurants, people hanging around. But driving through Invercargill (and from subsequent trips there during the stay in Riverton), the city just felt quite sad. There are some shops, some cafes and bars looking to offer something better, but the city really doesn’t appear to have a lot going for it from initial impressions.
I hope it’s a false impression but it was backed up by a comment when visiting an escape room in Invercargill (aka. what to do in Invercargill when it rains). “People say there isn’t anything to do around here”, he said, “so it’s great that this place opened up.” We set a record for that escape room with the fastest time of any escapees so far, and also maintained our 100% escape rate from 40 games to-date.
Our accommodation for the trip was a cottage in Riverton. It’s a small town around a 20-minute drive west of Invercargill, with a small town centre and houses scattered around the coast. It was a wonderfully quiet area, and we were just a couple of houses back from the beach. What’s more, the weather played ball for the most part and provided us with some beautiful sunsets and sunrises, along with a chance to walk around the beach and the coast doing, well, very little. It was a proper switched off few days and that is exactly what it was intended to be.
Aside from visiting Invercargill, we also travelled further south to Bluff. It’s an interesting place – I hadn’t appreciated the historical significance before visiting – but has a similar feel to its larger neighbour. There’s a high-up viewpoint from Bluff Hill but the views are little to shout about really.
In all the South Coast proved to be a wonderfully relaxed few days, and that’s what I had hoped it would be. The mountains of the West Coast were coming up next but, even though it’s a less scenic area, it would have been a shame to miss out travelling around this part of the coast en route.