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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Southern Scenic Route

One of the things I wanted to do before I left the south island was to take the scenic route. Literally. Along the southern rim of the island, there is about a 8-12 hour drive you can take and see some of the most impressive scenery the country has to offer.

Southern Scenic Route and Doubtful Sound

That's a link to pictures from this trip, but it's in reverse order so it starts out where I ended up: at Doubtful Sound.

I started my trip out in Dunedin, which is a nice city at one end of the Route. I usually take my camera with me everywhere I go, but regrettably I left it in the room when I went out for dinner the night before my drive. It was a full moon and I parked right on the oceanfront. The restaurant I was going to is called The Esplanade and it looks out over the water. There was a cloudy sky but just above the horizon there was a roughly rectangular break in the clouds. Moonlight shone down through this window in the clouds and illuminated a patch of ocean, just off shore. I'm not sure that even if I had the camera it would have had enough light to capture this image, but it's one I won't soon forget. Definitely better than any rainbow I've ever seen, it was very pretty.

The next day was sunny and a perfect day to take this drive. Along the way I met two German girls at the lighthouse on Nugget Point. They were on a 3 month vacation and had been to at least half a dozen countries already and still had a few more to go after New Zealand. I asked them if they had seen anything like New Zealand in their travels so far, and they looked at each other and laughed.

"No, we haven't," one of them said. "New Zealand is really unique."

They were also doing the same scenic drive I was doing but I never did see them again that day. Here and there I'd see different people and chat with them, but I never saw the same people more than once.

One of the things I wanted to see, Cathedral Caves, was closed because sea level was too high and you couldn't get to the caves. Another trail to a waterfall was closed but I absentmindedly drove right by the sign saying it was closed and drove all the way up the mountain to the trailhead before I caught on.

It didn't matter, though, because there were plenty of other great stops and as it was I very nearly ran out of daylight in the end. I saw another waterfall along the way and checked out the remains of an ancient petrified forest that fortunately hadn't gotten covered up by high tide yet.

At the end of the Route, at least where I got off, I stopped by Slope Point. As I pulled up to the marker, which was off of a gravel side road well away from the main road, there was a middle-aged couple there staring at the sign. The man had an Irish accent but the woman was American (or maybe Canadian, heh) and they didn't want to make the hike and have to drive back in the dark. I guessed there was probably about 30-45 minutes of daylight left, which was plenty of time to hike down to the point and back.

"Are you sure you don't want to make the trek? It's going to be dark while you're still on the Route at this point anyways."

"No, we'd rather not, but good luck to you though!"

I thanked them and went off to hike down, but then stopped. There was a sign, marking the beginning of the trail to Slope Point, but no obvious trail, just a huge open pasture that opened onto the sea. Finally I realized that on the other side of the open gate was a sign saying to follow the yellow markers, and every fifth post on one fence had a yellow tip painted on it.

I was able to hike down and back, and nearly made it off the Route to Invercargill before it was totally dark. The full moon made for a cool sunset as I drove through the hillside, making for a very scenic trip indeed.

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