Heading back to Te Anau on the Milford Road, I stopped off at a place called the Chasm to see some seriously weird water-sculpted rock formations – water, in case you haven't guessed, plays an important part in Fiordland's ecology – and eventually arrived in Te Anau, reported my return to DOC and decided to change my plans. With an extra day in hand I thought it might be fun to do the western half of the Southern Scenic Route from Te Anau to Invercargill, seeing as I'd already enjoyed the eastern half from Dunedin. Leaflet in hand, I filled up the car and set off... only to find that the weather, which had been incredibly good since I'd started the Kepler, decided to do its stuff. The Southern Scenic Route turned into the Southern Drizzle Drive, but about halfway through I found a place that didn't depend on a wonderful view: the Clifden Suspension Bridge.
And here I spent the night, right by this beautiful bridge, built in 1898 and preserved in an historic reserve. It might be less than a century old, but it feels historic in the same way that Iron Bridge Gorge and the original Clifton Suspension Bridge do, and as I listened to the radio, rain gently dribbling down, I felt rather lucky. A cyclone – Cyclone Dorina – had just hit Auckland, ripping roofs of houses in Whangarei, gusting at 90km/h, blowing down power lines, causing floods and generally spoiling people's holidays, and here I was in supposedly the wettest area of the country – and one of the wettest places in the world, in fact – with only a light splattering of rain.
Unfortunately the drizzle continued the next day along with the Southern Scenic Route, so it wasn't long before I reached Invercargill, having driven through similar coastal scenery to the eastern arm of the Route: trees growing at desperate angles, farmland that must be a nightmare to maintain, and beaches that look innocent until the rip tide carries you off into the Tasman Sea. It was rugged but attractive, unlike Invercargill.
I know that cities aren't best viewed in the rain, but Invercargill was just as depressing in the storm as it had been in the strong sunlight. On the other hand it is a city, which means it has supermarkets, so I visited a Pack 'n' Save and stocked up with a couple of weeks' worth of food before setting off due south to Bluff.
I'd not had time to visit Bluff, the southernmost town in the South Island, on my previous visit, which was a shame; in the rain the visibility was pretty awful, and although I walked round the bluff to the lookout point where the signs helpfully pointed out all the little islands to the south – such as Stewart Island, a famous tramping spot – I couldn't see a thing, and simply succeeded in getting soaked. But hey! I've been to Bluff, the Kiwi equivalent to Land's End, and all I have to do now is visit Cape Reinga on the northern tip of Northland and I'll have travelled the New Zealand mainland from tip to toe (especially as I've already been to Slope Point, the southernmost tip of the South Island). Trivia is a wonderful travelling companion sometimes...