Leaving happy Dunedin behind, I drove off down the coastal road, heading west along the south coast of the South Island, with not a cloud in the sky.
My first stop was a little walk to Purakaunui Falls, a gushing torrent of water surrounded by forest that reminded me of the rainforest around Strahan in western Tasmania. As it was getting late, though, I drove straight to Papatowai, home to a beautiful little campsite and the prettiest little bay. That night it hit me that I was well and truly back on the road again, with very little work left and lots of time to explore the South Island; apart from a handful of write-ups in Christchurch, I had no work scheduled until Nelson, just before I'm planning to return to the North Island.
The next day I followed the coast road for a bit more, in search of a number of little walks and lookouts on the way. This is one of the most pleasant aspects of driving through this sort of scenery; I love the large number of nature walks and tracks that only take a few minutes to walk, but that take you through scenery that you'd think you'd have to travel to the ends of the earth to see. The Tautuku Bay area was my first stop, with some beautiful views from Florence Hill over sweeping forest, reaching right up to the golden sands of a huge beach. This is native bush country, and slowly but surely the bush is advancing into the sea as more sand gets washed up onto the beaches.
Just down from Tautuku Bay, where I rather surprisingly found an obstacle course tucked away in the rainforest, is Lake Wilkie, an inland lake that's hemmed in by sand dunes. A pretty little boardwalk took me through the forest to the lake, which is apparently left over from the ice age. The bush is slowly reclaiming the lake, and there's an interesting collection of signs explaining the process. It's a serene place, with still brown waters and lots of frogs that swim away as you approach, making the water shimmer as you walk along.
Porpoise and Curio Bay
My next port of call was so pretty I decided to stay the night, as I had a number of letters to write. Porpoise Bay is a beautiful half-moon bay with golden sands that stretch as far as the eye can see; here you can see Hobson's dolphins – a rare breed of dolphin – playing in the surf, which is a wonderful sight as you take in the views and soak up the sun. But the most amazing thing about Porpoise Bay is that it backs onto Curio Bay, a different kettle of fish altogether. Curio Bay is rocky in the extreme, with a large shelf of what looks like savage, lumpy volcanic rock, bashed by the sea but exposed at low tide. This shelf is in fact a petrified forest, the remains of a 16 million year old forest that was covered in volcanic ash back in the Jurassic period and preserved, turning into hard rock in the process. It's a strange sight, walking along among these stumps of stone that look exactly like tree stumps – complete with rings in the trunk – except they're made of rock. There are trunks that have obviously fallen over and turned into rocky bark, and all sorts of little stumps everywhere, sticking up out of the rock pools. Talk about surreal.
However, one of the biggest drawbacks of camping by the sea in New Zealand is the dreaded sandfly. There were sandflies on the coast in Western Australia, but New Zealand has managed to elevate the sandfly to an art form: an art form with teeth. Wherever you go, especially in wet, coastal areas, there are swarms of tiny flies, each of which can give you a nip as nasty as a mosquito. I've invested in the recommended insect repellent, but if that doesn't work I may be reduced to taking the advice of a bushman I met in Monkey Mia: mix 70 per cent baby oil and 30 per cent Dettol, and smother yourself in it. You might smell awful, but the sandflies stay away1... as well as any other sentient beings, I shouldn't wonder.
On Monday I headed off from Curio Bay, only to find that my clutch wasn't working. For some reason it gave absolutely no resistance when I pressed my foot on it, and only bit in at the very fullest extension; by some quirk of fate, all my clutch fluid had run out overnight. Still, I wasn't going to sit around all day doing nothing and praying for a psychic mechanic to stop by, so I crunched my gears all the way to Slope Point, down some of the most confusing dirt roads I've ever encountered. At least, I think I found Slope Point, the southernmost point of the South Island, but I could have been anywhere, to be honest. Never mind: I would definitely have seen Slope Point at some stage during my meanderings, even if I didn't know exactly which point it was, and it wasn't long before I managed to find a garage and some brake fluid, and all was solved. It demonstrated something, anyway: a year ago I wouldn't have even known that a clutch needed brake fluid, but after a year driving round strange countries, you soon pick up what goes on under the bonnet.
Happily, the car behaved impeccably once I hit the bitumen once again, and I completed my circuit of the southeastern corner by continuing on to Invercargill, before turning northeast for Dunedin and back to Christchurch once again.