South Coast East – to Curio Bay

Dates of Adventure: 8 & 11 April 2021

The South coast east of Invercargill is a rocky, rough coastline. Though it coldn’t quite be described as desolate, it felt like it was only populated by sheep, cows, lighthouses, and vacation homes.

Our first taste of the unprotected waters of the Southern Ocean was at the Waipapa point lighthouse, a hexagonal lighthouse 56km away from Invercargill. Large waves crashed on the shore, highlighting the need for a well situated beacon there.

Heading east, we arrived at Slope Point, the true southern point of the South Island. From a small car park, we traversed across a grazing field, scaring a handful of cows in the path.

In our heads, New Zealand is incredibly far south in the world. This sign highlighted that it’s really not that far, as even the southernmost point is still about equidistant (off by ~5%) from the pole to the equator!

The green fields ran directly off the ocean cliffs, since any attempt to fence the property line would be swept away by the actively eroding coastline.

As the sun set, we wound our way towards the curiosities of Curio Bay. We found an appropriate freedom camping site for the night and checked the tide charts for the next day!

Our first stop in Curio Bay itself was the Petrified forest, since it requires a low tide to explore the large shelf of hardened wood.

You could see the rings and branches of mineralized trees, as well as long slender petrified logs!

We had heard from a local Kiwi that his class would come here as a field trip when he was a kid. He remembers that it used to be much more impressive, but then also said that the teacher would find a large log section, smash it on the ground, and give each kid a small piece to take home!

Across the peninsula is the large Porpoise Bay, a holiday destination during the summer. Unfortunately, it was becoming late in the season this far south, and the water was a little too cold to swim freely in.

Cool patterns in the sand

After our brief walk on the beach, we headed to the peninsula at the end of the bay to look for a New Zealand rarity: Hector’s Dolphins!

The smallest breed of dolphins in the world, Hector’s Dolphins are an endangered species that live around the south island’s east and south coast. We wanted a chance to see these rare mammals!

A pod of these small dolphins lives in the bay, so we stood atop the large bluff overlooking the ocean all around. Sure enough, we soon spotted some fins poking through the surf as a few of them searched for food!

As we were dolphin spotting, an Ultramarathon event was being set up at the Curio Bay campsite just next to where we were parked. Inspiring for both of us, we talked with a few organizers and product reps about our favorite gear!

We next headed inland towards the Catlins, which we will talk about more in our next posts. There were a few old cemetaries we wanted to check out with what remained of the day. One interesting thing about NZ is that most small towns have a memorial to The Great War, World War 1, with names and celebrations of life for all the young servicemen involved from the area.

We returned to the Curio Bay area in the evening, as we wanted to try our luck seeing another rare breed that lives in the area: Yellow Eyed Penguins!

There were some, but they were super far away and even my longest lens had trouble with it. Nonetheless, we saw them!

We returned to the freedom camping spot from the night before to plan out our next few days as we ventured into the Catlins, a large, lush forest in the southeast of the island. Stay tuned for those posts coming up, and thanks for reading!

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