Invercargill to McLean Falls – 76 miles
After a good night’s rest I woke ready for the rest of this bike adventure. I took a shower, ate breaky, watched a cartoon, and headed off. I stopped at a random mine that was closed but advertised a cafe. It was also closed but a really nice English couple pulled up at the same time. They were super interested in my trip and how light my bike was packed. If the cafe had been open, I suspect they would have chatted a long while. Nice people. My first checkpoint was the town of Fortrose. It marks the first restaurant into the Catlins. I stopped for a coffee and picked up a Catlins tourist map. To my great fortune, the map included road types letting me prepared for gravel versus paved routes. My route was set, but it was nice to know that every vista was accessed via gravel road and that this leg of the tourist route also contained a 14 km gravel road.
My first stop was Waipapa Point Lighthouse. It was recommended because usually there are heaps of sea lions and fur seals. I only saw one sea lion way off from the lookout. But it was beautiful. I really like lighthouses. New Zealand’s lighthouses are no longer occupied by people, so now they are tourist stops.
The gravel road was just over 6 miles round trip. And it really got me thinking about vehicles on the road with cyclists. I am on a tourist road. There is the scenic highway and then there is this road, which links all the extra sights. Locals are easy to spot, they drive really slow when they see me, tend to nod my way, and usually are in a farming vehicle. They are very familiar with this winding road that is all gravel for the majority of its length. Then there are the tourists. They are usually driving fast, hardly slowing down while approaching me unless they become ostuck behind me as two vehicles try to pass. They don’t always nod, and in fact I feel like some are actually grimacing my way. It took me riding down the lighthouse road to realize this distinction. My presence on the road apparently causes too much delay in the busy agendas of the tourists around me.
That thought really sticks with me. I am among these tourists, and I have my deadlines too, but seriously they are in vehicles. The one minute of delay that I may cause them (if it is even a whole minute) can easily be made up or lost without significantly affecting the speed at which the drivers are moving along this road. My progress, however, is significantly impeded because I cannot risk riding fast for the worry that the next vehicle will speed wide around a bend and force my path off the narrow tire tread. In the whole 14 miles or so of gravel travel, I held my own well enough to only slide out once. No injury or harm done, but it kept me on edge. As difficult enough as it is to ride slick tires on gravel, I also had a fair amount of topography to the road, and the impatient tourists as described above. Since I have panniers, the back half of my bike is imbalanced and any loss of control could result in a slide. I didn’t even fall over, I haven’t fallen over yet from not clipping out fast enough [**knock** on wood]. But the bike still pulled itself down the slope as the slope of the road and depth of gravel reached the limit of my bicycle traction. Anyway, this long saga is to say that if all the tourists, cyclists should be the most reasonably impatient since any delay truly equals a delay. There isn’t really a great way to make up time while cycling except to stop less, which is not a very touristy thing to do.
I did ultimately decide to skip Slope Point, the southernmost Point on South Island. I decided the additional 8 miles of gravel with a big hill weren’t necessary. I have already been to Stewart Island, so I have been way further south in New Zealand than Slope Point. It was supposed to have nice views though.
Curio Bay I made sure not to miss. And it was a lovely break. There is a 180 million year old (Jurassic time frame) fossil forest preserved from ash fall. The wave cut beach rock reveals the fossilized wood. And it now provides stunning wave-crashing bluffs to take photos from. I took a long break lying on the beach in Curio Bay. At long last I finally am on the beach in my bikini enjoying the sun! I only gave myself an hour of sun time, though. Besides my left shoulder and knees being really tan, made all the more absurd by the stark lines from my jersey and shorts, the rest of my body looks questionably of albinism. I didn’t want to turn into a lobster. I am just beginning to peel from my very first day on this bike trip, so soon I will be fully pale again.
From Curio Bay I was back on pavement and as I headed toward Waikawa, I saw a lone penguin standing up on a rock in the water, arms spread, obviously dreaming about what it would be like to fly. I could understand the desire.
I next stopped in the tint settlement of Niagara for two reasons. The first being the Niagara Falls Cafe, and it did not disappoint. It was the exact quiet and lovely place I wanted to be. I sat in a warm sunny spot by the window overlooking a thriving garden. The cafe used to be the Niagara Falls schoolhouse, built in 1893, before it shut down in 1972 when the mill shut down. Niagara Falls is named in jest after the North American Niagara Falls, for the tiny waterfall at the river where settlers would take their wool to send down river to Wiakawa where it was shipped off. The sign advertises for the world’s smallest waterfall. I love the humor.
From Niagara I continued all the way to Catlins Kiwi Holiday Park where I am camped out tonight. It is the only camping point since I left Waikawa, so you can imagine that the whole place is booked out. But they let people put tents wherever they find a spot, so I was ok. The reason I wanted to stop here was to have supper at the Whistling Frog Cafe and Bar and to catch an evening view of the McLean Falls, New Zealand’s tallest falls at 22 meters. I have been searching for a milkshake and the cafe had them! I cannot describe how delighted I was to finally have a milkshake. In that food venture, I forgot about the 3km walk just to get to the falls car park on top of the 40 min round trip walk. I arrived at the falls after sunset, too dark to snap twilight lighting. It was still a neat sight. No glowworms came out though. I hoped I might at least see then on the walk back. It was probably slightly too light out for them yet. The worst of both ends of the stick. A nice part was that some German guys who were also still down there gave me a ride back to the campground.
Noisy campground, but off the bed!