33. We Hit the Caitlins!

As we drove into Tawanui DoC campsite south of Balclutha, we crossed farmland with patches of native bush and my mind went through one of those changing itself moments. In the past when visiting the Caitlins we’ve only stopped at tourist spots Curio Bay and Cathedral Caves and for years I’ve been staunch in my belief that the only beautiful and interesting part of this area is the coast. Unbelievable! I just never looked properly. The bush is stunning and reminds me a bit of Peel Forest – for a start it feels ancient and secondly they call it forest, not bush, which does actually seem more apt.

We detached from the caravan and explored a bit of the ground between the campsite and the coast for a few days, returning each night to our wheeled little home. We drove each of the roads out of Tawanui DoC camp as we explored, wanting to find a better one to tow the caravan out on, rather than the one we had driven in on from the northeast. That one had a stretch that was winding and hilly and, being a big beast, it wouldn’t have been nice to meet another big beast coming towards us from the other direction. It was confusing as the actual road names didn’t seem to match up with the ones written down in our road map book. Still, our strategy was successful and we managed to find out, by the time we left, that the best towing road out (and in for next time) was the middle one, exactly the one that follows along the Caitlins River back to the highway. Phew.

It rained for a couple of days which was pretty nice; I think this must be the year we’ve seen the least amount of rain, ever!

The Tawanui DoC camp has plenty of park up space with fire places on the grass (which we didn’t even consider using as the season has been so dry) and toilets and a tap. Access to this camp is part of the agreement NZMCA regularly negotiates with DoC and it’s great as it makes travelling more accessible as a way of life.

The farms were dotted with stunning native bush, and further back where the farmland ran out lay huge areas of conservation land.
On the southwest route out of Tawanui (not great for towing), we found ourselves waiting for a lovely friendly farmer and his sheep up ahead, so we stopped to look at the scenery and explore this quarry which was full of interesting weathering patterns.
The museum at Owaka was a great visit. We saw a piece of scoria, one of three found to have been brought in from other parts of the Pacific by early Maori – there are different theories about why they were transported so far.
Roaring Bay – there were several snorklers out looking for paua; we had a brief talk and they were often in our sight as we followed them along the beach.
Beautiful seaweeds…
…and clear seawater.
This seal was typically watchful but also laid-back, not being breeding season.
Bracchiopod fossils on a beach boulder.
Kevin in the viewing hut which we visited only after dropping onto the beach (always a priority of mine). It pricked our consciences as the signage implied people shouldn’t be down on the beach at all due to yellow eyed penguins entering and exiting the sea at any time during the day – we had always believed they entered only at dawn and exited only at dusk.
Onwards to Nugget Point and the lighthouse. We could see birds and seals on the rocks far below us, and we talked with a DoC volunteer who helped us to recognise the wildlife we were looking at.
At the viewing platform.
Looking back the way we had come – you can see tiny dots of colour centre-right which are people walking along the track.
Looking down on the layered, tilted triassic-aged rocks below.
After our few nights at Tawanui DoC Camp we left – towing our caravan via fave pick of road running along the Caitlins River – and turned southwest along the highway. We soon came upon a large parking area for the Matai Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and the Historic Rail Trail.
After about half an hour of walking we came to the Matai Falls. The Horseshoe Falls, slightly further upstream, were different but just as lovely.
Leading down the short path that brought us from the waterfall track to the Historic Rail Trail track, we could see these old railway sleepers lining the way. This Trail is part of the railway line that once ran from Papatowai inland to Tahakopa and was renowned for its steepness that made engines struggle to keep moving onwards. Now there’s just a couple of kilometres close to the Papatowai end preserved as a historic walkway.
The forest here features rimu, matai and totara along with everything that grows beneath! I love these bright green ferns that grow on both the ground and clamber up the trunks of nearby trees!
The longest length of the Rail Trail headed inland towards Tahakopa, then we came back on the same path, passing our point of origin to walk a short stretch the other way and back. There were signs at each end so we knew where to turn around. And there were other boards to read that gave information about both the railway line and the plants around us.
Walking through a cutting – wonder how long it took to dig this one out? Depends on how good the dynamite was, maybe!
A native lily perhaps.
Everywhere we go there seem to be new species of coprosmas, with a big range of berry colours.
Wish we were better at identifying plants – been trying, but we can rarely make matches with the photos and descriptions in our books!
This is the view onto farmland at the end of the longest stretch of the track.
This cutting lay at the short end of the track, and was bigger than the ones on the other end. A board here told us this was actually the biggest cutting on the line. You could see explosion marks still left on the walls from when they dug it out! This cutting doubled up as a quarry while it was being built – the rock arenite was so durable that it was used in other parts of the line that needed building up. Durable as it is, it’s still an un-metamorphosed sedimentary rock formed in jurassic times, and we could see a few holes where bi-valves once sat. I looked for a complete fossil, but didn’t see one – a torch would have helped as it was quite dark in this cutting!
The small sign low on the rockwall showed where an explosion mark is still etched into the rock. Another sign showed where a fossil bi-valve once sat.

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