YHA Catlins Thomas’s Lodge is the gateway to some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery. The Catlins is renowned for its beauty and a couple of days in this deserted paradise will refresh your spirits. The hostel itself is based in the tiny town of Owaka, which has one bar, a supermarket and is only ten minutes drive from the nearest surf break.
When my partner (Felipe) and I arrived at our lodgings, the first thing that struck us was the sheer size of the place. With its wide corridors and sky scraping ceilings, there was more than enough room to swing a cat or ten. To my utter delight, the first thing I found was a huge games room with a pool table and darts board.
In fact, I was extremely impressed with all of the facilities: a huge well equipped kitchen, internet facilities and a warren of chill out areas, all of which can be used by guests who choose to stay at Thomas’s camping grounds. What impressed me most though was the cleanliness of the place. Not a hair could be found in the bathroom sink or a squashed pea on the kitchen floor. It was immaculate!
Whilst bus trips can be arranged, having your own transport (preferably a 4WD) will help you get the best out of your trip to the Catlins. This gives you the freedom to explore the whole region at your own chilled out pace.
We spent the first night relaxing then arose early and drove to Kaka Point where a refreshing stretch of beach helped to blow away the morning cobwebs. We followed this with one of the many bushwalks, making sure that we sucked up as much of the fresh woody air as possible.
The next part of our trip took us to Nugget Point where outlying rocks are home to seals and penguins. We stood at the 1896 lighthouse and strained our eyes, trying to find life. We managed to spot a few moving black blobs, which I’m sure were sea-lion pups.
That night, we cracked open a bottle of wine and sat chatting with the friendly owner, Craig. Somewhere in the conversation, he decided to inform us that the Lodge was once a hospital. Immediately the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and of course I couldn’t help but ask if there were any ghosts. “Well, I’ve had a few taps on my shoulder” the owner laughed.
By the time we reached the Purakaunui falls, Felipe was still adamant that he wasn’t joking. I guess I’ll never know if the ghost was real or just his idea of a ‘joke’, but what I do know is that the Catlins is one of the most beautiful spots I have visited in New Zealand. Two days is essential and more would be heaven. Of course the Lodge comes highly recommended. Just make sure you take your ghost-buster gun!
YHA Catlins Thomas’ Lodge can be booked at http://www.yha.co.nz/ or by calling 0800 278 299.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Situated on the stunning East coast of the South Island, Kaikoura (meaning "meal of crayfish") is a tiny village whose shores are awash with huge wads of glistening seaweed. With its snow-capped mountains in the distance and bright murals adorning the walls, it exudes the air of a fairytale town and one would not be surprised if mermaid were to emerge from the sea.
We decided to stay at the YHA Kaikoura Maui hostel, which is just outside the main town centre and sits opposite the shores of the lapping sea. It's a cute cosy hostel with a very relaxed vibe and excellent value for money.
Too soon, we were all lead through to the back of the building where we were kitted out in an all-over-wetsuit, and feeling like eel-man from Scooby Doo, we were lead into the back room where we sat to watch a video about how to interact with the dusky dolphins:
Point 1: Strictly no touching!
Point 2: To get their attention, look them in the eye whilst spinning in circles, making high pitched noises.
I couldn't wait to put this into practice.
Out at sea the grey clouds thickened as the swell bobbed us up and down. Luckily the boat was quite roomy and sturdy and with the distraction of the albatrosses, I managed to successfully keep my breakfast down.
Once the right spot was located, I felt a rush of excitement as hundreds of black blobs and fins darted past the boat. We were given a float and on the blow of a horn we entered the water from a sitting position at the back of the boat. A second blow would indicate that we should return.
Immediately upon entering the water hundreds of dashing dolphins appeared before my snorkel. Anxious to get the most out of my experience, I began to make noises (which were akin to a monkey being attacked) whilst catching the dolphins eyes and forcing my flippers to spin me around in circles. Much to my sheer delight they loved it! Suddenly I had two calves playfully swimming by my side in a continual loop and after they'd zoomed off more followed.
After roughly half an hour of this erratic behaviour, I sadly faced up to the fact that my throat couldn't handle any more screeching and that my indulgent spinning had in fact left me feeling quite green. I boarded the boat where the crew had a good supply of sick buckets but with only a short journey back I was able to hang on to my food.
The whole experience left me quite overwhelmed. The sun eventually broke through that day but rain should not put you off, as the trip was enjoyable in spite of this. So next time you're in Kaikoura, slip on your flippers and go for a dip with the dolphins.
For more information about Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura and pricing, visit www.dolphin.co.nz/kaikoura
YHA Kaikoura Maui can be booked at www.yha.co.nz or by calling 0800 278 299.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
“But I thought they only lived in Australia? Do you think they’ll bite me?”
When she told me she was referring to protective gear that you strap onto the bottom of your legs, and not the scaly creatures with big teeth that live in rivers, I have to say I was quite relieved. With this in mind, I made a wise decision to head to the experts, Outside Sports (Queenstown), who kitted me out with all the essential gear to survive a night in the wilderness.
I was picked up early the next morning by our guide, Andy, and we headed off to Te Anau where we would begin our trip to Lake McIvor and meet up with our group of 10. By the time we arrived, huge dark clouds floated menacingly above us and a storm was forming over our destination.
After a good fat lunch of cheese and ham sandwiches, we began our trek. It was an easy walk but bearing in mind you have to carry a big rucksack with tents, sleeping bags and food, you do need to be reasonably fit. We walked for around 3 or 4 hours through lush shaded forest, whilst looking out for deer and wild pigs.
The rain set in just as we reached our destination so we quickly popped up our tents. By the time the heavy rain came we were snuggled into the cosy Hope Arm hut cooking steaks and drinking wine.
After clambering over steel wire bridges and relaxing in the sun at Back Valley hut, we then set off for a walk around the swamps – although it did feel as though we were walking right through them! The mud was very mushy and nearly everyone left behind a boot at one point! It was quite an adventure jumping across streams, balancing on logs and struggling through off road jungle in an attempt to avoid the muddy path, but it was great. We walked for around five hours that day and ended with a boat ride back to Manapouri.
Having felt that my waterproofs hadn’t worked hard enough, I decided to give them a real test. At the Pop In café at Te Anau, desperate for a hot drink, I ordered a large hot chocolate. Not able to wait, I popped on a lid and started gulping down my lovely, well deserved drink. When I still couldn’t taste it after a few seconds, I looked down to find brown liquid streaming down my jacket and down the insides of both my legs. In my rush to get the hot drink into my cold body, I hadn’t put the lid on properly and therefore unknowingly became the test dummy for Outside Sports waterproof jacket and pants. They worked!
Trips can be booked through both the Queenstown YHA’s. For more information, check out the website: www.adventurewalks.co.nz