Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sealions, Scooters and Spirits!

Set in the heart of inspiring countryside, 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.

The next best thing was our room, a comfy double with a super modern bathroom and heated towel rails. Our window opened out onto a large field, where mooing cows provided bedtime hymns and the morning sun cast itself over grassy pastures. Now, being situated at the far end of the huge building, a walk back to our bedroom could have felt like a hike – if it wasn’t for the mini scooters that the owner provides! Whizzing down the corridor after a game of indoor bowls made me feel like a kid again.

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.

We then ventured on to Curio Bay, where huge tangles of seaweed spread over the flat volcanic rock then eerily retreat back into the sea with the crashing of the tide. This place is strangely intriguing and had us exploring for hours.

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.

The next day, as we strolled across the stunning Cannibal Bay, Felipe casually told me that he’d seen the figure of a lady stood next to me on the first night in our room. As I let out a loud ‘what?’ a dozing sea-lion popped up his head to see what all the fuss was about.

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.