Back To Southland To Catch Our Breath

After arriving in Bluff around 4.30 pm on Saturday 6th March, following a massive week’s walking and exploring (with an average of 18,997 steps a day according to my iPhone ‘Health’ App!), we needed to find somewhere to stay still and catch our breath for a few days. However, we didn’t want to miss another opportunity to investigate parts of the historic town of Bluff while there. We definitely didn’t do it justice, just squeezing in highlights in the short time we had available. The only campgrounds there were expensive, so we planned a return to the NZMCA one in Invercargill.

A Brief Glimpse of Bluff

What a fascinating place. Bluff lies 25 km east of Invercargill and claims to be the oldest European town in New Zealand. It was first settled in 1824 by a European man called James Spencer – the first European settler on the Southern mainland. James sought and gained permission from the local Maori, to build a house on land now known as Bluff Hill. Generations of settler families continue living in this small community at the edge of the world, as immigrant whalers and sealers married many local Maori women.

The End Of The Road

Bluff marks the end of New Zealand’s State Highway 1. This is the longest and most significant road in the New Zealand road network, running both main islands’ lengths.

We travelled to the most northerly point, Cape Reinga, in October 2020, and now we’d got to the most southerly end at Bluff. (We’ll be re-joining it in a week or so from when this blog is posted, heading to Dunedin).

We’re aghast we failed miserably to consider getting a photo of us by the location pointer at the Cape Reinga Lighthouse – though Barry did take some mighty fine shots. Damn! That was a missed opportunity, I doubt we’ll get back up there. Ah well, at Bluff we offered to take photos for a couple of women travellers, who returned the favour. I think these make up for the lack of northern SH1 images – they went crazy and took an amusing series of poses, even persuading us to have a bit of a snog!

You can see that Cape Reinga is 1,403 km away if we chose to return for the photo. I don’t think so! An opportunity missed …

Te Puka A Maui

The other end of the South Island’s anchor chain lies near Stirling Point – supposedly linking the one at the start of the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island. It’s a heartwarming tale:

I love the analogies of the chain, and the strong sense of heritage of the Bluff community. We totally felt this connectiveness at Stewart Island and Bluff. And we were to continue witnessing this along the south west coast of the South Island.

Stirling Point

Stirling Point and Bluff Hill provide the viewer with breathtaking 360-degree views of Bluff Harbour, Fouveaux Strait and across to Stewart Island. You get a fabulous perspective of the shape of the land and surrounding sea – as well as the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter. Understandably Barry was more impressed with the latter than I was! You’ll find a few photos in his slideshow at the end of this post. I did, however, find the following information interesting, when researching for this post:

“The facility, New Zealand’s only aluminium smelter, is at Tiwai Point, near Bluff. It imports alumina and processes it into primary aluminium. The plant’s alumina is supplied from refineries in Queensland and the Northern Territory of Australia. Around 90 per cent of the aluminium produced at NZAS is exported, mainly to Japan.

The smelter was opened in 1971 following the construction of the Manapouri Power Station by the New Zealand government to supply it with electricity. It uses 13 percent of New Zealand’s electricity, and is reported to account for 10 percent of the Southland region’s economy. On 9 July 2020, Rio Tinto announced that the smelter would close in August 2021.

In mid January 2021, Rio Tinto announced that it had reached an agreement with Meridian Energy to keep the smelter running until December 2024.”

Bluff Hill/Motupōhue

Our next point of interest was Bluff Hill, somewhere Barry declared he’d always wanted to visit, whereas I’d never even heard of it. There were excellently produced information panels lining the walkway, which I couldn’t resist taking photos of to share with you.

My love of New Zealand extends back many decades, due to the spectacular landscapes and wildlife. I found it immensely frightening to read that NZ will lose its beauty and become like the rest of the world if it doesn’t continue to take strong and consistent action.

At the top of Bluff Hill we could clearly see Stewart Island, and some of the places we’d recently visited.

You can download a short brochure about Bluff Hill here –, which details the numerous walking tracks around the area. We didn’t have the time or the energy to partake of them – but I’m sure if we’d had more time here we would have.

More Paua Shell Stories

After Bluff Hill, I suddenly remembered that Bluff was where Fred and Myrtles famous Paua House was situated. We’d visited the model of their house at Christchurch Museum in November, and there were some artefacts at the Bluff Museum we’d visited before the ferry to Stewart Island. I knew their house was now privately owned, but it was easy to find the address and we made a quick drive-by. Apologies to the man who sat eating his dinner in the window. But I guess that’s the price you pay for buying such a fine piece of NZ history? There will be another surprising link to this gregarious couple in a future post.

Three Quiet Nights In Invercargill

We eventually arrived back at the NZMCA campground in Invercargill with a plan of sitting fairly still for a week. I had work to do, client calls to take, and we hoped to catch up on some blogs. Despite our best efforts we remain over three weeks in arrears! But we’re not stressed about it, there’s likely to be plenty of time available in future to edit photos and write blogs.

It was starting to get cooler, even in early March here in Southland. We’d been avoiding rain mostly on our travels, but now the NZMCA camp was sodden from frequent deluges. The camp was busy once again, with a gorgeous happy family in a large bus next door to us.

On Monday 8th March, we had a table booked at 148 on Elles for dinner. A treat from a dear friend called Monique, for doing some work on her house in Gisborne during January.

It sure was a treat – the food was divine, as was the wine. Something we’d rarely do so we enjoyed them both.

New River Estuary

Adjacent to the NZMCA campground in Invercargill, we’d noticed some water. One evening we walked to investigate and found ‘New River Estuary’. It looked as though a lot of work had been done on it some years ago, but sadly since then had been rather neglected. There was little sign of the ‘newly’ planted natives, but much gorse and pampas and generally it looked unkempt which was sad.

Reading a little more about this area, it seems I’m not alone in finding the area not as scenic as expected.

Included was leaching from the old rubbish dump, old leaking stormwater drains, sewage overflow, and upstream farming run-off, Craig said. Members of the public were already trying to help by picking up rubbish which appeared from the old rubbish dump.

However, Craig said they had stopped short other projects, such as planting trees at the site of the old rubbish dump. “With the old rubbish dump we could go and do some beautiful planting on top but if there is still leaching out the bottom there is big questions.”

That article was from 2019, so sadly it seems little has been achieved since then. However, I’ve no doubt it’s an area welcomed by the local community as a place to wander a while. Their Google reviews are testament to this.

Starting The Southern Scenic Route

We’d expected our next stop from Invercargill to be Milford Sound. That’s what we thought till the Universe brought a couple of kiwis to entice us towards previously unknown adventures. I’ll reveal more on those revelations in the next post.

We travelled further west along the coast on Wednesday 10th March, passing through Riverton. I suspect we missed places there, but continued to a free campground at Colac Bay. We could see Stewart Island shimmering in the distance. What a stunning spot.

We stayed here for two nights, along with a few other campervans scattered along the road. It’s such a pleasure to sit and work or write with a view like this one. Watching the tides ebb and flow. Hearing the waves gently caressing the sand or crashing wildly.

A favourite pastime since first arriving in New Zealand in late 2001, is discovering hidden (empty) paua shells nestled amongst rocks at low tide. Barry and I took a long walk around the bay one evening. I was thrilled by how many we found.

I even found a sparkly stone with an ‘L’ on it for Lisa, my daughter. Little did we know at that stage how many more stones we’d be collecting!

After our walk, I gave Barry a hair cut outside of the van. His first since leaving Gisborne in mid-January. You can see why that was rather urgent if you look back at the picture of us at the restaurant above! I’d just finished when a large Ute pulled up alongside, and a Fisheries Officer walked round. He’d thought Barry was changing out of a wet suit and came to see if we’d been catching undersized paua! Imagine, Barry in a wetsuit 😂. He was a lovely guy and stopped for a chat. The only paua we had were a collection of pretty empty shells.

What we couldn’t comprehend though, was how this bay seemed to be so popular with surfers. The entrance to the road to Colac Bay has a fabulous stone model of a surfer. To us, the bay looked dangerous, with rocks peeking out randomly when the sea levels lowered. However, we were around the corner of the bay, where it’s rockier. The bay itself must be a great place as they hold an annual Colac Bay Classic Surfing Competition (last held in March 2019) –

This was one of my most favourite campgrounds to date.

Putting It Into Perspective

I thought I’d share a perspective of where we were to help those of you who aren’t familiar with the South Island of New Zealand. If you look at the map below, we were west of Invercargill, right at the bottom, and just past Riverton.

The Southern Scenic Route is the road in the maroon colour, running from Queenstown to Dunedin but in a rather convoluted way. Over the next weeks we will have completed the whole of this route.

Barry’s SlideShow

Click on the first image to begin …

5 thoughts on “Back To Southland To Catch Our Breath

  1. Pingback: History On The Hump Ridge Track ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

  2. Loving the blogs and the fabulous photos. All the more envious as winter has returned to the UK over the last two days with snow and freezing winds!!!! Bet you’re jealous!

    • Kia Ora Phil. That’s good to hear – the first part not the second 😂

      To be fair it’s chilling off here so we need to head north soon to avoid the frost I suspect! Keep warm. The sun will be back there soon 😉😎

      • I think April 18th 2019 in Gisborne was the last time I swam in the sea so you’ve got a couple of weeks at least before it starts to cool down….hopefully!

        • Ah but that’s way up north! It’s still looking warm in Gizzy. We’re not likely to be back there till at least the end of May 😥

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