chilling feet

chilling feet

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Seals, Penguins, and Sea Lions, Oh My!

(A penguin blind - a little building put together so that
visitors to this bay can watch the penguins and bother
the little guys as little as possible!)
Day One of the Catlins Adventure:

The Catlins is certainly one of the must sees in New Zealand (and now a favorite of ours), especially on the Southern island, found on the Southeastern coast. As described from the link provided above, "The Catlins is an area of great contrasts and natural beauty with an abundance of wildlife. From magnificent coastal cliffs and headlands, long sweeping beaches, coves and sandy bays; to extensive temperate rainforests, waterfalls and rolling farmland, the Catlins is a fascinating, rugged place 'off the beaten track.' " This succinct summary of the Catlins is nice and tidy, but it does not cover the half of it as you will see from our photos.  As with all things, there is most likely a certain sort of romance that exists for us as we travel through the Catlins that many of the Kiwis do not have simply because they are raised within the atmosphere (although there were plenty of NZers on holiday visiting the area and they seemed quite excited to be there as well. Maybe everyone goes coo coo over this area).  For instance, there are no penguins nearby where we grew up and so the opportunity to see them close up and in person was something we became quite excited by. Much of the coastline and land here has been formed by what we kept hearing referred to as "The Weather" - it is always affecting the formation of the coastline.   

I rather liked the idea of having a poem in the last post and it seems relevant for this one as well in searching for words to describe the beauty we saw the past few days.  I'll stick to Madeleine L'Engle again for this one - "Shout Joy" from Lines Scribbled on an Envelope:

"O sing unto God/ and sing praises unto his Name
magnify him that rideth upon the heavens/ praise his Name/ Jah!
shout it/ cry it aloud upon the wind/ take the tail of his steed
and fling across the sky/ in his wild wake/ Jah!
he cannot be caught/ he cannot be fled/ he cannot be known
nor his knowledge escaped/ the light of his Name
blinds the brilliance of stars/ Jah!
catch the falling dragon/ ride between his flailing wings
leap between the jaws of the lion/ grasp the horn of the unicorn
calling with mighty voice/ Jah!
caught in the star flame/ whipped by comet lash/ rejoice before him
cry above the voices of the cherubim/ shout alongside the seraphim/ Jah!
bellow joy behind kings/ scattered by the quaking of his hills
fleeing before his fire/ rush like snow through his thunderous flame
crying with gladness/ adoration of his Name/ God is Lord/ Jah!

(Looking out a window waiting for penguins to come back
a long day fishing)
You might be wondering what the word "Jah" means.  One of the Hebrew words for God found in the Old Testament is generally pronounced Yahweh in English.  Often the Hebrew letters, as I was taught in my seminary days, can be transliterated with a "j" or "y" sound in English.  Yahweh or Jahweh.  Joseph can be heard pronounced Yoseph.  Yeshua is Joshua, which is also the Hebrew name for Jesus (that's his Greek name btw).  Jah is the first part of the name Jahweh.  The favorite little bit of information I have learned about this particular word surrounds its translation.  Most folks will tell you that it means, "I am," and this is a pretty widely accepted translation.  However, as Hebrew can be a little tricky, one professor pointed out that it can also be translated as, "I will be who I will be."  As this is a name that God chooses for Godself (Exodus 3 - the history of the name is a little complicated), it does hold obvious significance and for some reason I just love the second translation better.  At any rate, I have shared this poem because while walking around in the Catlins I too felt like shouting "Jah!" as we enjoyed the sights.  Feel free to shout Jah as you view the photos from this post.   

Our trip started over at Kaka Point, or almost the farthest Eastern section of the area.  A quaint little town with some nice beachfront property, we only spent a little bit of time traversing the beach here because we had our first objective in sight - Nugget Point!  Not only does Nugget Point boast a fantastic lighthouse (and we are always up for visiting lighthouses - the Virginia/North Carolina coast got us onto lighthouses), but the map showed it as a sight for seals, yellow eyed penguins, and more! On the road up to the lighthouse we visited the penguin viewing area.  After a short trek down to the sweet penguin hide, we sat and watched for any signs of penguin activity.  As we were a little early (they come out around dusk to come home) we waited around twenty minutes when suddenly we spied movement!  The camera was able to catch a few pics of this early bird coming home, but unfortunately were were just outside of our zoom capability.  If you look carefully to the left side of the log you will see it (him/her?), having just taken great care to jump up onto the drift wood.
(Can you see the penguin?)
He then carefully dismounted on the other side of the log and worked out of view to his nest (the chicklings are supposed to hatch sometime next month! We may have to go back.).  It was not much of a sighting but it was the first time either one of us had seen any kind of penguin in the wild! Pretty amazing.  On the way back down the hill we stopped and saw two more but they were even further away.

Post penguin watching we continued on our way up to see Nugget Point. It is thus called nugget point due to the shape of rocks which can appear to look like giant golden nuggets that have been carelessly dropped into the sea apparently from giants (Jack and the beanstalk reference - and yes I am reaching).  As you can see from the photos they do resemble, to some extent, golden nuggets although I am fairly certain their semblance ends only in appearance and not in make-up (because they are still there). There were some spectacular views from this area and something else you can note from the pictures - "the weather" was hard at work while we visited. So much wind, ocean, rain, and other elements of nature have been constantly crafting out these shorelines into works of art for some time now (it was a little
(seriously there is a seal down there)
chilly and windy/rainy). On our walk back  to the car we then spotted our first sighting of a wild seal!  Again, not the best photo of the sight, but down that hill, if you look extra carefully, you will see the shape of a seal, which also looks remarkably like a piece of wood.  We did see it move, which confirmed Sarah's sharp spotting, and while she was looking at the first one I saw another one swimming in the water - again, so dang exciting!  But outside of our second outing to the penguin blind in a chance for more happy feet action, we jumped in the car to head on for more NZ! (More photos of Nuggets Point below)
On our way towards our first night's slumber we stopped by a place called Tunnel Hill.  This bad boy was carved out the old fashion way, with a pick and a shovel (or as a the sign said "by hand").  We were walking down the path and chitter chattering about what we were going to do next when I looked down and saw what you see me standing before in the picture.  I am not sure I physically stopped in my tracks but there was something about seeing this tunnel that gave me pause.  At 250 meters and with only a small glint of light in the distance, this historical tunnel gives a haunting feeling. Yes we walked through to the other side, my torch in hand (gotta talk local - flashlight, not a blazing stick on fire unfortunately as that would be cool) and it was significant to feel the craftsmanship all engulfing us.  On the walk back Sarah suddenly spurted, "Turn your flashlight off you scaredy cat!" I can tell you I really did not want to do so, especially because I can think of around about fifty or so horror movies that kick off with just such a statement. But, pride usually wins (which is why people die in those movies) as it did here, and we walked in the dark cool corridor for a little bit before I resumed using my torch.

Last week I shared a song that was stuck in my head and which incapsulated where my heart was for the post.  One of my favorite bands over the past few years has been Of Monsters and Men.  Not only have we been hearing parts of their songs in countless ads and in the background when we visit stores, but their music feels like it comes from some strange new land (which makes me think of here).  While writing this post I am listening to their album and do not want to deprive you of the opportunity as well!
(not only a great song but an incredibly unique video)

(Waking up after the cold cold night. I love this shot)
Day Two of the Catlins Adventure:

Back to the trip.  Part of the fun for this adventure was being able to simply drive through the countryside, look on a map, and then just pick out what we felt like looked fun.  There was of course some research done before we left, but for the most part our adventure was left loose around the edges so that we would have the freedom to explore (you can follow along if you like with this online map by clicking here).  By this point in time we had reached the moment to look for accommodations - or in other words a place to put our tent.  Naturally, right around the time we went to plop our tent out, it began to rain rather significantly. We made the mistake of heading down the beach to look for sea lions when it got a little worse.  So, a little wet and chilled, we scoped out a few other camping areas to be sure that we had the best option and then head into town for a nice cuppa to warm up.  A little bit warmer, the rain let up and we finished setting the tent up right around the same time it decided to rain again (did I

mention it was a wee bit cold?).  With some cold fingers we finished up our night by heating up our dinner in the common room, getting ready for bed, and then reading some Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkein) via the kindle.  Unexpectedly the temperature continued to drop, to what exactly we do not know, and through the the night we could hear slushy material sliding down the outside of the tent.

(We took a bunch of photos of these two - presumable mother and child.
They kept snuggling and it was so cute.  I like that this one makes it
seem as though the baby sea lion is giving us a tired backwards wave)
Yes, we were too cold and slept little, but then we woke up to beautiful day you can see in the next photo (plus most of the rain and bad weather waited until we were no longer out and about seeing sights which was actually pretty nice of it). Ready to walk some of the cold out of our legs, we got moving as quickly as possible, and after fueling up on the fruit we brought, headed down to the beach walk once more.  This time the weather was exponentially better and we actually walked for a few hours. Our walk started in Surat Bay, taking us past a shipwreck sight, to Cannibal Bay (thus named because human bones were found in the sand dunes), and past some hearty (though mostly napping) sea lions!  The signs suggest staying 10-20 meters away from sea lions, for their and our safety (though I think mostly ours), and this was not too difficult because they are huge (and though they were rather inactive, reportedly they move quite quickly on land when they are motivated to do so). We kept a healthy distance.  
(Caught these guys going for a swim or some fish)

As I glance back at these photos, I find it near impossible to believe we are the ones who took them - while on the same beach, just walking by! There cannot be too many wild animals of their size and might that simply look up at you as you walk by and seemingly shrug their shoulders so that they can go back to sleep improving their tan.  There were one or two that watched us with a keener eye (such as the mother), but overall they were mostly unimpressed by our presence. Cannibal Bay only had one solitary sea lion napping the day away.  I speculated he had been banned from Surat Bay for behaving badly and was in the proverbial time out of sorts (his family may have just been fishing). We finished our walk back to Surat Bay, almost literally walking onto a sea lion that was sleeping up on the sand dunes, and then headed off for there was much more to be seen!
(seriously, not my new hair style)
Our second day in the Catlins was mostly a day spent working towards the Cathedral Caves, which can only be seen at low tide and was near where we wanted to try and camp for the night. But one cannot say we were simply wasting time as we went from one magical sight to the next. While it was still windy as seen here in this photo of my modeling my cuppa (it's really just my new hair style - I call it the high wave), I think of our second day mostly as a day of waterfalls.  The Catlins consist of a lot of coastal rainforest, which makes for some nice walks leading to rather pleasant waterfalls. Weaving our way from waterfall, to estuary, to waterfall, to walks that show how a forest grows, to waterfall, to
(yep, I keep saying it - Kiwis make
pretty awesome walking trails just
so we can go and visit waterfalls in
the middle of a rainforest)
(Smile, smile, smile - tis a waterfall behind
you! We lingered at each waterfall as she
would just stand there and watch the water.
I too felt the pull to just see the water take
its liquid course)
historical sites, we walked a bunch of little walks all adding up to quite a good distance (our legs are still recovering). The good part about waterfalls, besides the greatness they possess of their own accord, is apparently Sarah enjoys them almost as much as she does the beach. Just look at that smile beaming on her face, in spite of the fact that she did not want to pose for any photos after the cold, wind, hats, and traveling had not made her "camera ready." As always, I do not get what she is saying or thinking as I just see the same beautiful Sarah. Yet every time I post another photo of this little lady I just hope that she will find it share worthy.

We discovered plenty of worthwhile sites on our way to the mystical Cathedral Caves but it is certain that they tower above in comparison of straight up fantastical allure when set next to our other sites (as fabulous as they are).  The site is maintained by a family (who has some sort of ties to the olden days) and each person wanting to see the Cathedral Caves pays five dollars for entry. After a few warnings about getting wet and slick rocks, the attendant gave us a fair forecast about the conditions of a relatively high low tide - which translates into "btw, you will most likely get wet." The biggest mistake we made in the few days of

adventuring was not paying attention to the other tools at our disposal. Both of us had strap on sandals we could have used to simply walk through the two to five feet deep water, depending on how you time the tides, but we both thought our chances were better than they were at remaining dry.  While we both paid for this mistake with wet hiking shoes/boots we could not wear again during this trip, we did not allow this little hiccup to dampen our experience of the caves (at least not in spirit). Arriving at the caves after a short hike down through the forest and a walk down the beach, it is almost unimaginable to suddenly wander upon these gargantuan caves. As with all of our chances at capturing the beauty of this country,

our attempts to take pictures that truly represent the height of these caves are lost as soon as we push the button. How can a photo illustrate the wonder at looking back down and actually seeing what does represent a cathedral entrance as if it was some ancient church now abandoned to the congregants of waves and the strange shelled creatures attached to the rocks? Also, amazingly enough we did make it into the caves without getting wet (at least beyond what our shoes are designed for at any rate). It was upon our attempt to leave we found the ocean refusing to cooperate, and ourselves barely incapable of outwitting it. As it turns out it the ocean is quite a wild opponent with hard to read attacks - ocean wins this round. 

I apologize for the long post (more wonderful pictures to come).  Please feel free to enjoy another Of Monsters and Men song/video if you would like as a break.  This album is fueling the post!

Day Three (and the last day so hold tight) of the Catlins Adventure:

Our second day ended as the first - in a tent. After a short reading from our Hobbit tale, we almost instantly fell asleep after our previously chilly night, sleeping soooo much better this time round. Upon rising, with the sun as an alarm clock, we grabbed a quick cuppa of coffee at the place where we stayed and then headed for the one waterfall we had not hit the day before, which is conveniently located only about two minutes up a road from the campsite. Staying dry on this one and while it is no put down on the other waterfalls, we were happy to discover McLean Falls to be the grandest of all we had seen on this trip. One just has to wonder if the locals ever decide to start their day the same way and how great it would be to have the opportunity.

A little shoot down the road, and after a few lesser walks or stops, we arrived at Porpoise Bay. Porpoise Bay is a notorious dolphin nursery and home to a very rare porpoise called "Hectors Dolphins." A loss to us, these dolphins were not back yet from their winter move up the coast in search of slightly warmer waters. Soon they will return and most likely with pups in need of some training as they grow (pretty sure we will have to revisit this site too). When they are present, however, one can simply swim out and if you remain still the dolphins will usually swim over to check you out!

Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay, our next great hope at seeing yellow eyed penguins again, was extremely close. So as we waited for dusk and our best chance at seeing another penguin, we climbed rocks to watch the crashing waves smash against the coast, searched waves for early dolphins that might be arriving back to the bay, took more pictures, and then visited a few more local sites. This included a long windy 

walk out to Slope Point, the Southern most point of New Zealand's Southern island. Sitting almost smack dab equal distance between the Equator and the South Pole, we once again found a sign leading us towards an Antarctic voyage. As you will see in picture below if you keep scrolling, Sarah decided to get as far South as possible, even leaning parts of her body over the cliff... goodness. But onto Curio Bay!

Well we sat, waiting for dusk and whatever that means to a penguin, and finally we were rewarded with an up close encounter! We did have something to keep us busy as you might be wondering why this penguin is walking through such a strange environment. This little guy is wandering through a petrified forest and back up to a nest built up beyond the rocks in some brush. A site full of petrified logs, trees, and other strange items all combined with yellow eyed penguins - nice. It was amazing to watch them suddenly appear out of the waves, jump onto shore, and then make their slow but sure way up to their nest. Definitely worth the wait. Also while we were waiting, Sophie a German hitchhiker, came up and asked us which direction we were headed. After a short conversation she headed off to get her bag out of the car she had arrived in and Sarah and I looked at one another with astonishment. We
were certainly not "petrified" (get it) at the notion of giving someone a ride, but there are always considerations to be made. Fortunately she was a great person and we enjoyed getting to know her. We invited her to stay the night at our house and in gratitude she cooked us dinner and breakfast. If this was always the deal we would pick up more folks!

After watching our penguin friends wander on past us and picking up an extra passenger, we headed for home with only one last stop before us, Waipapa Point which offered both a lighthouse and possible sea lions in one stop. It did not disappoint. With a nice walk up to this quaint little lighthouse we turned to walk down onto the beach in search of sea lions and saw this:  
(Nap time)
"Um, guys, you're sort of blocking the entrance to the beach. Do you mind moving over a little bit so we can come down?" The best part is that as we slowly walked down towards them there was another giant one off to the right hidden behind the grass! So as you look the right and see Sarah crouching to take a picture with this sea lion, she is actually about equal distance from the three laying in the first picture. While they were content to keep on sleeping it still made me a little uneasy to have her so close. After we had started back up the track I noticed two guys who had walked up and were getting really close to one of them. This idiot reached over and touched one, while standing only a few feet from the three others nearby. The one he touched turned and looked at him and gave a nice deep growl, while at least one or two from the other group looked up to see what was happening. I honestly thought I was about to see this guy get sea lion whipped. But he backed away and while they were still paying attention their nap-like state also seemed to keep them wanting to sleep more than killing a human, thankfully.

We made it home and slept like babies, worn out from the trekking and fun. Hopefully you have enjoyed hearing about the wonder that is The Catlins. Enjoy your day and when you are in awe of something shout "Jah" in adoration and thanksgiving.  

(Our first day with sea lions and Sarah was more timid - probably better this way)

(This is the female sea lion we almost came walking up on - how did she get up here?)

(This walk takes one through the natural stages of a forest - pretty cool)
(I kept telling Sarah that we could just go up and join the snuggle fest)
("So we should build this awesome pathway through the marshy field so that people can go out and see the estuary and birds." Lets do it)
(This American designed farm tractor was used by a wood mill to transport trees)
(Cathedral Caves entrance - walk in and get wet or try to scale the walls and still get wet)
(It was fun climbing though - a little slick)
(One of my favorite shots from the Catlins trip coming back up the second Cathedral cave)
(This makes me think of the elusive Sasquatch pictures where he's walking across the scene)
(Rainforest rocks)
(So many excellent waterfalls)
(Nugget Point)
(The trail back from the lighthouse at Nugget Point - you've got to be kidding me!  Amazing)
(Tunnel Hill)
(You're telling me it's normal to walk through dark tunnels with your flashlight off?)
(Sarah proving she has been farther South than me)