We went well out of our way traveling to the Catlins from Queenstown, but we were glad we did, as it was much more scenic and no journey really takes that long in this country anyway. One night we found an amazing free campground near Monkey Island. We had fresh eggs delivered right to our van door while there! An adorable little girl went running around to all the campers while her parents sat in the car nearby selling 'Mum's eeegs! Mum's eeegs!' It took a little while to understand what she was talking about. After getting orders, she hopped back in the car, took off, and came back with a basketfull about 20 minutes later. She was too cute - with her hood of her sweatshirt up but barefoot in typical kiwi fashion - and the eeegs were very fresh.
We passed through the very southerly and brutally made-fun-of city of Invercargill, where we did little other than fill up on petrol and buy food. We then drove east on some very hilly, quiet roads through the Catlins, heading for the town of Owaka and Raime's former project advisor's office. He spent a month down there in late 2002 studying yellow-eyed penguins at beautiful-beyond-words Nugget Point. We got the keys to the Nuggets volunteer house from Cheryl and headed for it, very very excited.
Nugget Point is a hilly, exposed peninsula with a lighthouse and rocky islets (the Nuggets, of course) at its end, and lots of plant and animal life. The quirky but comfortable 4 bedroom house sits at its highest point and the views are amazing. It was great to have any big house all to ourselves after a month-plus in the van, let alone this one. It was wonderful for Raime to return and for Kate to fall in love with the place as well.
We had agreed to help Cheryl out during our stay, and we had resigned ourselves to the fact that it might be mending fences or maintaining trails. It turned out that she needed help weighing penguin chicks! We drove to a remote cow pasture by the sea and walked through the cows to a large hillside of very dense, native forest. Back in October nests had been located and we had the map, so there wasn't all that much searching. Cheryl explained to us that this was going to be a lot like rugby - in order to weigh the chicks we had to chase and tackle them first. The 1.5 foot tall chicks were much better at making their way through the dense bush than we were, and the ground was quite wet. There was a lot of getting caught on branches, falling over, and watching the chicks fall over as well. At times it felt like we were on the show 'Cops.' "He went in the bush! You cover the back I'll stay in front! Hurry up!" Once we caught them the real fun began, as they'd try and beat us up with their strong flippers and clawed feet, and bite us with their lightning-quick beaks. We have quite a few injuries from this event. They pooped on us a fair bit, too. Once contained we would stuff them in a bag with a head-hole and hang them upside down from a scale. We weighed about a dozen chicks. It was awesome. We wish we could do it again.
Other than that episode our time in the Catlins was very relaxing. We took some short day trips, seeing a petrified jurassic rainforest, the southernmost point of the South Island, and some huge, slothful sea lions. And at the Nuggets we saw the penguins return from sea one sunset and head out on sunrise. But we didn't do much else. It was great. Our last two nights we had some guests - two friendly and interesting grad students from the University in Dunedin. We enjoyed their company until we saw how unbelievably messy they were! We're so glad we won't need to have roommates in Rochester.
We got to Dunedin yesterday, and will spend a few days enjoying this lively city and its beautiful surroundings. Then we'll take the long route to Christchurch via Mt. Cook. We fly to Peru on the 28th!