I had a quick peek in the DOC office and wildlife park before taking the Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill. It turned out the Swiss girl Claudia, whom I met in Kaikoura, was heading there too to check out the Catlins so we agreed to hook up there.
I drove the Southern Scenic Route from Te Anau, which wasn’t actually that scenic in my book. Nothing wrong with it, just not really worth the effort. The one thing I wanted to do was wander through the Clifden Caves, a natural cave formation with no guides or tours – just pop your donation in, switch on the headlamp, and in you go for a few hundred metres.
(Picture : Clifden Caves entrance) The Rough Guide had warned that you may have to scramble through the odd bit. At the start was a bizarre doorpost and door, freestanding with no visible buildings around with a sign which ended ‘If you see our pony please give him a pat.’
Was the pony in the caves? Off I went, a little bit nervous as darkness quickly loomed, and even Petzl couldn’t lighten that much of it up. I turned a corner, followed the direction to the reflective strip, looked down to a jumble of small rocks, and immediately thought to myself
‘How the f*!! do I get through there?’
I walked back out. Surely another car would turn up? As it was a camper van was there with a couple of Brits. I shouted to them if they were coming in as I wanted some company since it was so narrow (there were a few ladders and drops further along) but they said they may come back later ‘if you survive and get out’. I went back in as they pulled away.
I heard another car pull up, and German voices at the cave entrance. I said hello from the darkness, which must have freaked them out as they left.
I waited the best part of 45 minutes for others to turn up but nada. I couldn’t even see the exit to try and go in to see the end of it. I was a bit hacked off for being uber cautious and missing out on the one thing I wanted to do in the area, and with a complete lack of crowds or entrance fees….but somehow I just couldn’t crawl through that in the darkness on my own…… woose.
I hot footed it towards Invercargill. I took a brief detour to Bluff, the southernmost town on the South Island and the gateway to Stewart Island. I would’ve quite liked to go here but it was the ferry cost and the cost of water taxis to see stuff that put me off. Bluff was nothing to write home about, but as the picture shows I was a long way from home – around 19000km!
I then hooked up with Claudia which gave me a good enough excuse to head out for a Masuman curry from a Thai place and a couple of pints of Speights.