South Island Stories and Tips

Last day on the Southland coast

Riverton rocks Photo, South Island, New Zealand

After a night in Gore, we drive back to the coast through the rather flat and only very mildly inspiring farmland. There is not many people, or cars; there are many sheep: but we are used to it by now. The day is beautiful, the sun blazing and for a moment, on a roundabout in Gore where signs point to Milford Sound we feel an urge to abandon the round-about route plan and go straight there. We will regret not having done that later when we embark on the Saga of Not Getting to Milford Sound, but as for now we continue our Southern Scenic Route drive, missing Invercargill (which we don't really mind) and Stewart Island (which is just a few dollars to far) and heading for Riverton and then the Fiordland.

Riverton is a small town or a large village, a resort at the Jacobs River Estuary, with a picturesque harbour and windswept beach with views of what must surely be Stewart Island from a huge pile of large rocks amassed in one place. The highlight is, however, a walk in the More's Reserve, atop the steep (and mostly gravel) Richard Street. We park in a small car park and set off on a path (mixed earth and boardwalk) through the forest. Ten minutes later we emerge to a sweeping view of the coast (and the Foveaux Strait). There is also a rough path leading promisingly down towards the sea, so we take it and after another ten or so minutes we are rewarded with another, wilder and emptier view of the coast. Between us and the beach is a steep pasture and I start dreading the clamber back (and not only the clamber but having to encourage if not push the Younger Child up). And thus only Himself gets to walk on the empty beach and see the boulders balancing as by magic.

All this exploration always takes more time that one thinks it would and thus as we set off from Riverton the light is starting to fade. We pass Colac Bay, renowned for its breaks among the surfers, and as most of the time the road passes near the coast and we have to restrain ourselves from stopping at many a picturesque lookout or beach. We do stop, however, at Monkey Island, where a small rocky islet just off the beach can be walked to at low tide (it's not low tide, but it still looks good from the distance), and then at McCarken's Rest, for the last look we are going to have of this side of New Zealand, where a small platform gives more sweeping views of this beautiful, rugged coast, now even more attractive in the dying light.

We spend a night at a couch-surf near Tuatapere, in a small wooden house in desolate middle of nowhere; our host making (and drinking) his own hooch and regaling us with stories from his life of travels everywhere from Europe to the Antarctic.

Next morning it's snowing, or sleeting, and very misty: and we are setting off for the wild west. It's only about 130km to Te Anau, less than two hours' drive, but we are going to take it slowly as it's our first look at the Holy Grail of South Island travels, the Fiordland.

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