A Fantastic Day in the Catlins

Have you ever had such an amazing experience that you just felt stunned with happiness? Well let me tell you about my weekend. Sure I’m supposed to be telling you about our trip south, but I can tell you about that any time!

We hadn’t seen much of the South Island yet because we skipped most of it on our way to Dunedin. Instead, we are taking every weekend and holiday to see what we missed. During our travels in January another young couple told us that there are dolphins at Porpoise Bay that swim right up to the beach in the summer. Since it is almost fall, and things are cooling down, I was worried that they might have already moved out to sea. So, of course, Porpoise Bay was our first weekend excursion in hopes that we might spot some dolphins.

Walking out to McLean Falls through a pretty forest walk.

Walking out to McLean falls through a pretty forest walk.

Saturday morning we left early for the Catlins. Along the way, we stopped at McLean Falls. There was a lovely walking path leading to the falls, and the rocks around the falls were shaped in such a way that they were almost steps, and you could climb right up to the base of the main falls.

The higher region of McLean Falls.

The higher region of McLean Falls.

From there, the next stop was Porpoise Bay. Luckily, I had been talking to my professor of marine biology, who specializes in researching Hector’s dolphins, on Friday and he suggested bringing wetsuits. Just so you know, Hector’s dolphins are the world’s smallest dolphins, and the rarest, and Porpoise Bay is the only place in the world where any dolphins come so close to shore naturally.

So excited for Hector's dolphin swimming time!

So excited for Hector’s dolphin swimming time!

We arrived at the long sandy bay around lunch, and suited up. Even from up the hill near the shop and toilets you could see the dolphins leaping all the way out of the water, twisting in mid air and landing in almost the same spot they left. It was amazing!

Now don’t get me wrong…the water was cold. But really, how cold is cold when there are dolphins? We waded into the water with all the safety precautions: do not enter water near dolphins, do not swim towards them.

So we went all that way just to look at them from a distance? Of course not! Within minutes the dolphins had swum over to us and were swimming all around us. They were swimming between Andrew and I, they were catching waves right in front of us. Oh, you didn’t know that dolphins love to body surf? They are great at it. They always catch more waves than the human surfers. If you turn and watch the wave breaking behind you, you can even see them diving out of the back of the wave and swimming back to catch the next one.

[Hopefully there will be real dolphin photos to follow when we get the film developed on the waterproof camera. Developing film…is that still a thing?]

Several hours later we had to get out of the water. We couldn’t feel our hands or feet, and almost all the dolphins had suddenly left. We later learned that dolphins don’t mix well with sea lions, so maybe there was one approaching.

At our hostel at Slope Point that afternoon the hostess suggested that we wait until sunset to visit the petrified forest at Curio Bay. In the meantime we walked out to Slope Point. It is the farthest south point on the South Island.

Slope Point is the farthest south point on the South Island.

Slope Point is the farthest south point on the South Island.

Did I mention that the hostel was more of a hotel than a hostel? It was so comfy and nice, and they even let us feed the lambs. We had dinner and headed over to the petrified forest.

A neat juxtaposition of new and ancient life in the petrified forest.

A neat juxtaposition of new and ancient life in the petrified forest.

The petrified forest is exactly what it sounds like: an ancient forest turned to stone. There were fossil logs, tree stumps, and sapling stumps. It was a beautiful rocky shelf that is only fully visible at low tide, as it is right in the bay. Luckily we were there at low tide so we could see everything. As soon as we arrived, we saw a big fluffy animal sitting on the rocks near the forested area. Guess what it was! A juvenile yellow-eyed penguin!

Curio Bay, with fossilized fallen trees and stumps

Curio Bay, with fossilized fallen trees and stumps

Fossilized log (yes, that is rock) with lots of new life around it.

Fossilized log (yes, that is rock) with lots of new life around it.

As the sun set, the adults came up on shore from their day at sea. We saw about 7 or 8 adults before we left. They are so cute! We all know that penguins waddle when they walk, but this is a rocky shore, so they spend most of their time hopping around. Unfortunately the photos are terrible; these animals are threatened, so approaching them too closely could have a detrimental effect on their behaviours towards their young (e.g., refusing to feed the young). Since we like yellow-eyed penguins, we stayed well back!

Can you find both penguins?

Can you find both penguins?

So there you go! Our first penguin sighting, and the first time we’ve swum with dolphins. Add to that the fact that they were Hector’s dolphins (the rarest in the world) and yellow-eyed penguins (the rarest penguin in the world). And that was all on Saturday!

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