The South East corner of New Zealand’s South Island is a gem unblemished by man. There are few towns and villages in the area, leaving it a vast expanse of grassland waiting to be explored in your comfortable motorhome. The mountains to the north and west of the region have shrunk to rolling hills, bobbing up and down amongst the valleys.
Even on a mid-winters day the sun shines along the coast and the weather is surprisingly welcoming, with calm breezes and warm sunshine. Flecks of frost still remain on roads and plants hidden from the sun by towering trees, so that one side of the road will look like The Darkling Thrush envisioned, while the other basks under a spring time sun. The area has some gravel roads but nothing that is to hard for your campervan.
There are unending beaches to visit in this region, but Porpoise Bay is among the most popular with tourists. It is here at dusk when New Zealand’s native yellow eyed penguins bring the days catch back to their nests, and you have a high chance of seeing them. They’re not the only wildlife to be spotted either. Schools of dolphins swim close to the shore and are known to be friendly with humans, and sea lions lounge on the rocky ledges of cliffs barking to one another. The animals are oblivious to the tourists that pass and as yet their natural habitat is unspoiled by humans.
A testament to their comfort here is their refusal to leave the area, despite the unknown species who regularly visit with their strange feet (wheels). There are endless campsites in Catlins, and even if you’re stranded for the night, there never seem to be too many cars on the road if you pull over and park up you will be fine.
Head down to the Petrified Forest to see felled trees frozen in time by the shale, stumps of bark still visible in fossilised rock lend an eerie feel to an otherwise peaceful place. Further inland from the coast features everything an eager nomad could wish to see. Every few miles stand another signpost pointing to another wonder: caves, waterfalls, forests. Don’t be misled into thinking you have to pull over every five minutes to see them, just pick and choose from the visitors guide which you would prefer, and definitely skip Niagara Falls (a joke at the expense of every backpacker).
I’m sure I’ve seen people spill drinks that have created bigger waterfalls than this disappointment, so head to McLean Falls instead. Although most activities and sights are free of charge and you can wander there at any time, there are a few places that charge a small entry free. Often these types are open all summer, but have more selective opening times and dates in the off season and winter. But if you feel like you have missed out, don’t worry-put your camper back in gear and keep going till you find your next gem.