The Catlins, continued

May 23, 2019
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(This post continues on from 'The Catlins: An overlooked corner of New Zealand'.)

THE lighthouse at Nugget Point is another spot well worth visiting. You should persevere along the path to the lighthouse, even though it’s a bit daunting. From this spot you can also see the coal smoke pollution that hangs over Balclutha at times. There’ll be another smudge on the eastern horizon, last night’s coal smoke blowing out to Chile. Lots of places in New Zealand have a pollution problem, both in towns and in areas that are intensively farmed. The ‘clean green’ bit only applies to wilderness areas like the Catlins.

Pollution over Balclutha, from Nugget Point
The Nugget Point track, with ‘exposed’ sections like the one in the next photo, with my dad
Another encouraging sign!

My editor said that he’d spoken to a couple of people in a Balclutha pub and that they said they’d always been too nervous to walk to the lighthouse!

Nugget Point is named after a profusion of rocks at its tip, called the Nuggets.

The lighthouse at Nugget Point, with another view of its ‘exposed’ track
My father pointing to the Nuggets from the lighthouse

Dad and Chris went on to Slope Point and got some photos there as well. This really is the end of the line, with gnarly old fence posts, remnants of fences that are slowly falling into the sea. There’s an automated light house or beacon there, too.

Chris, my editor, at Slope Point
Three more photos taken at Slope Point

With a great many bays and points, it was easy for sailors making for Dunedin or other ports to make a mistake, as the captains of both the Surat and the Otago did at Chaslands Mistake. It’s a wreck coast, and there are plenty of wrecks along it. And plenty of light houses and beacons as well.

Chaslands Mistake
A temporarily dirty plaque describing the loss of the SS Otago at Chaslands Mistake in December 1876. All survived.
A plaque commemorating the earlier, 1 January 1874 loss of the Surat, also holed at Chaslands Mistake. The sinking ship offloaded many passengers at nearby Jacks Bay before running aground at what is now Surat Bay, where this picture was taken. As with the later wreck of the Otago, everybody survived.

Ironically enough, given that there are at least two cases where ships were lost after striking rocks at Chaslands Mistake, the 'Mistake' wasn’t named after any error of navigation, but rather after an 1820s whaler named Thomas Chaseland who made the ‘mistake’ of not killing a herd of seals he came across at the end of a long day, figuring they’d still be there in the morning. (They weren’t.)

There’s another bay called Cannibal Bay, which sounds a bit un-PC these days. It’s named after the gruesome discovery of masses of human bones by early sealers and whalers of Chaselands’ generation. These were the result of a one-sided tribal war of the kind common in those disorderly frontier days, when one group would acquire muskets and attack another that only had traditional weapons like tiaha, patu and mere (pronounced meré, with two ‘e’s).

That is to say, the various sorts of war-clubs and quarterstaffs with which conflicts had traditionally been fought; weapons that took years to masterunder the instruction of the teachers of traditional martial arts.

Old-time Māori seem to have disdained weapons that could be let fly at an enemy, or that did not require great skill to use.

Well, muskets acquired from European traders blew a hole through all that.

Among those Māori who survived, the old weapons became purely ceremonial objects, like an officer’s sword. Here’s a painting from 1878 that shows a Māori woman of high rank, Pare Watene, holding a ceremonial mere made from greenstone (i.e., jade).

Pare Watene, by Gottfried Lindauer (1878). Original held in the Auckland Art Gallery, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

Looking backward

All in all, visiting the Catlins and its neighbourhood is a bit like going back in time by half a century. Balclutha contains few modern buildings and often smells of coal smoke. And you can stay very cheaply in guest-houses that are right on the beach and practically vacant outside the short summer season. Queenstown, it isn’t.

I couldn’t think of a better writers’ retreat. Maybe that’s what they should start selling the region as!

But before I sign off, there’s plenty more to see and do in the Catlins, which I haven’t even touched on as yet, including caves, waterfalls, cold-water surfing and long and adventurous inland hikes through the primeval forest.

(See also my later post, 'Through the Catlins by Campervan'.)

For more information, including the best times of year to go and the location of camping spots, cafes, and where to buy fuel, see the official website of the Catlins:

The official website includes the option to download a really useful brochure, which I’ve linked to here as well.

If you liked these posts, check out my new book about the South Island! It's available for purchase from this website.


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