Our plans for today were loose. Accommodation had been booked in Invercargill to facilitate our driving as far south as reasonably possible and Majella had done some investigation about the tuatara exhibit at the Southland Museum and had determined that Bluff was as far south as we could drive on the mainland. The day was expected to build on that skeleton and she declared a ‘late’ 9:00 am departure as a bonus for those who needed a rest.
Our plan had been to drive from Te Anau back toward Lumsden, south of Five Rivers, and then on south to Invercargill on the main highway. Not long before we were ready to load the van and set off there was a sudden thought that we could take the southerly route from Te Anau past Manapouri, down to the coast and then along to Invercargill. Majella checked with our host, Leonie, who assured her that the road was good and our course was set.
We took the main road out of Te Anau and the turn off to Manapouri but turned south before we reached Manapouri. Majella had pulled up her ebook copy of the Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand on her iPad and ascertained that the route we were taking was designated as the scenic southern route. She also managed to turn up some information about things to see along the way.
Our first stop was at the historic Clifden suspension bridge. It was built across the Waiau River in the 1920s and, at 111.5 metres, is the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand. Its single lane has been superseded by a dual lane bridge but it is preserved for its historical value. Some of the group were nervous about stepping onto a suspension bridge with the memory of the Marian Cascade bridge form yesterday still fresh in their minds. However, there is a substantial difference between a narrow suspension bridge designed for pedestrians and this much more substantial bridge designed to carry vehicles. With all 10 of us on the bridge and moving about it was possible to detect some movement by standing on the edge of the roadway but nothing like the drunken swaying they had experienced yesterday.
Next stop was at Tuatapere where the Lonely Planet guidebook had recommended the local butcher as a purveyor of fine quality sausages. We had decided that they were worth investigating for dinner. On the way into town we spotted a motel that seemed to have a coffee shop but cursory examination persuaded some that it was not up to their usual standard. Majella, or one of her fellow shoppers, asked the butcher about coffee shops and he recommended the Yesteryears Cafe and Museum further through town. The shop, its contents, and the operators appeared to be all of similar vintage but the coffee was OK and the various scones and other edibles were pronounced very good. There was some time needed for the women to explore the cafe and ‘museum’ and then they discovered a craft shop next door that required even more time for exploration and shopping. the men managed to amuse themselves looking around town for a while but there was a limit to its entertainment value.
We continued south until we hit the coast and then in a generally eastward direction. We were amazed by the extent to which some of the trees appeared to have been pushed into extreme shapes by prevailing westerly winds but, at more than 45º south, we are well into the ‘roaring forties’ and should not be much surprised by strong winds and their effects. Majella had advised us that Colac Bay was a prime spot for surfing but, though we saw a wide round bay with beaches the waves were smaller than even we would have considered worth riding.
We passed through Riverton and drove on to Invercargill. Knowing we were going to arrive too early to check in to our accommodation, we had decided to eat lunch first. Lonely Planet recommended The Batch Cafe and we set a course for that location near the middle of town. There were no parking spaces in the immediate vicinity but we found an untimed space just a couple of blocks away, parked, and walked back to the cafe. They were busy, always a good sign, and could not accommodate the 10 of us immediately. They suggested we come back at 2:00 pm, about an hour later, and we agreed.
Southland Museum was on our plan and was just a few blocks up the road. We filled in our hour easily enough and lucked out at the museum where we encountered one of the staff who was able to give us an up close experience of the tuatara that was the main reason for our visit. We learned more than we might have expected about the ‘living fossil’ in the time we spent there. The gardens around the museum were also worth the visit for the colourful hydrangeas and fuchsias.
We walked back to The Batch for lunch at 2:00 pm. The food was interesting, well presented and tasty. The service was excellent. They managed to take orders for 10 and serve them all at the same time with attention to detail. It deserves its good reports in Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor.
After lunch we drove to our accommodation and checked in. The women were keen to explore the local shopping and set off to do that, promising to be back at 4:45 pm. The men decided that it was necessary to replenish the supplies of beer and wine and began to look for somewhere to do that. Warwick asked in a nearby store and was directed to Invercargill Brewery, a microbrewery a few blocks away. We walked there, sampled their wares, and purchased supplies for the evening. We liked most of what we tasted but decided the beetroot beer was probably best left alone.
We regrouped as planned and climbed back into the van to drive to Bluff, which is as far south as it is possible to go by road. We drove to the end of the road at Stirling Point where the signpost indicates the latitude (46º S) and longitude (168º E) and distances to various points. At that point we were just a bit more than halfway from the Equator to the South Pole. From the lookout at the top of the hill we were able to catch glimpses of Stewart Island through swirling mist under a clear sky.
We returned to our accommodation for dinner of sausages and fresh bread washed down with some of the locally brewed beer and other beverages.