Curio Bay to Riverton Road Trip

Sea Lions Waipapa Point

True to his word Bob is out back pounding the paua as dawn breaks, and we enjoy a fresh seafood breakfast before bidding Nick and Dani farewell.

We make a stop so Bob can visit the fossilised forest, then drive to Slope Point, the southernmost tip of the South Island. It’s a windy, isolated place where macrocarpa trees form thick shelterbelts and grow almost horizontally in a bid to escape the salt-laden wind.

From here it’s a short drive to the lighthouse at Waipapa Point where, much to our surprise, we share the car park with a group of basking sea lions. Carefully we pick our way across to the lighthouse and scour the coast for NZ fur seals and - a rarer visitor - the four-ton elephant seal. A memorial plaque reminds us, on a more sobering note, that 131 people lost their lives here in 1881 when the SS Tararua hit the reef.

We drive on to Fortrose at the mouth of the Mataura River and then leave the Catlins behind, travelling through farmland to Invercargill and on to Bluff. Here we enjoy a delicious lunch of fresh Bluff oysters, then follow a spiral walkway to a lookout point providing excellent views of Bluff harbour and the city beyond. Our next port of call is the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in Invercargill, for its ‘live’ tuatara display. Lindsay Hazley, the world’s leading tuatara expert, set up the display 25 years ago and here he breeds the endangered Brother’s Island tuatara, and the rare “common” tuatara. Around 40 tuatara are on display and Lindsay relates the history and habits of these unique living dinosaurs, then shows us a baby common tuatara and a pregnant mother whose reptilian skin is cold to the touch.

It’s all so riveting that it’s hard to leave, but eventually we tear ourselves away and drive to the quaint fishing village of Riverton, where we check into the La Riviera Guest House. After chatting to a few locals over a hot cuppa Bob has been invited to go deer stalking with local hunter Rob Ashworth, while I pop across to the Something Special Gallery & Gift Shop run by Jill Nicholls, to see her collection. There’s a fine range of works on display by a select group of NZ artists, weavers, woodturners, sculptors and other craftspeople. Each piece is handpicked by Jill and the gallery really is, as its name suggests, something rather special!

Later, after a delicious meal at the Beach House Café and a hot chocolate, I retire to the Scarlet room, and wallow in its deep Victorian bath before slipping into a deep sleep.