The road from Milford Sound to Dunedin along the Southern Scenic Route included many stops to see the sites, pick up fellow travellers, and meet the local wildlife.
Our first stop was in Te Anau, the starting point of another Great Walk, the Kepler Track. As adventurous hikers and daily joggers passed us along the path, Simon and I followed our GPS, solved riddles, and hunted for treasure – we were geocaching!
The stunning views of Lake Hauroko, our campsite for a night, was complete with animals roaring until dawn in the neighbouring pastures, sounding more like a twisted chorus of dinosaurs giving birth than sheep and cattle.
By the time we arrived at McCracken’s Rest outside of Invercargill, we added another passenger to our little vehicle – Paul, a young traveller from Germany hitchhiking his way through New Zealand with a backpack and a sleeping bag, depending entirely on other people’s generosity and hospitality.
We were once again delighted with local farm animals during our night at Weir Beach Reserve, where the neighbouring sheep came to join the conversation as campers prepped their dinners in a tsunami zoned campsite.
At Tumu Toka, we walked along the beach of petrified wood, an ancient forest 180 million years old, its remnants scattered across the rocky beach, exposed during low tide.
In nearby Papatowai, on the recommendation of the local DOC site warden, I checked out the Lost Gypsy, an art gallery set in a garden with the workshop in a camper van – knick knacks, wind-up gadgets, newspaper clipping, purposefully arranged figurines – the walls were covered and the garden transformed into an eclectic modern art gallery.
Further along the Southern Scenic Route we stopped at Purakanui Falls – beautiful – and met two more hitchhikers hoping for a lift to Dunedin. Luckily Shannon and Tom, our new travel mates, didn’t object to stopping at a few more sites along the way.
Our first stop together was Surat Bay. I had been told that you can see sea lions on the beach, so we went for a walk. After only a few steps on the beach we almost tripped over one, lying beside driftwood, close to the water’s edge, covering itself in sand. And so that’s how our walk was, maneuvering around these majestic resting animals camouflaged in the sand. And though we walked together, we walked in mostly silence, not for lack of conversation, but I think more in respect for the wildlife we were lucky enough to walk beside.
By the time we reached Nugget Point, however, travelling stories started rolling. Shannon had walked through the Fiordland and described the unique places where she set up camp. Tom described to me his mountaineering experiences and the extreme challenges he faced undertaking such expeditions as a novice. All with stunning views out to sea.