The far south big threes

Leaving Queenstown to head around the south is like starting a new trip as three different groups have joined together. By the time we do introductions and sit down for a meal of ‘Bangers & Mash’ at Gunns Camp, we are all sharing stories about our trip so far.

Africa has it’s Big Five – Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino & Buffalo (If you were wondering if Giraffes and Hippos get peeved off about not being included, it was the hunters that made the list, so probably not). Down here, while doing the Southern Man leg (now called The Stew Pass), we go hunting with our cameras for the Big Three – Dolphins, Penguins & Sea Lions.

Our first opportunity is out on Milford Sound. On this trip we saw only the NZ Fur Seal (which is actually a Sea Lion) whereas last trip we saw dolphins too.

My crew that go across to Stewart Island have an extra opportunity to check out the wildlife and maybe see a kiwi.

Those that stay in Invercargill can go and visit Henry, a cool old Tuatara who at the age of 111 finally found the love of his life, Mildred. He is so old he resides at the Southland Museum in the Tuatarium.

Our next chance to spot the rest of the ‘Big Three’ is around The Catlins. On the 170km trip through the The Catlins we do several stops in our pursuit. Our first stop at Waipapa Point lighthouse, we spot more Sea Lions. Next we go to Curio Bay and cross our fingers that a ‘Hoiho’ Yellow-Eyed Penguin will leave it’s nest, waddle over the rocks and head out for a swim. Sadly not today, but the fossilized trees still lay strewn over the rocks for us to check out. We head around the corner to the campground, where the small rare black & white Hector’s Dolphins like to surf the waves. In a seemingly mocking fashion, they make getting out back to ride the waves look a whole lot easier than the surfers do. At the campground there are murals of the dolphins and yellow-eyed penguins, just to rub it in that we haven’t seen the real McCoy this time. Steve and Val at the camp store will whip you up an amazing milkshake, made with so much ice-cream that your cheeks will get a work out trying to suck it up the straw.

In a last ditch effort to spot a penguin we go to Nugget Point and head down to the hide to see if we can spot any coming ashore. For a simple thing that they do everyday, they make the transition from water to land look very awkward and clumsy. Once on their feet they waddle up the beach and back to their nests.

If all else fails, I tell my crew to pull out a $5 note and there is the elusive ‘Hoiho’.

The tally this trip is Sea Lions 2, Dolphins and Penguins 0. Maybe the next group through will score higher.
If the ‘Big Three’ was paddocks full of sheep, trees growing sideways from the relentless southerly wind or waterfalls of every description, cataract, plunge or tiered, we would score 3 out of 3 every time on the Southern Man leg.

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