It's funny, when we mentioned to friends, co-workers and my friendly neighborhood Pak n' Save cashier that we were going to the Catlins most of them had never even heard of it. And they were all born and raised here. Granted, we had the Grand Canyon in our back yard and the last time we went was 11 years ago. We took a tiny charter plane (cue panic attack) filled with Japanese tourists, Kylie was a baby and threw up all over the people behind us. It's very hard to apologize in a different language for your baby upchucking all over the only pair of clothes they have to wear for the next 8 hours and to apologize to the entire plane that the rest of the flight will now smell like vomit. Maybe we haven't gone back yet because we're still not fully recovered. Man, even I lost my train of thought with that tangent. Where was I...it's a shame that so many people have missed out on this little pocket of the country because it has shot right to the top of my list of favorites, and it is next to impossible to pick favorites here. It was a long drive home but I had a whole list of stops along the way to break it up. First up was Tunnel Hill, an old abandoned railway tunnel that was dug out entirely by hand picks and shovels. It took years to finish and two workers lost their lives in the process. Which of course led the kids to believe it was haunted and they spent the whole walk looking for catacombs and humming the Indiana Jones theme song.
I love all the beautiful old churches in the small towns we drive through.
After eating lunch at a park where my fingers turned to ice while I sliced apples, we explored Tunnel Beach (apparently we have a tunnel theme going on here). The weather warmed up and we couldn't believe how lucky we were to get three days of no rain. So the story of this beach is that in the 1800's the wealthy Cargill family that founded Dunedin wanted a private beach away from the prying eyes of the public, so they had a tunnel excavated through sandstone to access a remote and pristine private beach. This was a birthday gift for his daughter who tragically drowned at that same beach a short time after. It is set among a wild and stunning coastline and has sort of a Shakespearean tragedy vibe. I give it a 9 out of 10 stars, only because I could do without the long treacherous walk back up carrying 3 coats, 1 a dump truck, a 5 year old on my back and a partridge in a pear tree. But no pain no gain.
The beach can only be accessed through this long narrow tunnel
Not only was the beach spectacular, but there were so many caves, tunnels and huge climbing rocks to keep the kids entertained for days. The sandstone cliffs are supposedly filled with fossils and whale remains and are a geologist's dream, but we were too busy playing to pay much attention.
We'll call this "staring off into the horizon and contemplating the purpose of life"
We'll call this "staring off into the horizon and contemplating the purpose of life, part II"
So I took like 10 pictures in here because this eerie blue light kept showing up in each one. I'm not saying this place is haunted, but I am saying I don't blame that poor girl who drowned if she wants to keep coming back here. It is pretty amazing after all.
So, Dunedin. Let's talk. Everyone said to not waste our time in Dunedin. And I am loving it when I set my expectations low then get blown out of the water. Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but really. You and your charming architecture and street side cafes just need to stop being so cute. You're making all the other cities look bad. It really did make me so sad that we didn't get to experience Christchurch before the earthquake, from what I gather it was all this and then some.
We spotted this spire from the freeway (which do you know just how rare a freeway is in NZ) and like all good husbands do, Jason tracked it down so we could pop in and ogle at the ornate interior.
Of course we had to visit Baldwin street, the steepest residential street in the world. Once a year they have this Jaffa race where they roll tens of thousands of these iconic round candies down the street. Can you just imagine. Years ago some kids died while trying to race down in garbage cans. So many tragedies!
So this was the grand finale, the piece resistance, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. You get the point. First there's a lighthouse. You know by now how I feel about lighthouses. Then we walked out on this peninsula that was bursting at the seams with wildlife. Seal pups splashing in tide pools, penguins returning to the beach after a long day of fishing and giant sea birds (yes, that's totally their technical name) nesting in the cliffs. Then they all started climbing up the peninsula and before we knew it there were seals wrestling only a few feet away and penguins waddling right at our feet. I mean you haven't really lived life until you've seen a penguin waddle in real life. It's the cutest. And then we were graced with the most spectacular sunset. The ever changing sky just kept competing with the animals for our attention. And being able to experience it all with the people I love was just so surreal. I wanted to inhale it all in and never exhale out.
This picture makes me laugh because it is just so Maddox. He is so odd in the absolute best way possible. Always the very last, always talking to himself and never walking in a straight line. At this moment he was deep in thought about the best way to make his own bread dough. He came to the conclusion that it would have to be by soaking a piece of bread in water. And that's all he talked about the entire way home and it's the very first thing he did when he woke up the next morning. Imagine his disappointment when it didn't work.
We had one last stop in Oamaru to eat pizza at a park with one of our favorite Arizona missionaries that got transferred here from our current ward. Of all the things we did this park was a fan favorite among the kids. All the parks here are pretty awesome, but this one takes the cake with this huge slide, hamster wheel, disc swing, trains and zip line. Plus the sky was clear and the stars were beyond spectacular. Without any light polution we could see the Milky Way, not just stars but like a real galaxy. And then we saw blue penguins (not to be confused with the yellow eyed penguins we saw earlier). I know, like this trip just keeps trumping itself. The missionaries showed us the best place to see them at the wharf and after searching long and hard Kylie spotted one and we were so excited. Ryder still remembers to bless the blue penguins in his breakfast prayers. And thus concludes the Young's take the Catlins portion of our New Zealand adventure. And it's one of my favorite chapters yet.