Chapter 24 of the short travel stories in Gone Atlas is all about a road trip to the south of New Zealand. If you are interested in reading more stories like this one, go onto the section on this website named “Short Travel Stories”. If you want to be published, leave us a comment below or contact us and we will happily do so!
Chapter 24: Roadtripping Invercargill
Once we were done with the Milford Track, my friend and I decided to take a nice road trip. That meant hiring a car and deciding on a few spots to visit. The car rental wasn’t that easy, not having an international’s driving license and being both Costa Rican, which meant a driver’s license written in Spanish, we needed a translation.
We went to the Jucy Car Rental service in Queenstown’s airport as it was recommended to us as the cheapest and most reliable one. We had to pay $60NZ to get one of our license’s translated on the spot (it took like one hour), and then we rented the car for two weeks for $500 NZ. We were ready to go!
Our first destination was going all the way south, we wanted to drive the coast from Dunedin until Invercargill and then head back up to Queenstown and from there decide towards which coast we should go.
When we were heading towards Dunedin, my friend researched online about the Southern Lights. Well, apparently it was the right season to see them in a National Park called The Catlins, very close to Invercargill. So we changed directions.
The drive all the way to Invercargill must have taken us around five hours. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was interesting. We saw very green grass hills, a lot of farms with cows, and every hundred miles a few houses.
Finally, The Catlins. The park is a bit off the beaten track and honestly, it doesn’t seem to have much to it. We arrived late in the afternoon and there was no one at the guardhouse, so we paid $10NZ for the night, which we deposited in a small box. The information board explained that the beach right next to the guardhouse had sea lions every now and then, and that at the beach a few hundred meters behind the house one could see the yellow-eyed penguin, famous for being the rarest penguin in the world. Great! Lucky day for us.
We had some sandwiches and then headed to the beach. The penguins were supposed to come out at dusk, so we would have to wait around half an hour. After half an hour it started raining, it was windy and cold and we didn’t have our impermeable jackets, we were getting fucking wet.
Three more people came to the beach, two girls and one bald guy. All of them waiting.
We walked further up the beach but nothing. One hour later, still nothing.
Then, all of a sudden the bald guy comes running and calls us, telling us there’s one penguin down by where he was. We start running like children and we get there, and we saw it. One yellow-eyed penguin, only one, coming out of the water and looking for his nest. Honestly, we could barely take a good look at him as it was very dark, but it was enough for us, knowing it was there, the rarest penguin in the world, and we got to see him. Forget the water, forget the cold or the hunger, he was there in front of us, tiny but superb.
Then we headed back to our van, got changed, cooked some pasta in the dark and decided to wait for the Southern Lights.
They never came.
The next morning we were up early and it was a beautiful day. We check the map and realize there a re a few cool beaches in the area as well as a nice lighthouse we could go check out.
Driving to the beaches took us around fifteen minutes. It was the South Island’s most southern point called Slope Point. The beach next to it isn’t the biggest deal, but just looking at the horizon you start thinking, realizing, understanding where you are. Just in front of you, although thousands of miles away, it’s Antartica, or the Southern Pole, or just the other end of the world. Being Costa Rican I had always been close to the middle, not really ever wondering what was down below. In that moment I understood that I was standing in one of the most southern points of land of the planet.
Afterwards we left to check out the Lighthouse. The place was nice, with this solitary giant standing tall next to the cold New Zealand waters. Beautiful green grass slopes surrounded it. The grass was tall and moved with the direction of the wind. There was no one else besides us in the place, and there was this magic vibe surrounding us.
We had lunch in the parking lot and headed off back to Queenstown. We were going to spend the night there and then head to Wanaka, to conquer Roy’s Peak.