We set our alarms for 8:00 am, planning to eat breakfast at the cafe at 9:00 and leave for Cathedral Caves at 10:00. I would have preferred skipping the caves and heading straight to Te Anau, but Marc really wanted to see them. We had breakfast at the cafe, pancakes and bacon for me ($12) and french toast and bacon for Marc ($12) and a large Chai ($4.5). I think there was simple syrup or agave syrup used instead of maple syrup… But it was still good and we set off at 9:40 for the caves.
Along the way, we happened across another sign in the road with a picture of a sheep on it and hoped we’d run into another sheep herding. As we drove, I looked across the valley and saw a huge flock of white where sheep were being herded. We pulled over and turned off the car and rolled down the windows. We could hear the farmer calling to the dogs and he was driving around on an ATV. Even from a great distance, it was fascinating to watch the dogs working to round up the flock. I could have watched for days and even suggested we try to drive around to catch the moving of the herd, but Marc talked me out of that foolish plan.
We got to the caves at 10:30. The walk down is 30 min and I knew it would be much tougher coming back. Low tide was at noon. The caves were really neat, and I thought we would get our “iconic photo” and be on our way. But oh no. Marc had to go beyond the first 2 caves, and beyond that, and beyond that, and so on. There was one really cool cave that had a lot of dark pink rock in it, and I took lots of pictures of the black mussels and the various colorations of the rocks. I suspected I was going to need the bathroom soon, and realizing it was at least a 45 minute walk away, I left Marc to his perusals while I set off for the parking lot. The walk back up the trail was steep but it felt good to be getting a workout, but I was concerned that my ankles were hurting all of the time. Marc showed up about 30 min after me and it was 12:00 when we left the caves.
We figured we’d eat in Invercargill, so I gave the guidebook to Marc to find a place. At 12:20, we got to the road that leads to the Niagra Falls Cafe. We laughed as we realized it was the perfect time to eat there… It’s funny how things work out. So we went there for lunch, even though we were still not entirely hungry. Although I had been craving a big salad, and they had one on their menu that sounded yummy, I had to order the lamb burger and Marc ordered the same ($16.50). It occurred to me that I had fallen off the diet wagon—not sure when it had happened, but it had definitely happened and I realized I no longer cared. The burger was on a soft poppyseed roll that was toasted (home made?), and had cheese on it, aioli, iceberg lettuce, hummus, cucumber, tomato, and carrots. It was difficult to get your mouth around, there was so much on it! The burger itself was so moist and flavorful. Deliciousness. We shared a coke and lunch came to $36.
We got to Invercargill at 2-ish, and then managed to reach Te Anau by 4:00, skipping the scenic route in favor of the faster 6, which was straight and not busy and not under much construction. Te Anau was beautiful, blue skies and fairly warm. We checked in at the Lakeside Backpackers and our room was quite hideous… Painted concrete walls, a bedspread straight from the 80’s (and the mattress too?), wood paneling, yellow linoleum in the kitchenette… And it overlooked the parking lot, not the lake. It was $86 a night. The person at reception was very helpful though, and recommended a place called Redcliff for dinner and offered to make a reservation. Marc sorta wanted to do a glowworm tour, and the last one left at 8:15. We decided to have dinner at 6:30 and then if he had the energy for the tour, he would try to go. The person at the hostel didn’t think it would be full.
We set off down the Te Anau lakefront. What really struck me about the town was how clean it was. It’s extremely tidy. The pay toilets were in a beautiful new building with nice landscaping–and this was the public bathroom! We found a place called the Pop In Cafe for coffee and chose it for its lakefront location. A large cappu, a large Chai and a piece of carrot cake cost $12. We sat for a good 45 min soaking in the sun and ambiance. Then we kept walking down the lake. Marc wanted to take a seaplane tour over the area, and I encouraged him to do so, but he would only go if I went and I argued it was too expensive for both of us–$540 per person for 1.25 hours? Yikes. We also admired the many new-looking, modern, spiffy, comfortable hotels lining the lakefront. I explained to Marc that they would be at least twice what we were paying, and besides, how long would we be in the room?
At 6:00 we headed back to town, stopping at a few souvenir shops along the way. Who to buy for is always a source of debate on our trips… We always buy for our parents, but including our siblings and their children increases the number of people we need to buy for from four to nineteen. In the past, the stress of gift-buying (how to get it back home, will so and so like this and that, etc, etc) has been such a source of contention and consternation that we have foregone buying for anyone other than our parents (which is difficult enough). However, on this trip, I was feeling especially magnanimous, and decided to buy for my family, which would be quite a feat–2 brothers, 2 girlfriends, and seven nieces and nephews. I managed to find t-shirts for my brothers, dad, and one girlfriend ($10 each), and also found a nice pair of paua shell/24 carat gold plated earrings for my mom ($50).
Then we went to Redcliff for dinner. It’s in a really cute building that used to be an old settlers’ cottage. We had the option of eating outside, but sensing it would cool down quickly we opted to eat inside. For our appetizer, we split a “Salmon 3 ways” plate ($20); it came with homemade crackers, a salmon spread, and 2 kinds of smoked salmon. It was really delicious and the presentation was very pretty. We were both wanting the hare for dinner, but we usually order 2 things so we can share, a dilemma we explained to the kindly waitress. She advised us to both order the hare since it is so good, and so we did ($37). It came with an Israeli couscous risotto with mushrooms, roasted baby beets, and a Parmesan crisp that wrapped around the “risotto.” We had asked where the hare comes from, and she said the Otago peninsula, where the hares feed on wild thyme which makes them extra delicious… As the waitress explained the origin of our Otago hare, Marc and I smiled at each other. We were both thinking of the Portlandia episode where Fred and Carrie get a full dossier on their chicken and decide to visit the farm where it was raised.
Our hare (we decided his name was probably Donald) was really excellent. I thought the Parmesan crisp was a bit of overkill and not necessary on the plate, but everything else was perfection. It was also a hearty portion of food, not like those fancy-schmancy places where you get 5 bites of food and leave hungry still. We were stuffed after that meal. But, Marc had to order dessert anyway, a mascarpone and citrus cheesecake with a passion-fruit sauce. It was phenomenal. This meal was so far the best meal of the trip, and when we compared it to what we’d paid at the Lumberjack, seemed like a good deal as well. We also had 2 pints of beer ($7) and dinner came to $122. We left the exceptional waitress a fiver. This was easily our best meal of the entire trip.
Marc decided to skip the glowworm tour. We headed back to the hotel, stopping at another souvenir shop along the way. I started our laundry and was thankful we didn’t have the room right next to the laundry room… Guess it could have been even worse at our hostel! I needed to exchange some $1 coins for $2, so I popped into the communal kitchen to see if anyone had the right coins. A large group of people were watching The Fellowship of the Ring. I think everyone there was in their early 20’s, and I felt incredibly old all of a sudden. I felt like joining the movie viewing but all the seats were taken. Although we’d had a wonderful day, I felt a little wistful for my early 20’s. I didn’t start traveling until I was 30, and my first backpacker trip was to Italy. I wondered how my life would be different if I’d started traveling 10 years earlier, but didn’t let the feeling of regretfulness overtake me–it had been a lovely day.
Go on the next part of the journey!<