Papatowai, NZ to Kaka Point, NZ

26.9 mi / 10.0 mph / 2032 ft. climbing
Home: Kaka Point Camping Ground

We packed up camp and moved over to the “kitchen” to make breakfast, which has become normal for us at New Zealand campgrounds. Except this DOC site isn’t a holiday park, so there are no stoves inside and that’s why “kitchen” gets quotes. It felt weird setting up our own gasoline-burning stove on the counter inside a building, like, is this legal?!

The funnier thing is that there are still the standard DOC signs telling you to boil the water that comes from the sink faucets in this “kitchen”. Like, you’re in the middle of a town. A small town, but a town nonetheless. Are you telling me you’re on some crappier, more-polluted water supply than the store and food truck 50 yards away? We of course drank the water without boiling it (as we have at nearly all DOC sites) and remain healthy.

Papatowai’s slogan is “Where Forest Meets Sea”, and well, there it is.

We were granted a 4-mile riverside warmup, but then got smacked with an 800-foot hill with 10% grades. I had considered taking a partly-gravel alternate (with a similar hill) because it would take us by Purakaunui Falls, but our Tokanui host convinced me that it wasn’t worth the extra trouble, so we stuck to the pavement.

Rett climbing not yet THE hill, just a standard climb back up from a river crossing.
Ok, now we’re getting closer to the real hill.
Catlins scene.
Continuing the climb, where at least a brilliant landscape architect has created an aesthetically-pleasing tree and plant design along the roadway to make it feel less arduous.
From the top of the hill, a view down to Catlins Lake and the ocean behind.
You can see our downhill roads close on the right, and far ahead in the center of the frame, after curving into the bucolic Catlins river valley.
A closer view of Catlins Lake flowing out to sea.

On our third day out from Invercargill, it finally felt like we were “in the Catlins”, even if I still don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. But as hilly-farm-country aficionados (being genetically drawn from similar places in Wisconsin and upstate New York), we can say that we were riding through some world-class hilly-farm-country, the kind where forest entwines with the fields and rivers and lakes edge the land. The 800 foot dive back down the hill into one of the most-gorgeous farm valleys I’ve ever seen made the climb all worth it.

Just one of the cute-goofy decorations on this farmer’s land.
I already used “bucolic” above, but haven’t said “pastoral” yet!
Here are some trees that tell us we aren’t in Wisconsin or New York.
Something about the balance between man and nature must be what speaks to our souls in these scenes.

16 miles in we made it to Owaka, a town with 6 or 7 streets, thus making it big enough to host the first full grocery store since Invercargill (a Four Square, the rural brand of smaller stores, so nothing crazy like a big-city Countdown or New World). Since it connects with the veritable metropolis of Balclutha ahead, traffic increased significantly, but was still nothing too stressful, and it soon disappeared again after we turned off to Kaka Point.

Coming into view of the sea at Kaka Point. It’s our first view eastward into the ocean since…Taraunga on the North Island, I think.

The campground is up a 12% hill at the back of town, and that plus a headwind plus construction on the residential street made Rett just bag it and push the bike the rest of the way. I pedaled on, because while I had attempted to reserve a site over email, I never got any confirmation, so was again mildly nervous about getting a spot. As usual, I needn’t have worried. Not only did “pop” of the Mom & Pop operation have a site for us, he walked me all the way there, and guaranteed it to be wind-free! It was quite a walk from the kitchen and bathrooms, but 100% worth it, because it was our own space isolated from the rest of the campground, a slightly-depressed green bowl shelter surrounded by a U of yes, wind-blocking trees. It reminded me of a site we’d had in Vermont, and when a campsite reminds you of one you stayed in a year-and-a-half ago, it’s probably a winner.

It was difficult to capture the full atmosphere of how comfortable it felt to pitch our tent here.


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