INVERCARGILL, NEW ZEALAND — For the third time, we drove the coastal road through the Catlins, this time heading for Nugget Point Lighthouse.
We’d gotten a late start from Invercargill, spending more than an hour sorting out the chaos of backpacks, baggage, food and dirty clothes in our car. We’d planned to ask our Airbnb hosts about the best route to Dunedin, but we’d seen them for only a few minutes. Looking at the map, it seemed as if the scenic route might be just as fast as the highway, so off we went.
The one touristy thing we hadn’t already done in the Catlins was visit the 1870 Nugget Point Lighthouse. It’s on a high knob of land at the end of a ridge, surrounded by a picturesque scattering of pointy sea rocks.
Nearly all of the other tourists were German, including four teens or 20-somethings who took turns taking photos of each other against the scenic backdrop, including the obligatory throwing-up-the-arms pose with the bright “I can’t believe I’m in New Zealand!” grin.
Beth marveled at the way they could switch on smiles like professional models, which they pretty much are, having been continually photographed since birth. Not for the first time, she also wondered why tourists never get bored with taking photos of themselves. It seems to be their main hobby.
The road to Dunedin seemed endless, and when we finally got to our Airbnb in the beach town of St. Clair, we wished we had gotten there a lot earlier. Our host was a bouncy older man named Philip, and he greeted us enthusiastically and showed us around the house, which has a a panoramic view of the ocean, and our lovely quarters, which were flooded by afternoon sun from our own walled-in patio off the street.
We’d planned to drive into Dunedin for the Night Noodle Market, but when Philip said he’d heard reports of long queues, Torsten was happy to melt onto the comfy bed for a nap.
Beth walked down the street to the bench-lined Esplanade above the long, wide beach, where an after-work pack of surfers was trying to ride the swells. Amid the rocks on one end, families were coming out of the St. Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, opened in 1884.
She also scoped out the neighborhood cafes, and when Torsten woke up, we went to Starfish, which is Philip and Pauline’s favorite. Musicians were setting up downstairs, and we got a table upstairs, where we could hear the music but still talk and look out the window at a playground and people coming out for a Friday-night drink or beach stroll.
Our server was an adorably goofy young woman with braces, kind of a Kiwi Annie Hall, and we loved the food. For a first course, we split blue cod soft-shell tacos, and for a main, Torsten got almond pesto-crusted salmon on quinoa and feta fritters with kimchi and beets, and Beth had a chowder that was packed solid with fish and shrimp and served with fat slices of toasted ciabatta. With a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc, of course, and orange brulee for dessert.
We could see there was some good living to be had in St. Clair. Too bad we had allotted only one night for it.