Off-Grid in the Southland

There's a reason why New Zealanders don't go round looking at their smart phones all the time - outside the towns (and sometimes in them) there's no signal.  And the further out into the bush you go the less likely you are to find one.  I've just been as far south as you can go in NZ without boating out to the islands and it was a blissful break from the incessant white noise of social media. Not that I don't love talking to my friends and finding out what everyone is up to! But I hadn't realised how much the internet fried the brain until I was completely without it.
Beach with sea-lion - the view from my bedroom window
The Southland is very beautiful - hills and wild bush, remote sheep and cattle stations, small communities, fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls, and miles and miles of stunning coastline.  You can find places where you can't hear human activity at all.  We rented a 'bach' directly on the beach of a small bay with the sea in front of us, and Manuka forest and virgin bush behind us.  Only the sound of the waves and the birds.
Bush with the strange ghostly shapes of Manuka
It's one of the areas where you can find the smallest penguin in the world - the Blue Penguin - and we were lucky enough to have them partying in the grass around the house.  They can be very noisy, but we didn't mind.  They are also very shy, but we kept falling over them on the path to the beach, however hard we tried to keep a respectful distance.  They were everywhere.
The rear end of a small Blue Penguin hiding in the bushes
We were only a short walk along the beach from the fossilised forest, which is more than 170 million years old.  You can climb out into what was once a swamp with cycads and tree ferns, felled by a flood and then buried in volcanic ash.  There are stumps


and even root systems, clearly visible.  It is like walking back in time.

There are also huge caves worn into the limestone cliffs by the huge seas that power up from the Antarctic.  The winds and the waves mean business here!

But it's the bush that is the real seduction.  Katherine Mansfield often described it in her stories - wild, mysterious, fertile, dangerous - the complete antithesis of the constricted colonial life of respectability and denial that her parents expected her to embrace.  In 'At The Bay' she describes it just as we saw it in the Southland.
'The sun had set.  In the western sky there were great masses of crushed up rose-coloured clouds.  Broad beams of light shone through the clouds and beyond them as if they would cover the whole sky.  Over head the blue faded;  it turned to a pale gold, and the bush outlined against it gleamed dark and brilliant like metal.'
Tree ferns against the sky.

A moss-covered tree in the bush, hung with vines and ferns.

The rain forest fringes are quite spectacular - teeming with life and echoing with bell-birds.

And on areas that have been cleared for farmland the shelter-belt trees make strange shapes against the wind.
Trees shaped by Antarctic winds.

The peace and quiet has been amazing. There has been no TV, no internet, no phone and very little human contact.  I'm quite reluctant to come back to civilisation!


  1. just found your lovely blog while searching for a biography of Cathrine Cookson, and am delighted to make the acquaintance! Super looking forward to reading your posts going forwards and back!


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