The Hostel that Stole the Show

So Hunter and I have been working on a plan to see as much of the South Island as we can on the wee little travel budget we have. It was Easter last weekend and for Hunter, that meant a four day weekend. So I got to work on a trip to the South of the South Island.

I figured we'd hit up the south end of the South Island before Winter set in and head north as it gets colder. So I booked us a trip to Invercargill and the Catlins. The area known as The Catlins is a sparsely-populated, rugged and exquisitely scenic area on the South Island between Dunedin and Invercargill. It's not a particularly touristy place to be though there are endless places to explore and things to do.

I found a great deal on a hotel in a little town called Owaka. It's the largest community in the Catlins, tucked alongside the gorgeous Southern Scenic Route highway. Thomas's Catlins Lodge and Campground. Looked rustic and well kept from the one and only picture I saw. Besides, the price was right for a family of four and it was smack dab in the middle of where we wanted to be.

The day before we left, I Googled the place to see what I'd gotten us into. Turns out the place was a 100 year-old former hospital turned maternity hospital, turned retirement home. It was also haunted.

We had a fabulous drive down to the Catlins. We stopped for a picnic lunch along the Balclutha River and took the kids to a nearby park for a play. The Southern Scenic Route was definitely scenic and there was so much to take in along the way. We stopped for a quick hike to some waterfalls then made our way over to Jacks Blowhole in the Tunnel Rocks Scenic Reserve. It took us about 45 minutes to do the short hike from the parking lot to the blowhole to accommodate kids who wanted to stop and play along the way. We ended up missing the high tide but the blow hole was pretty cool nonetheless.

It was warm enough for the kid to play at the beach by the parking lot so after our little tramp, we helped the kids into their swimsuits and let them loose. By the time they were through, they were awfully tired so we made our way to the Lodge.

What was great for us was that Thomas's was more hostel than hotel. It is a fabulous place for kids. Parked in the hallway were two scooters and one tricycle. The owner of the lodge invited my kids to grab one and go for a ride down the halls. They were pretty excited. I wish they had a bike for me, it looked like fun.

The lodge had a huge communal kitchen and we were able to make dinner and eat in the dining room. What really worked for Hunter and I were the other travelers there. We met some new people and learned more about where to go and what to see with kids. It was refreshing to be around people doing the same thing we were. Family hostels are a new thing for me and a bit of a revelation - I'm going to travel like this more often.

The next morning, we made our way down to Invercargill. We stopped for lunch and then had a long walk around the Southland Museum and Gallery. I didn't expect that to take as long as it did. There was a lot to see and learn about this jumping-off point to Antarctica.

On the way back, we stopped at Slope point - the most southerly point on the south island. It was quite windy but we hiked through the sheep inhabited turnip field anyway and were rewarded with a great photo op and some beautiful scenery of the rugged coastline.

We tried to visit Cathedral Caves on the way home but once again, we missed the tide so we headed back to Thomas's where the kids played their little hearts out until bedtime.

The next morning, was Easter Sunday and the kids woke up to find chocolate eggs hidden all over our room. (Easter in the land of Cadbury: what a treat!) We checked out after breakfast and took our time getting back home to Oamaru.

We stopped at Curio Bay and this time, we didn't miss the tides and got to see the petrified trees. That was very neat. Pea used to love the PBS series, Dinosaur Train and she still remembers a lot about the show. She understood perfectly what she was looking at which made me feel less badly about letting her watch so much of it. I'm actually glad I did - she's fascinated by fossils. I didn't think an interest she had at two would still be there years later.

We stopped at an old abandoned railway tunnel and walked through it with flashlights. It was also a fun lesson in echos. One of my guide books told of another railway tunnel along the way home in a town called Milton that had glow worms so we went to check that out. Luckily, it wasn't far off our route. The hike to the tunnel was lovely but there were only about a half dozen little glow worms in the cave. Not really the wow I was going for.

After our glow worm escapade, we made our way home. Great weekend altogether! Though the Catlins were fantastic, the star of this show was the Hostel. The kids are still talking about it!

Next stop: Wanaka.

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