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Today was a day to explore the eastern end of the Catlins. We had a lie-in (making the most of the electric blankets as it was really cold last night) and I poked my head out of the bathroom window to check on the bikes and saw that it had snowed! That's why it was so brrr!
Our first outing was to the Owaka visitor information centre (also a library and museum). We were all ready to go and had to wait for a hail storm to move on then when the coast was clear made dash for it (the town is very small so getting anywhere within it didn't take long). At the centre we asked the lady on the desk about the condition of the roads we were to take on today and tomorrow and about the weather forecast. She didn't really know any of the answers but the centre had some nice photos. We also wanted to make a phone call to book our accomodation for tomorrow but there was no mobile reception and the town pay phone was out of order. We were really stuck in the outback.
Back at the ranch we dressed up ready to go to the beach for sea lion spotting (i.e. we wore all our clothes). Off we set, in a dry patch, but had only gone about 400m up the road when my chain snapped! It was quite exciting as it bent the derailler hanger (I think that's right, I'll just check with Scott... no, my chain split and wedged in the bottom of the derailler and as I pedalled it pulled the derailler right back until it couldn't go any further and the derailler and derailler hanger bent round until it was wedged inbetween the spokes. Phew.). We free wheeled and pushed back to the hostel and then Scott performed some magic to get all the previously mentioned bits back in the right place and right plane, including bending a very cold hunk of metal and removing the damaged chain links. Meanwhile, I was planning emergency schemes such as buses back to Invercargill incase the bike couldn't be fixed.
The fix was successful and about an hour later we were back on the road to Surat Bay, where there is a semi-resident colony of sea lions. We chained up the bikes and walked along the Bay in search of some fat sea mammals. The weather was tumultuous again today, with angry looking clouds, patches of brilliant blue sky and freezing cold temperatures. The beach looked beautiful in the late afternoon light and we didn't have to go far before we happened upon the first sea lion, playing in the waters edge and another on the sand, who was pretty big and came towards us baring his teeth (he was probably just yawning but was a pretty awesome sight so we stayed well away!). A little further on we saw two more, one large (the big males weight from 350-500kg!) and one smaller, probably a boy and a girl playing chase in the sand dunes. But the prize went to a huge male we saw up near the sand dunes, he was so fat that we could see his blubber rippling! Beautiful! We went up behind him in the sand dunes and watched him scratch and wobble his way into the sea. Amazing.
As we scurried back along the beach we saw two Americans running barefoot on the sand to go and see some sea lions. We pointed them in the right direction and carried on, through another hail storm to the bikes. The short ride back to the hostel was freezing but we soon warmed up back on our toaasty room with a heater and electric blankets all turned up full blast. Tomorrow we would leave the Catlins and head north, home.
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