Instead of taking the more direct inland route, our guidebooks recommended the tourist scenic route along the coast. This way was probably much nicer than the farm-field treadmill that the inland route would have followed, although we got our fill of sheep and cows this way as well.
We made a few stops along the way, the first being the Clifden Swing-bridge, which was built in 1899 and is now closed to traffic. It was an impressive achievement with 28 cables holding up the bridge over the river. Right nearby, we visited the limestone cave network that begins in a farmer's sheep field. The cave entrance is just barely visible behind small trees and set way into the ground. We crept into the cave, and it was small and wet and dark and seemed to go on forever. There were reflective markers placed throughout the cave so you knew which way to go, but at one point I turned off my headlamp and it was so black you could not see an inch in front of you. Once I noticed some spiders on the walls and stared to feel a little claustrophobic, I was ready to get out of there. We exited in the same sheep-field, just up the road from where we parked.
Heading back down the road, we passed small towns and farms until we came to the southern coast. There was a little surf break we checked out, but decided to keep on going. Through the big city of Invercargill, we headed on to Slope Point, the most southern point on the South Island. It did feel a bit like we were at the edge of the world, with a big cliff drop-off to the windswept sea and nothing further. Past this point, we arrived at the Curio Bay Petrified Forest where trees had turned to fossils over 170 million years ago. They were strewn about the oceanfront, in petrified form, and were cool to see. However, the wind was gusting at least 35-mph, so it didn't make for a great spot to stick around.
Further down the road, we hiked out to McLean Falls which was a beautiful hike and falls at the end. The river was brown from hillside run-off, but the falls were nice anyway. We also hiked around Lake Wilkie which had some signage on the stages of the forest and information about the lake.
Looking for our next campsite, we checked out Florence Hill Overlook and the beach and islands below were stunning with the windy waves marching in. We decided to camp at the end of the dirt road, where there was a small campground, just past Purakaunui Falls at the beach. When we got there at about sunset, we saw a handful of surfers out in the water, and a gorgeous a-frame peak peeling in, sheltered from the wind. We were disappointed we did not have more daylight to get out there, but hope for good conditions in the morning. I'm not totally convinced, as I was standing there in my warmest down jacket and penguins live on this beach, but I figure I could handle the cold water for a little while at least. It seems to be a popular spot with locals as they are out in the water and have their dogs and tents here. The campsite is great with a view out the windows of the dramatic sea-cliffs that drop straight into the ocean, and the surf-break off to the south.