Look down – if you must

Two must-see Otago attractions will get the heart flut­ter­ing, writes Steuart Laing.

The Press - Escape - - OTAGO -

On one’s ap­proach, gen­tle pas­ture and a wide hori­zon give few hints as to what lies ahead. But when your fin­gers touch the plat­form rail­ing at The Chasm, the void be­low will seem to tug you down­wards. The Sandy­mount chasm is awe­some.

Once you’ve re­cov­ered and re­joined the main track, Lovers Leap beck­ons only min­utes away.

By now, sur­plus adren­a­line could be caus­ing havoc with your ner­vous sys­tem. The mas­sive ver­ti­cal drop at the edge of the pas­ture­land would make most peo­ple quiver at the knees.

Lovers Leap, like The Chasm, pro­vides a sen­sa­tion of ei­ther ver­tigo or a need to stand back from the plat­form rail­ing.

The sight of waves crash­ing through an arch­way 100 me­tres freefall be­low doesn’t seem ro­man­tic. As I peered over the edge the words ‘‘dashed’’, ‘‘flail­ing’’ and ‘‘tor­mented’’ came to mind.

The Chasm and Lovers Leap duo of attractions prob­a­bly make more hearts flut­ter than all the other Otago attractions put to­gether. From Sandy­mount car park, a 10-minute walk, firstly through a tun­nel of macro­carpa trees and then across pas­ture land, will get you to th­ese sights.

If you want to con­tinue to a more mun­dane spec­ta­cle, you can follow the muddy track that cir­cum­nav­i­gates Sandy­mount to a side-track lead­ing down to Sand­fly Beach.

The de­scent pro­vides a novel ex­pe­ri­ence through sand gullys tucked be­tween mar­ram grass ridges. Sandy­mount is one of the South Is­land’s high­est sand dunes and pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to make the fastest de­scent you’re likely to make on your own two legs.

At the east­ern end of the beach you can climb into view­ing plat­forms and watch yel­low-eyed pen­guins wad­dling up steep slopes to their nest­ing sites.

But all I saw were patches of guano and trails left by pen­guins out at sea dur­ing the day, fat­ten­ing them­selves for the breed­ing sea­son.

At the far end of the beach a cigar-shaped an­i­mal lay at the high tide line. The in­for­ma­tion pan­els at the beach say to stay more than 10 me­tres away from sea lions but half-an-hour later, the sea lion looked huge.

I’d spent the in­ter­ven­ing time crawl­ing to­wards him, but at 20m dis­tance, made a decision to re­treat. I edged from a prone po­si­tion onto my knees not want­ing to scare him, and then slowly stood. He raised his head and man­aged a yawn. With aching back and stiff legs, I stag­gered away. A cou­ple of days later I read that an el­derly man had been at­tacked by a sea lion in New Ply­mouth and con­grat­u­lated my­self on sur­viv­ing my en­counter un­scathed.

I re­traced my steps up the enor­mous dune. Re­cent rains had wet the sand so that each foot­step held firm.

If you visit Sandy­mount, you can choose from sev­eral walk­ing op­tions. The Chasm and Lovers Leap are a must-see. But so is Sand­fly Beach. Re­mem­ber to con­serve en­ergy when you’re rac­ing down the sand hill. And treat sea lions with re­spect.

Pho­tos: STEUART LAING

High dive: Wa­ter surges into the col­lapsed cave at Lovers Leap.

Keep clear: Treat seals with re­spect be­cause they can be ag­gres­sive.

Seal alert: Sand­fly Beach from the Sandy­mount Road.

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