Exploring the Catlins in New Zealand

In a country as compact as New Zealand, you could be forgiven for thinking that it would be almost impossible to get off the beaten track, but by driving around the Catlins Coast New Zealand, that’s exactly what you would be doing. Despite being billed as one of the highlights of the Southern Scenic Route, many visitors to South Island overlook the area between Kaka Point and Fortrose.

Here’s a short Catlins travel guide for you.

Catlins Coast New Zealand: View over Tautuku Bay
View over Tautuku Bay by Avenue CC BY-SA 3.0

The Catlins Coast New Zealand: More than just your scenic route

The Catlins Coast New Zealand is the site of the South Island’s most southerly spot at Slope Point. Around 1200 people call the Catlins their home, most of them in Owaka, so there is plenty of open road in which to lose yourself. Dairy farming and fishing are common in the area, though its tourist potential is slowly being recognised. The Catlins are remote and rugged, large tracts of native forest lush from the generous rainfall, wild beaches curving round bays dotted with stacks. Even by New Zealand’s high standards this is an unspoilt and idyllic landscape.

Wildife Encounter

Unsurprisingly, wildlife spotting opportunities are abundant.  Twitchers will delight in the many varieties of sea bird gracing the shores, while in the forest, following the Catlins River Wisp Loop Track, it’s possible to spot tui, bellbirds, parakeets, pigeons and even the rare mohua.  Yellow-eyed penguins can be seen from the viewing hides and out on the water, there are chances to see fur seals, sea lions and Hector’s dolphins at Porpoise Bay.

Catlins Coast New Zealand: Hooker's sea lion
Hooker’s sea lion: Photo Karora

The Coast and the Sea

The lighthouses at Nugget Point and Waipapa Point give some clues as to how treacherous the swell can be in a storm.  Numerous ships have foundered on the rocks here, including the SS Tararua which ran aground back in 1881.  These same huge waves have given rise to the area’s growing reputation for big wave surfing.  Experienced riders can depend on consistent waves pretty much year-round, with long barrelling rights and ledging lefts.  The coastline is dramatic, with cliffs rearing up to 200 metres high.  Don’t miss Jack’s Blowhole, located in Tunnel Rocks Scenic Reserve, a large hole left behind after a subterranean cavern collapsed a couple of hundred metres inland from the coast.  Visit at high tide to see compressed waves explode out of the 55 metre deep hole. Cathedral Caves, accessible at low tide, are also worth exploring.

Landscape Exploration

Inland, the scenery is just as stunning.  There are several prominent peaks in the Catlins Ranges which add interest to the landscape, among them Mount Pye and Catlins Cone. Most famously, the Purakaunui Falls tumble twenty metres down a faulted rock landscape, a cascade of white water and detached boulders to delight hikers and photographers alike.

Catlins Coast New Zealand: Purakaunui Falls near Owaka
Purakaunui Falls near Owaka: Photo James Dignan CC-BY-SA-3.0

One of the falls, a mere metre high, is named Niagara.  It’s here that the Catlins Coastal Heritage Trail begins, leading walkers off the Southern Scenic Route to a 160 million year old petrified forest at Curio Bay.  Other points of interest on the trail include a concrete horse trough and when you reach Fortrose, a blacksmith’s and the area’s oldest European cemetery.

Catlins Coast New Zealand: Petrified log at Curio Bay
Petrified log at Curio Bay: Photo Avenue CC-BY-SA-3.0

Hope our Catlins Coast New Zealand travel guide will inspire you to stop and enjoy the area on your next travel to New Zealand!

About JuliaHammond

Website: http://www.juliahammond.co.uk

Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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