When it comes to unadulterated outdoors and authentic wildlife experiences, New Zealand over delivers: here is No. 38 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
The Catlins, a quiet and wild part of the Clutha region covering the south-eastern corner of the South Island/Te Waipounamu, boasts a series of striking natural wonders along a seriously scenic drive between Invercargill/Waihōpai and Dunedin/Ōtepoti. Part of the Southern Scenic Touring Route that connects through to Fiordland and Queenstown, if you’re into wildlife, dramatic landforms and big coastal vistas, put a Catlins road trip on your hit list. The beaches here are wild and woolly rather than suntan and sandcastles, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
At one end of the spectrum is Surat Bay, a vast swathe of sand where huge Hooker’s sea lions hang out. At the other is the compact Curio Bay, aptly named for the 160-million-year-old petrified forest considered one of the best of its kind in the world. Nearby Porpoise Bay is named for the rare, pint-size Hector’s dolphins often seen frolicking in the surf.
Another Catlins curiosity is Jacks Blowhole, a bellowing chasm carved out by the waves that surge in from the coast nearby. It’s thunderous, wondrous and will probably make you feel a bit peculiar; for full impact, try to time your visit for high tide.
A road journey here also offers up waterfalls galore. The big kahuna is Pūrākaunui Falls, a magnificent 20-metre cascade reached on a lovely short walk through fragrant beech forest. Matai Falls and Mclean Falls should also be on your itinerary. And an absolute essential stop is The Nuggets, one of New Zealand’s most spectacular headlands complete with a ridiculously romantic lighthouse. Take as much time as your itinerary allows and tap into local knowledge.
The friendly Southerners here will sort you out with all the accommodation, dining and visitor services you need to enjoy your trip including a handful of tour options taking in the highlights and hidden gems:
- Catlins Scenic & Wildlife Tours is based at a leafy green holiday park and offers half- to full-day highlights tours with a strong focus on wildlife including fur seals, penguins and forest birds such as the rare and delightful little mōhua/yellowhead.
- Earthlore offers all-ages, nature-based tours from its fun and fascinating Wildlife Gardens near Owaka. Enjoy wildlife encounters, hands-on habitat restoration and other conservation activities, as well as dusk tours to spot the critically endangered long-tailed bat.