The Catlins

Purakaunui  Waterfall Catlins After the majesty and grandeur of the south island’s west coast, the east coast runs the risk of being, well, slightly less mind bogglingly spectacular. Luckily there is plenty to see and do on the road up the coast, starting with the Catlins.

The Catlins are situated between Invercargill and Dunedin, the two main towns at the south end of the south island.

Invercargill is not generally seen as a major tourist destination. It has two main claims to fame – a man made a very fast motorbike here, and Keith Richards described it as the arsehole of the world.

We saw a fast motorbike in a display case, but the rest of the town did not seem entirely deserving of the arsehole label. Maybe it has moved on since the Stones last toured here. It does have a gigantic white pyramid inside which the tourist information office is located. Weirdly.

Dunedin will be next on the list, but is supposed to contain more charms. My next post covers that topic more: in the meantime we can get back on the topic at hand, that being, the Catlins and its attractions from the Invercargill end.

Sea lions and shipping disasters at Waipapa Point

The first attraction is Waipapa Point, home, regular readers will be delighted to hear, to a lighthouse. This was built three years after New Zealand’s worst civilian shipping disaster occurred just off the shore here, with the sinking of the S.S. Tararua, resulting in the loss of 131 lives.

Waipapa Lighthouse double rainbow stormy sky

Said disaster prompted some serious review of maritime safety laws (and the building of the lighthouse), and resulted in a law being passed that vessels must carry enough lifejackets for everyone on board. Which seems fairly sensible, in retrospect.

As well as the lighthouse (and the nearby gloriously morbid cemetery for the victims), there are some fine examples of windswept trees and a colony of sea lions who seem content to laze around in the tussocks all day until you practically step into them, at which point they become somewhat irate.

The bottom of the world at Slope Point

After the Waipapa Point lighthouse, the road wends further along the coast to Slope Point, which is, excitingly, the closest I’ve ever made it to Antarctica, being as it is, the southernmost point of the south island.

Slope Point Sign Southernmost point of New ZealandAdmittedly, at 4,803km, the south pole isn’t exactly close per se, but it’s closer than the equator. And it felt like it too.

Forests frozen in time at Curio Bay

From Slope Point the route goes on, to the fossilised tree forest at Curio Bay, regarded as one of the finest examples of a fossilised forest in the world.

Fossilised tree Curio Bay Catlins

Rocks that were once tree parts are generally cool in my book, so we peered at these for a while until the rain got to be too much (despite some rather excellent rainbow action) and we retreated to Bernie and further along the coast.

The many waterfalls of the coastal rainforest

From here the windswept coastline turns into dense coastal rainforest, which means that there are lots of hills and, there being plenty of rain, plenty of waterfalls. The first of these is the ironically named Niagara falls, which is actually just a small rapid in a river.

McLean Waterfall slow exposure

The waterfalls do improve from this point onwards, with McLean Falls and Matai Falls offering quite excellent waterfall vistas, even when shrouded in a wintery grey late afternoon light. Both are an easy 20-30 minute return walk from their respective car parks.

The last falls of the route are the Purakaunui Falls. These tumble in a three tiered fashion through the forest, and can be viewed from both the bottom and the top. Which is rather jolly.

Mitai waterfall flowing slow exposure

A giant blowhole, and the cliffs of Nugget Point

Beyond the waterfalls, there is a rather spectacularly large blowhole situated up on the cliffs near Jacks Bay named Jacks Blowhole. This is 200 metres from the sea, ostensibly in the middle of a sheep filled field, and is quite magnificent in its size and location.

At 55 metres deep and quite a few hundreds of metres wide, this is just the weirdest thing to find in the middle of a field. The sea gushes in and out of it in a rather pleasing manner.

The last major highlight of the Catlins, before the road takes you up towards Dunedin, is Nugget Point. Pleasingly, this is also home to a lighthouse, lighthouses being the bookends of the Catlins journey.

Nugget Point cliffs and sea

There is no shipping disaster related here, instead, the lighthouse sits precariously at the end of a high spit of rock, offering tremendous views of storm battered islets and naturally, coastal vistas. Very pleasing.

And that was pretty much the Catlins. It is also home to numerous beaches, penguins, sea birds, sea lions and fur seals. Many days could no doubt be lost here, if the weather were good. As it was, we didn’t fare too badly.

Our next stop was Dunedin and the rather lovely Otago Peninsula. More on that in my next post.

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  1. I looooved driving through the Catlins, and along the South Coast. 

    And I think you'll like Dunedin! It's a very unique little city.

  2. Hey Amanda! I did like Dunedin, see an upcoming post on my thoughts on
    that one :) And the Catlins really were very pretty :)


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