Crazy about the Catlins

By Kylie Hall - Travel Writer

Departing the big smoke of Invercargill, my eye is drawn to the waving harakeke flax bushes that edge the farmlands down in the deep deep south. I’m road tripping to the Catlins and there are amazing gems to discover.

Slope Point

Slope Point is the southernmost point on the South Island of New Zealand and is accessible via a 20 minute walk across private farmland. Once there, a yellow AA signpost shows the distance to the equator and the south pole. The…

Arriving at Waipapa Point Lighthouse, the savage coastline is striking. Rocky outcrops jut into the sea and forests of kelp swirl in the current as the wind blows through. NZ’s worst civilian shipwreck occurred here in 1881, when the SS Tararua struck the Waipapa Reef taking 131 lives. Sweet local children have erected a memorial at a nearby cemetery for those that perished.

Dodging cow pats and a herd of curly lashed cows, I trek through farm paddocks towards Slope Point, the southernmost tip of the South Island. Past swaying tawny tussock, I push through the whipping wind to reach the directional sign which notes that the South Pole is a mere 4,803 kilometres away. Explanation perhaps for the blast chiller feel at this wee spot!

Tumu Toka Curioscape

The newly opened Tumu Toka Curioscape in Curio Bay is an essential stop for all visitors to the south. Situated at the southern entrance to the Catlins, Curio Bay (Tumu Toka) is home to a 180 million year old petrified forest and…

Three hours into my drive and thanks to my explorations, I’ve only traversed 90 kilometres as I pull into Tumu Toka Curioscape at Curio Bay. The Gateway Experience is worth the small fee and be sure to listen to every audio and click on to each of the videos, as the nuggets of NZ history, geology and legend are fantastic. More is yet to come, as I meander down the pathway to one of the most intriguing scenes I’ve ever spied.

Tumu Toka translates to ‘hardened wood’ and laying before me is a Jurassic era fossilised forest. Back in Gondwana times, around 170 million years ago, a huge forest stood here. A nearby volcano blew its stack and the torrential rain that followed caused ashy floodwaters to rage through the trees, submerging the entire forest. Through millennia, the forest area has sunk below the sea and then risen again, and with the helping hand of natural erosion, the forest, now petrified, has been revealed.

My jaw is hanging open in awe. It’s low tide, so I’m able to walk down onto the shelf and literally touch the past. I rub my hands on the bone coloured centres of these ancient tree fossils and consider the true greatness of Mother Nature.

Niagara Falls Cafe

We have a natural and simple approach to food here at the Niagara Falls Cafe. Housed in a historic school building, we aim to provide quality meals using home grown vegetables and herbs and the best of Southland"s fresh produce. We…

A rumbling tummy leads to a stop at Niagara Falls café and I’m chocka after gobbling some of the best loaded wedges I’ve ever munched. Further down the road a genius is at work. The Lost Gypsy tinkers in his house truck and I’m enchanted by the twirling sea shells that create musical sea songs. I wish I could linger longer but dinner at Catlins Mohua Park is calling. My beautiful cottage overlooks rolling pastures and host Gill’s dinner is divine as our collection of travellers chat about the day’s happenings.

Kylie hiding out for her Hoiho at Roaring Bay
Kylie Hall

By 6am the next morning, my guide Lyndon has me holed up in a penguin hide as we wait for Mister Hoiho, the yellow-eyed penguin.

We’re at Roaring Bay and as a new day begins, Lyndon points out a little bobbing head moving through the bushes. It definitely pays to have a guide as there is absolutely no way I would have spotted this rare creature on my own. We watch in wonder as he waddles down through the bush clad hills, onto the beach and out to sea, to catch his breakfast.

Further along the coast, the outstanding sight of the Nugget Point Lighthouse against the mellow light of dawn is mesmerising. A short walk leads up to the viewing platform where the seascapes are spectacular. Mountains of kelp swish in the emerald green waters as we depart, and I know I’ll be back in this wondrous area again sometime soon.

Nugget Point/Tokata & Roaring Bay

The 47 hectare Department of Conservation Wildlife Reserve at Nugget Point has dramatic views of "The Nuggets', rocky islets that surround the steep headland. These wave-eroded rocks, which are likened to the shape of gold nuggets…

An insider’s guide to… The Catlins

BEST TOUR: Brave the early start and book the Catlins Mohua Park sunrise tour.
ON A BUDGET: Exploring lighthouses, waterfalls, rugged coastlines and moss laden bush walks won’t cost a cent.