Widely considered as one of the most underrated spots of New Zealand, the Catlins is an easy touring route that should be travelled at a pace befitting of the scenery which is reminisce of a bygone era. The Catlins takes you through rolling forests with many stops along the way around lakes, mesmerizing waterfalls and a number of historic sites like a Jurassic aged petrified forest. The Catlins is home to wild life such as the Hoiho at Curio Bay, the Sea Lions that are seen lounging at Waipapa Point, Hector dolphins dipping through the waves, and seals playing on the rocks at the magnificent Nugget Point.
Keep the camera handy because it would be hard to find a spot that shouldn’t be remembered for years to come, be it standing next to a historic lighthouse (there’s two!), or posing by Land’s End at Slope Point.
There are so many sights to see and the best spots are well known by local guide Lyndon from Mohua Park who can do tours on his ATV across the beautiful sandy beaches to the high rocky knolls over private farmland. Find out about the geological history of Curio Bay and the formation of the famous Petrified Forest at the world class Tumu Toka Curioscape, an interactive experience that shares the stories of Curio Bay and how the land has been shaped from the ashes of a volcanic eruption 200 million years ago.
Hit the water for a paddle in Papatowai where you can even start the day watching wildlife rise for the morning. Surfing at Curio Bay with Catlin’s Surf School often brings incredible experience of surfing next to a pod of Hector’s dolphins who are fond of the area.
A must see for anyone passing through Papatowai is a stop at The Lost Gypsy, a showcase of wind up and water driven automata created by tinkerer Blair Somerville. For a small entry fee you could spend an endless amount of time inspired by the pure genius of the gadgets that have been put together out of previously loved (or littered) items! And finish up with a coffee and home made cake from the Little Rocket Coffee Cart parked up beside the gallery.
The biggest regret of travellers coming through the Catlins? That they didn’t plan nearly enough time. There are so many stops that make the trip through the Catlins special and none should be rushed. How can you choose between the iconic Pūrākaunui Falls and the mesmerizing McLean Falls? You simply can’t! Florence Hill Lookout offers a jaw dropping vista with blue, green ocean rolling on to sandy beaches hinting at a tropical paradise. It is a stark contrast to the lush green podocarp forest that fringes the coast.
The geological wonders keep coming with the Cathedral Caves a popular tourist spot that simply dwarf any dweller that enters. At 200m long and 30m high it is only accessible at low tide so be sure to check first! At the far end of the Catlins is Nugget Point, aptly named as they do look like giant gold nuggets poking out from the coast. The lookout to the Nuggets is below the infamous Nugget Point lighthouse, a historical working lighthouse that almost mimics its counterpart at the other end of the Catlins, the Waipapa Point Lighthouse.
After some exploration at Curio Bay, find a window seat and take in the coast line over some scrumptious Kiwi classics and barista coffee.
Niagara Falls Café, not just famous because of It’s namesake – this gorgeous old schoolhouse café serves up incredible home made delicacies that locals from all over the region travel to sample.
Although found across the region, there seems to be nothing sweeter than finishing your day with a tipple of the Catlin’s finest drop – a craft beer (or cider) brewed right in the heart of the Catlins. Catlin’s Brewery products are found at many taverns, restaurants and supermarkets across the Catlins and the wider Southland region.
Check out more food spots in the Catlins here.
Whether you are travelling as a group, a family or a couple there are a number of accommodation options through the region. Many are holiday homes or small B&B’s that overlook the stunning bays in the region.
Although the environment is wild, this doesn’t mean guests have to rough it, Mohua Park offers warm hospitality and high end self contained eco cottages that tuck in to the hillside over looking lush farmland. Even the new Beresford Heights offers something different, perched high on a hill with your chauffeur at the helm of an ATV escorting you over farmland to the remote getaway.