Catlins

Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia New Zealand South Island Catlins

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Introduction

The Catlins is a region on the southeastern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is a popular place to visit penguin territory. The Catlins is a beautiful, dramatic, underdeveloped coastline where you can find dolphins, sea lions, penguins, living and petrified forest, high cliffs and sandy beaches, lighthouses, shipwreck stories, friendly people, lots of sheep and cattle farms. If you want to take a bit more time and meet some locals then there are a number of wwoofing-type farms, cafés, etc where you will be treated as part of the family, in return for helping out.

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Geography

The Catlins area covers some 1,900 km2 and forms a rough triangular shape, extending up to 40 kilometres inland and along a stretch of coast 100 kilometres in extent. The mouths of two large rivers, the Clutha River in the northeast and the Mataura River in the west, mark its coastal limits. To the north and northwest, the rough bush-clad hills give way to rolling pastoral countryside drained and softened by the actions of tributaries of these two rivers such as the Pomahaka River.

The rugged, scenic coastline of the Catlins features sandy beaches, blowholes, a petrified forest at Curio Bay, and the Cathedral Caves, which visitors can reach at low tide. Much of the coastline consists of high cliffs, up to 200 metres in height, and the land rises sharply from the coast at most points. For this reason, many of the area's rivers cascade over waterfalls as they approach the ocean (notably the iconic Purakaunui Falls on the short Purakaunui River).

The South Island's southernmost point, Slope Point, projects near the southwestern corner of the Catlins. To the west of this lies Waipapa Point, often considered the boundary of the Catlins region, beyond which lies the swampy land around the mouth of the Mataura River at the eastern end of Toetoes Bay. But various people place the western boundary of the Catlins region in different places, and some more stringent definitions exclude even Slope Point. A proposed boundary circulated in 2009 by the New Zealand Geographic Board ran roughly north from Slope Point, then inland around the Catlins Ranges and east to Nugget Point. Tourist organisations objected, asking that the boundary be moved further west to include Fortrose.

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Sights and Activities

  • Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay, Waikawa-Curio Bay Rd. This whole area is called "Curio Bay", but includes the long sandy enclosed Porpoise Bay, and the small rocky Curio Bay that directly faces the open ocean. On the road running along Porpoise Bay, there are houses and accommodation and several access points onto the beach. To see most of the attractions, continue to the end of the beach where the road ends in a T intersection. Left takes you to the camping ground, the beach store, beach access and cliff-top lookout. Porpoise Bay has a resident population of the endangered Hector's dolphin, and the delight is that in summer and autumn they can often be seen easily from the beach as they swim in or just beyond the surf. Turning right at the T intersection takes you to the Curio Bay car park, interpretive panels and a walk down to the rocks. Here are fossilized logs and tree stumps from a forest that stood in the Jurassic period 180 million years ago. It is one of the best examples of a Jurassic fossil forest in the world. You can walk around the fossils when the tide is out. The second attraction in this small bay is endangered yellow-eyed penguins that nest here and can be seen returning from the sea in the late afternoon and early evening and walking up the rocks or just standing around. Also in these bays, fur seals can sometimes be seen, usually on rocky shore, and the larger sea lions, usually on sandy shore.
  • Florence Hill Lookouts, Chaslands Highway (the main road). After passing through the village of Papatowai heading west, the road runs up Florence Hill, where there are two parking spots with great views of the coast. The second one is even better than the first, as it has great views of Tautuku Bay and Tautuku Peninsula, where there was once a whaling station, plus information boards.
  • Nugget Point, The Nuggets Rd (south of Kaka Point). A spectacular sea scene with a lighthouse (built 1869–70) and the Nuggets (a group of rocky islets), which can be viewed from the lighthouse (a 10–20 min return walk from the end carpark). If you look down from the walk, well below near sea level are breeding colonies of royal spoonbill birds and fur seals. Sea lions come here, and sometimes elephant seals in summer. Roaring Bay (20 min return) can be accessed from a carpark before the main one. Yellow-eyed penguins come ashore in the bay in the late afternoon. There is a hide from which you can view them – avoid going on to the beach in the late afternoon. There is a picnic area and toilets near the end carpark.
  • Owaka Museum & Catlins Information Centre, 10 Campbell St, Owaka, ☎ +64 3 415-8323 (Museum), +64 3 415-8371 (Information Centre). M-F 9:30am-4:30pm, Sa-Su 10am-4pm.
  • Slope Point - This is the most southerly point of the South Island, and has dramatically wind-sculpted trees. An unsealed road runs off the Curio Bay-Haldane Rd, taking you six km to the parking site for a marked walk across private farmland to the Slope Point light. On a rare still day it can be absolutely stunning here. The walkway is closed for lambing in Oct and Nov.
  • Surat Bay, Newhaven Rd, New Haven (5 kilometres from Owaka). - Drive to New Haven, then walk over a bridge crossing a small creek and follow the poled route through the dunes to Surat Bay. Usually there is a colony of New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) on the beach or in the dunes. The walk is 20–30 mins return. You can also walk to the end of the bay and over to Cannibal Bay, or you can drive to Cannibal Bay.
  • Tunnel Hill, Owaka Highway (5 kilometres northeast of Owaka) - Walk through a 250 m disused brick-lined railway tunnel that was dug by hand in the 1890s. It is now an historic reserve. Taking a torch is recommended.
  • Waikawa Museum & Information Centre, 604 Niagara Waikawa Highway - Local history, accommodation bookings, Internet. A handy stop between the main highway and Curio Bay.
  • Waipapa Point - The still-active lighthouse was built in 1884 in response to the wreck of the SS Tararua here in 1881, country's worst civilian shipwreck. Sea lions come ashore on the beach here.

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Weather

The Catlins has a cool maritime temperate climate, somewhat cooler than other parts of the South Island, and strongly modified by the effect of the Pacific Ocean. Winds can reach considerable strength, especially on the exposed coast; most of the South Island's storms develop to the south or southwest of the island, and thus the Catlins catches the brunt of many of these weather patterns.

The Catlins—and especially its central and southern areas—experiences considerably higher precipitation than most of the South Island's east coast; heavy rain occurs infrequently, but drizzle is common and the region averages around 150 days of rain per year. Rain days are spread fairly evenly throughout the year; there is no particularly rainy season in the northern Catlins, and only a slight tendency towards more autumn rain in the southwest. The average annual rainfall recorded at the Tautuku Outdoor Education Centre is about 1,300 mm, with little variation from year to year.

Fine days can be sunny and warm, and daily maxima may exceed 30 °C in mid-summer (January/February). A more usual daily maximum in summer would be 18-20 °C. Snow is rare except on the peaks even in the coldest part of winter, though frost is quite common during the months of June to September. Typical daily maximum temperatures in winter are 10-13 °C.

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Getting Around

By Car

The Southern Scenic Route links Fiordland and Dunedin via the Catlins. Here it runs northeast to southwest as an alternative road to State Highway 1, which skirts the Catlins to the northwest. This section of the Southern Scenic Route - formerly designated State Highway 92 but no longer listed as a state highway - winds through most of the small settlements in the area.

By Bus

The options for travel through The Catlins, other than your own vehicle, are the Bottom Bus and the Catlins Coaster, both owned by the same outfit. They give a great service in that they take you to the best spots for wildlife and scenery and they will also drop you where you want and pick you up on the next run through. The 'Stray' bus company passes through too. Their drivers are fun and well-informed.

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Eat

  • Fortrose has 'Stirling Tides' looking over the estuary, indoors all in glowing wood.
  • Tokanui has a bistro at the pub and fast food at the dairy.
  • Waikawa has 'Blue Cod Blues' - a food caravan beside the museum.
  • Curio Bay has a small camp shop.
  • Niagara Falls cafe has a wonderful restaurant, definitely a destination, a place to linger.
  • Mclean Falls has the 'Whistling Frog' cafe.
  • Papatowai has a dairy with food.
  • Owaka has the 'Lumberjack', good food and surroundings.

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Sleep

As for accommodation, there is a range from backpackers to five star seclusion which is really great value and apart from January (the busiest month), there is usually a bed to find for passing visitors.

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Contributors

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This is version 11. Last edited at 12:11 on Aug 10, 16 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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