Tuesday 26 June 2012

Narnia, Horizontal Grass, and Close Encounters with Sea Lions: The Catlins

{waipapa point}

Wind & current, however, are mischievous
play-mates.  When a decision
is made for them to insert
a speak-easy-soke into the
sea's water wheel works then -  
O then, drama abounds for sure,
and the window to the sea-ward
side of my crib begins rattle-screeching
an order for me to ‘Come out! Come out, Sloth!
And witness this!’
‘Uh huh’, I say.

Hone Tuwhare, Here’s looking at You, Sea.

In a far flung corner of New Zealand, at the very bottom of the South Island, is a rugged coastline known as The Catlins.  It's wind-swept, bitterly cold, and has some of the most harshly beautiful places I've ever visited.

It also has Bluff Oysters.  Deliciously-succulent, sweetly-plump, bluff oysters which pretty much gives it an awesomeness score of 'Out of this World'.  A must visit if you are ever in the south east corner of New Zealand.

C and I were there for a road trip a few weeks ago.  We did almost all the major spots on the tourist map over three days and two nights and had a total blast while being blasted by some of the most frigidly cold gales known to man.

Only a three hour drive from Dunedin, the Catlins is unapologetically rugged in a true blue Southland kinda way.  With the southerlies coming straight from the Antarctic, you can pretty much smell penguins on the wind and all of the sights are off the beaten track even the main ones.  And by that I mean off the nice smooth sealed roads and on to rough pot hole pocked gravel roads.  Just be prepared for lots of driving on twisting gravel roads, the occasional sheep/cattle on the road, wear every item of woolen clothing you own and a pair of gumboots and she'll be right.

{only in new zealand}

It is well worth it though.  The landscape is truly unbelievably breathtaking.  All that low light and wide sky, everything is all sharp angles and mist: moody and foreboding or crisp and golden.  You really do feel like you are at the ends of the earth.

{moody and otherworldly: curio bay (top) and purakaunui bay (bottom)}
This was our very first trip down to the Catlins so we can't comment on all the places that we missed seeing (most markedly Cathedral Caves, which is closed this time of year).  But what we can do is rave the amazing places that we did go to.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the Top 7 Picks of Ness and C's Excellent Catlins Adventure.

1) Waipapa Point

Waipapa Point was C and my favourite spot on the whole trip.  It ticked all the boxes.  Gorgeous wind swept coastline, tick.  Cool lighthouse perched over rocky cliff, tick.  Almost getting eaten by grumpy sea lions that woke up and decided to have a brawl just as you were about to get a photo taken in front of them.  Tick, tick, and tick.

{freaking out just a bit}

2) Purakanui Bay

Purakauni Bay is one of those places that looks like it should be in a movie.  May have something to do with the fact that it actually was in a movie: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe no less.

We were the only souls on the beach, with the late afternoon sun streaming through the sea mist, and those majestic cliffs...you really did feel like you were at Cair Paravel or in a fairy tale.  Absolutely unforgettably magical.

3) Slope Point

Slope Point is the southern most tip of the South Island.  For a place holding such a prestigious accolade, one would think there would be a little more fanfare attached to the site.  Oh no, none of that nonsense.  This is the rugged south island after all.  Driving over windy gravel roads, you then climb over a fence and make your way over a muddy paddock, sheep poo and all, to get to the spot.

And THAT WIND.  Slope Point was hellishly windy.  So windy in fact the grass grows sideways and the trees are so bent over they could be backup dancers in Thriller.

{horizontal grass}

4) McLeans Falls / Purakanui Falls 

{purakaunui falls}
The Purakaunui Falls and McLean Falls are pretty much the 'Obligatory Waterfalls' of the Catlins.  Don't get me wrong, they are pretty cool and have nice 15 minute walks through pretty NZ bush to get to but after having seen such spectacular sights like Purakauni Bay and having driven for hours and hours I was a little bit like falls schmalls by that stage.

{McLeans Falls}
Having said that, they are definitely worth seeing.  Purakaunui Falls is the more famous water feature but we liked McLeans Falls better,  Purakauni had the girth, McLeans had the height.

5) Nugget Point

You might sigh and think Not Another Amazing Lighthouse, but Nugget Point is pretty spectacular.
You walk along the tip of the ridge all the way to the point overlooking the "nuggets" sticking out of the water braving the pounding surf.  Others reported seeing sea lions there but we missed out.

6) Curio Bay / Porpoise Bay

{watching the sun rise from our room in curio bay}

This was our Catlins base camp.  And by camp I mean luxury motel.  We rough it as much as the next tough guy in summer but it's winter and it's the South Island and we value our fingers and toes thank you very much.

Curio Bay and the adjacent Porpoise Bay was truly stunning.  We were so glad to stay here and loved our little central heated room right on the beach.  We cooked all our meals in the well equipped mini kitchen and watched the sunrise from our bed over the beach.  So so incredibly beautiful.  We could have easily stayed there for weeks.

We were told that in summer there are often dolphins swimming in the bay which would be pretty cool to see.

Just a 2 minute drive down from our motel was the Petrified Forest.  Logs preserved in the Jurassic Period, yip that's a staggering 180 million years ago.  While the factoid is mind blowing, the actual logs themselves were a little underwhelming.  They kinda just looked like rocks...

But at least we saw heaps of rare yellow-eyed PENGUINS!

{petrified forest and spot the penguin}

7) Bluff Oysters

And last but not least, you can't go to the bottom of the South Island and not visit Bluff for your fix of bluff oysters.  Plump, succulent, creamy, little nuggets tasting of the ocean, you really can't beat a dozen of these beauties au naturale with a light squeeze of lemon.

We ended up having lunch at a smaverage restaurant but the one redeeming feature were the delicious oysters.  So enamoured were we with these mollusks we bought a tubful from the seven eleven on the road out of Bluff and scoffed them on the side of the road.  All class.

And that was our whirlwind tour of the Catlins.   Three magical days of breathtaking scenery and brain numbing wind.  Major rugged points for sure.

There's so much more to see down there that we missed out on but I think we nailed the highlights.

If you are ever down this end of the world, definitely take the time to check out The Catlins - it's purrrrfect for little a getaway.


  1. The photos are breathtaking! I am soo going there someday haha :) and the oooysterrssss my mom would swoon. haha.

    1. Thanks lovely Marnelli!! It's totally worth going! We had no idea what to expect but loved every minute! Would love to go back in summer! :)

  2. Wow...fantastic photographs. We have been planning to visit this place for a while now. Your pictures make me want to go right away:)

    1. Thanks heaps Nina! It's one of those places we always heard about but never went! So glad we did though! Hope you have an amazing time down there too! :)

  3. Love your photos! The scenery is NZ always amazes me, I never get sick of it. We are so lucky to live here. I've never been that far south, but it definitely looks worth a visit.

  4. Amazign photos! They are really beautiful!



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