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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

21 March 2011

The Catlins coast

19th-20th March 2011

The Catlins coast is definitely an area for touring and enjoying the scenery; there are no towns to speak of and no big attractions. But the rolling scenic route through farmland, forest and windswept coast is conveniently dotted with a bunch of good things. So let me take you through our leisurely two day west to east ramble in bite-sized chunks…

As you know, at Waipapa Point we stood on the beach in the wind and rain and watched the playful sealions a few yards from us.

At Curio Bay we saw giant Antarctic waves crashing ashore and washing over a fossilised forest, probably of most interest to an ex-geologist. We also peered down on a rare yellow-eyed penguin hiding in the bushes from the rain.

Further up the road we stopped at the spiffy Niagara Falls Cafe for a delicious lunch out of the rain. This is one eatery definitely worth a detour for… except that there’s pretty much only one road along the Catlins, so no detour needed.

We took a short walk through atmospheric podocarp forest, dripping with rain, to the McLean Falls which gush impressively from a great height.

Nearby we hiked down to the beach through a forest of giant tree ferns and followed the shore to the Cathedral Caves, cut majestically into high sandstone cliffs. The tide was racing in across the flat sands and we had to leap upon the rocks to avoid wet feet.


There was imagination and eccentricity in evidence at the Lost Gypsy Gallery, an old bus stuffed full of the quirky little hand-made inventions of a local chap. It’s not easy to describe but if you can imagine crossing a Badly Drawn Boy album with a Jeunet/Caro film then you might get close. An engaging little stop out of the rain.

For comparison we walked to the Purakaunui Falls, which sacrifice height for width but are every bit as photogenic as the McLean Falls – if you can somehow shield your camera lens from the raindrops for long enough.

At the end of the Catlins we marched through the drizzle out onto Nuggets Point, a finger of rock with a lighthouse on top that thrusts right out into the fierce Southern Ocean. The rocks far below the point are covered in New Zealand fur seals at rest and play. We were hoping for an elephant seal or two, but none today.

If you’re observant, you will have noticed that it rains a lot on the Catlin coast. Or maybe we got unlucky. Despite the weather it was a satisfying couple of days, and the only fee was $5 each for the Cathedral Caves – actually well worth it. Our favourite three stops were… hmm… Cathedral Caves, Waipapa Point and the Lost Gypsy Gallery. Ooo… or the Niagara Falls Cafe?


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