The Catlins

The Catlins

The Catlins is the coastal region of the southeast corner of the South Island, on the Pacific Ocean. It lies between the Clutha River mouth and Fortrose, east of Invercargill. Prior to European settlement, nomadic groups of Māori had visited and stayed in the area since the 1350s. Early European settlement began with sealers and whalers who decimated marine mammal wildlife. Milling of the native rainforest followed up until the 1930s, with much of the forest replaced by farming.

The region has been largely ignored since then and it is a significant side trip from State Highway 1 and State Highway 93 which are up to 60 km inland. Today the regional population is only around 1,200 people, most of whom live around the small town of Owaka.

But being largely ignored has its benefits. The beaches and coastlines, recovering native forests, and waterfalls are pristine and almost untouched, while still being accessible by a network of rural side roads. There is big-wave surfing, fierce winds off the ocean, otherwise endangered birds, Hooker’s sea lions, fur seals, and Hector dolphins. It’s a beautiful and wild region, with many nooks and crannies to explore by road and foot. It has been getting more attention as tourism has expanded and it’s a highlight of the Southern Scenic Route. This links several otherwise disparate roads and highways through the region and provides access to the many side trips and points of interest. Look at the map carefully as there are many options and most are on metal roads.

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From the north, the access is through Balclutha. From State Highway 1, take Owaka Highway south before heading west to the first coastal stop at Kaka Point and Nugget Point. Head back inland towards Owaka and Catlins Lake. After the lake, popular coastal detours include Jacks Blowhole, Papatowai, Tautuku Bay, Cathedral Caves, Porpoise Bay (dolphins), Curio Bay (160 million year old tree fossils), and wind blown Slope Point. Then another deviation to Waipapa Point before heading to Fortrose and Invercargill.

These are just some of the options. There are other lesser known beaches and coastal walks, inland tracks and beautiful waterfalls. There’s plenty to do and see for a multi day stay. But keep in mind that a trip to the Catlins is an adventure – not a lazy beach holiday – so pack your windbreaker!

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