One of the most remote and unpopulated parts of New Zealand, The Catlins is a beautiful area between Balclutha and Invercargill, on the south coast of the South Island. It’s home to just over 1,200 people (most in Owaka), stunning beaches and coastline, photogenic waterfalls, and one of the most unusual attractions in the country. This post covers a day driving through the area from Invercargill to Kaka Point.
Starting with Fortrose, home to a short lived whaling station in the early 1800s and early port for the region at the mouth of the Mataura River. Even on a grey and very windy day (typical Carlin’s weather) the cliffs were impressive.
Somehow it was even windier at Slope Point, the southernmost point of the South Island of New Zealand. A rough path runs through a sheep farm to the eroded cliffs, and a signpost showing the distance to the Equator and the South Pole, which was surprisingly equal.
Curio Bay is one of the best known places in the Catlins, attracting pre-Covid around 100,000 visitors a year. It’s known for wildlife, including rare yellow-eyed penguins, passing whales, and Hector’s dolphins, which were playing in the surf when I visited.
It is also home to a 180 million year old petrified forest, with trees clear to see, along with some epic waves crashing against the coast, and a New Zealand fur seal.
Koropuku Falls is one of the smaller waterfalls in the Catlins, reached by an atmospheric 400m path.
McLean Falls is significantly larger, with a 22m drop.
Florence Hill Lookout had possibly the most epic view in the region, with a sweeping panorama over Tautuku Bay and the Tautuku Peninsula.
My highlight of the Catlins was probably The Lost Gypsy Gallery, an automata gallery created by the artist Blair Somerville. I had no idea what to expect, and found a fascinating and entertaining place, filled with originality.
Purakaunui Falls are the most visited in the region, being a short walk to a spectacular waterfall, even in low flow.
Owaka is home to an expansive collection of teapots.
I stayed at Kaka Point, a small town at the northern edge of the Catlins, close to Nugget Point. This is a steep headland tipped with a photogenic lighthouse built in 1869, and automated 120 years later.