Driving through the Catlins

The Catlins are an area stretching pretty much between Dunedin and Invercargill, and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas to travel through in New Zealand.

Of course, by now I’ve come to suspect that pretty much every area in the country is described as that, and it’s hard to say if those claims are true because it’s all very nice.

Anyway, the Catlins are best travelled by car as that gives you the time to stop where you want and just take your time admiring the scenery without being on a specific schedule.

Moeraki Boulders

As it happens I had bought a car in Christchurch, the reason we went there on the TranzAlpine express, so the Catlins were an excellent way to test the car and get used to driving in New Zealand. And in general actually. Driving south from Christchurch, we first stopped at Moeraki to have a look at the boulders there. These apparently famous boulders are round. They move very slowly (centimeters per year slowly) from the sea onto the beach. As spheres sometimes over 2 meters in diameter that makes them pretty impressive to look at. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t quite as good as we would have liked so we didn’t spend a lot of time there.

Nugget Point

After the boulders we moved slowly further south until we reached some beaches with unlikely names such as Shag point, and it wasn’t long after that before we reached the Catlins, where our first stop was the lighthouse at Nugget Point. The lighthouse itself is just another lighthouse, but the area it stands on is impressive. High cliffs with rocks or beaches all around. It was pretty fun to walk around there. This was also the last visit of the day as after that we went to look for a camping place, which we found next to another nice beach. All in all, with also some decent weather this was a pretty good start for our visit here.

Purakaunui Falls

The next day we started out with a visit to Jack’s Blowhole. Something that sounds a lot more impressive than it actually is. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the walk there, but with a name like that I expected a bit more than a hidden opening to the sea where water streamed in. Water blowing into the air was pretty much what I expected, but the most you got there was the sound of the water crashing into the walls of the hole.

After this visit we moved more inland again, and arrived at the Purakaunui Falls, a wide and stepped waterfall. This was a pretty impressive sight, and like in most places on the South Island there weren’t many people around, meaning it was a easy to take the time and enjoy the view. Purakaunui Falls was followed by a visit to the equally impressive McLean Falls.

The weather turned bad again in the evening though, as we went to camp at the holiday park in Curio Bay. A place where a lot of fauna is around, especially dolphins and penguins. Due to the rain we never spotted any of the dolphins unfortunately, but while walking across the park during a dry spell we were pleasantly surprised by a penguin with the same idea. Later on I would even hear stories of people who found penguins just chilling out in front of their tent, but encountering one walking around the park was already quite nice. We would also end up visiting the nesting place for these penguins, although there were warnings not to get between the parents coming from the sea and their young as that might scare the parents off and end up in the young dying. Something nobody wants to happen.

The next day we were going to visit something different, the Cathedral caves. These caves can only be visited for a short time during the low tide. Getting there required walking over the beach, and as we were a bit late that meant getting our feet wet. So, I took off my shoes, not having thought to wear something more suitable, and because this ended up with very dirty feet I would eventually decide to walk back on my bare feet as well. A bit of do like the natives do thing. Of course, this was over a gravel path and I can definitely recommend anyone not to do something as silly as that. It hurts.

Cathedral Caves

Back to the caves though. They are really beautiful. It’s dark inside, naturally, but when using a flashlight or even just the flash of the camera you can see there’s a lot of colored stone. The name is pretty well chosen, as the height and sheer size of the main cave has pretty much the same feeling as being in a cathedral. Aside from the religious part of course.

The caves were followed by a trip to Slope Point, the most southern point of the South Island, but because of my earlier visit to Stewart Island not the most southern point I’ve visited. Still nice to have been there and a good place to end our visit to the Catlins. On the way there, we also found the New Zealand Niagara Falls. Having seen the original, I was able to compare them, and I must say that with an incredible height of almost 20 cm these were almost as impressive.

Photos of this, and other views in the Catlins can be viewed in the gallery below.