Things to do in the Catlins

The Catlins are often overlooked by travellers, and they don't even know what they're missing out on in this vast and remote area of rugged, natural beauty

The Catlins are a sparsely populated area in the south of New Zealand’s South Island.

The Catlins comprise rugged coasts with wide deserted beaches, endless green hills, wild weather and lots of marine wildlife such as sea lions, penguins and dolphins. These landscapes alone are reason enough to venture to that rather remote area of the country, but there are many more attractions waiting for its visitors.

1. Road trip on the Southern Scenic Route

As mentioned above, the most important thing in the Catlins is to enjoy its many varied landscapes and natural attractions.

So make sure your road trip on the Southern Scenic Route (the tourist highway linking Dunedin, Invercargill and Te Anau) accomodates for enough little stops here and there to take in massive deserted beaches, the isolation and remoteness, take pictures of the windswept trees or beautiful bays hosting sea lions and dolphins.

2. Visit Curio Bay

Curio Bay is famous for its petrified forest and wildlife attractions. The tree fossils can be seen at low tide and are over 160 million years old. You may also get to see yellow-eyed penguins in Curio Bay.

And for the sports enthusiast, Curio Bay’s very own little surf school provides everything a novice surfer needs to successfully stand on their board after only one afternoon of riding the rather docile but regular waves in this beautiful, remote spot.

3. Visit Invercargill

Spending a day in Invercargill can be a welcome change from the hours or days of driving through the vastly unpopulated areas of the Catlins to enjoy a bit of civilisation. Queens Park, with its botanical gardens, is well worth a visit, as is Invercargill’s museum, the Southland Museum and Art Gallery.

It is host to special exhibitions, including a section dedicated to Burt Munro, the famous New Zealand motorcycle racer, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the film The World’s Fastest Indian.

4. Visit Nugget Point and Slope Point

Visit one of New Zealand’s oldest lighthouses at Nugget Point. From the car park, it’s a beautiful 30 minute walk on a path leading visitors along the cliffs to the lighthouse and viewing platform. You may also spot seals and yellow-eyed penguins in the area.

Slope Point is the South Island’s southernmost point. Beyond the steep cliffs, there’s only water, a few tiny uninhabited islands and then the Antarctic. The much photographed signpost is accessible by foot only. It's about a 20 minute walk on a path through farmers' meadows from the car park.

5. Visit the Purakaunui Falls

These waterfalls are easily accessible from the nearby carpark on a well-built path leading visitors through beech and podocarp forest. The viewing platform allows for stunning views of the waterfalls that cascade over 3 tiers.

6. Visit the Cathedral Caves

These magnificent, 30-metre high caves are accessible at low tide only, so you need to check tides on their website or information centre. Access to the caves is on a path that leads through podocarp forest and a short walk along the beach. It takes about half an hour to reach the caves.

7. Visit The Lost Gypsy Gallery

All this spectacular natural beauty can be tiring, so if you feel like seeing some man-made oddities and be in the company of people again, take a brief stop at The Lost Gypsy Gallery.

Essentially, the main part of the gallery is located in an old bus converted into a showroom for automated gadgets made out of pieces of scrap metal or other recycled materials.

Sounds weird? It certainly is, and equally entertaining. You enter a world of odd, funny and tempting gizmos and toys that dares you to press this button or flick that switch to leave you marvelling at its creator’s ingenuity.

Be warned, all those objects and hidden jokes may keep you entertained for a few hours.