Road-Tripping The Catlins

The Catlins is a stunningly beautiful, wildlife-populated area in the Otago and Southland regions of Southern New Zealand. Emmett and I have taken two trips there now, both times via car. We've done a few short hikes and explored some of the beautiful sights along the coast. Here are some highlights from our Catlins road-tripping; listed in order from South to North on the Southern Scenic Route.

Ino Shipwreck at Fortrose

The first town in the Catlins region is Fortrose. At Fortrose, there is an old shipwreck called Ino that ran aground in 1886. Not much is left of the ship after so many years, but what is there you can not only see but walk on (respectfully). 

Waipapa Point

At Waipapa Point, we checked out the lighthouse, walked the rocky coast, and peeked at sleeping sea lions. Emmett made a joke while we were there that he wanted me to share: "Why do they call them sea lions? Because you always see them lyin' around."

Porpoise Bay

Porpoise Bay is known for being a place where friendly and rare Hector's dolphins play. At feeding time, you can swim out and find yourselves surrounded by the little dolphins. We didn't see but one fin in the distance while we were there but apparently it's the wrong season for them to be around. Instead, we enjoyed walking the lovely beach and scrambling over the rocks underneath the nearby cliffs.

Petrified Forest at Curio Bay

At low tide in Curio Bay, the sea exposes a 180 million year old forest petrified in stone. At first it feels like you're standing on any old beach rocks but then you realize they're not rocks but stumps and logs, with the wood grain still clearly visible. 

Not only that but there are yellow-eyed penguins that nest in the area. We were lucky enough to be able to see four penguins while we were there, our second time seeing the rare species.

Niagara Falls

New Zealand's Niagara Falls were named with the typical cheeky Kiwi sense of humor. As you can see, they are a much smaller drop compared to their 52-meter namesake in North America.

McLean Falls

McLean Falls can be accessed by a relatively easy 40 minute round-trip hike. The falls have one 90 degree drop and then three flowing tiers below that. They're really beautiful, mesmerizing falls. On the track back, we noticed a totally random and seemingly magical goat sitting in a bit of sunshine.

Tautuku Bay

We didn't actually get a chance to visit the beach at Tautuku Bay, but we saw it from above at the Florence Hill Lookout and it seems lovely. If you're road-tripping the Catlins and taking your time like we did, you have to cut some sights out of your itenirary.

Nugget Point & Roaring Bay

At Nugget Point, we saw the lighthouse in it's jaw-dropping surroundings and looked at a fur seal colony from above. Then, at nearby Roaring Bay, we saw yellow-eyed penguins for the first time. For more about Nugget Point and Roaring Bay and the wildlife, check out this post.

Scenic Views and Farm Stands, Everywhere in the Catlins

The Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins is literally that - scenic. Very scenic. It's got just about every type of scenery you'd expect of New Zealand, minus snow-capped mountains: pastoral sheep-laden hills, cliff-studded coastline, rain forest... Needless to say, it's a very beautiful drive. 

Beyond the views, Emmett and I were delighted to find that there were numerous farm stands with honesty boxes on the roadside selling fresh produce and other homegrown goods. We bought fresh eggs from the little lawn-mower stand above for only $4 a dozen - unheard of here in NZ - and the second-to-last bag of tomatoes also $4, from the stand in the middle. (Unfortunately there were no more new potatoes or peas in a pod). The eggs and the tomatoes are delicious, FYI.


If you ever visit Southern New Zealand and are interested in picturesque views and wildlife encounters, definitely make a trip to the Catlins. I highly recommend it. It's still somewhat of an up-and-coming tourist destination and feels a bit more unspoiled & untamed than some of the other highly-photographed regions of the country.


The Catlins: New Zealand's Best Kept Secret and Why You Should Visit
Why the Catlins is worth a visit on your next road trip around New Zealand's South Island