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Southern Scenic Road Trip: Wildlife Safari Road Trip, The Catlins

Travel pack information

Kaka Point lookout Kaka Point lookout

A reserve to protect 10% of the mainland population was set up in 2007 at Long Point near Owaka in the Catlins. Roaring Bay Hide next to Nugget Point is another place you can spot the Yellow Eyed Penguins.The Yellow Eyed Penguin known as a ‘Hoiho’ in Maori is so iconic that it features on the New Zealand $5 dollar note.

Interesting facts

  • Up to 80 cm tall and weighing up to 8kg the males are bigger and live longer up to 20 years.
  • They don’t nest in visual sight of each other and normally on a slope in forest, scrub, or on beaches facing the sea.
  • Nest sites are picked in August and normally 2 eggs laid in September with incubation lasting up to 50 days.
  • For the first 6 weeks, one parent guards the chicks while the other hunts for food. When chicks are around 4 months old they become independent.
  • First breeding occurs at 3-4 years old and long term partnerships are formed – penguins are famously monogamous with one partner for life.
  • They eat fish like blue cod and jellyfish (as described by Our Wildlife)



Sea lions bathing on the beach at Waipapa point, Catlins

Sea Lions (Hooker’s Sea Lion or Whakahao)

New Zealand sea lions are the most endangered and threatened in The World.

  • They are one of the largest New Zealand animals with the males up to 3.5 metres long and up to 450 kg in weight – females are almost half the size and weight.
  • Males have darker and longer hair down to their shoulders.
  • They tend to return to the same sites.
  • They have started to breed again in The Catlins after 150 years of breeding exclusively on remote islands.
  • They eat squid, octopus, fish, shellfish, seabirds and other marine mammals.
  • Sea lions are hunted and preyed on by Great White Sharks.
  • Sea lions can get caught in squid nets which has led to new technology to prevent this happening.
  • The mainland population is estimated to reach 1000 by 2044.
  • Best places to see sea lions in The Catlins: Nugget Point, Surat and Cannibal bays, Jack’s Bay, Purakaunui Bay. You may also see fur seals at these spots, while elephant seals can often be seen at Nugget Point. (as described by Our Wildlife)

Hector’s Dolphins

  • The World’s smallest dolphins are around 1.5 metres in length and up to 60 kg in weight, with females being both slightly longer and heavier.
  • Famous for their rounded dorsal fins.
  • They look grey from a distance but are far more colourful with light and dark grey, black, and creamy white.
  • Hector calves are up to 80 cm long and 10 kg with vertical pale stripes until 6 months old.
  • Hector’s Dolphins often stay in shallow water down to 100 metres.
  • The biggest threat is fishing and getting trapped in nets which has led to marine protection areas being set up.
  • The best places to see these lovely creatures are at Nugget Point or Curio Bay. (as described by Our Wildlife)
Hector's Dolphins @Whalewatch



Consult Ten waterfalls & caves of The Catlins, what to see, guide: NZ Jane to customise your proposed road trip.


Interested in the outdoors and nature walks with family, friends and kids check here 11 family walks & birding hot spots of The Catlins, guide: NZ Jane for details.


The Catlins are worth the journey.

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