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The Catlins, New Zealand @Audley Travel 4 days 3 nights

The Catlins road trip:
4 days Southland exploration

Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
Length: 200 km (excluding detours)
Start: Balclutha
Finish: Invercargill
Best time to visit: Drizzle makes the Catlins wildlife flourish, expect abrupt changes, even in peak season (summer). Between December to March is the best time to visit. For nature lovers of wildlife check the breeding season for peak viewing time. The average winter temperature is 10c however when the southerly winds batter the coast clothing layers and waterproof coats are recommended.
Driving tips in the Catlins: While most of the roads are sealed there are few petrol stations (Owaka has 24/7 self-service pumps) it is recommended you fill up before departing either Balclutha or Dunedin for your southern scenic road journey.
  • New Zealand fur seals dominate the beaches
  • Penguins waddle undisturbed to their nests
  • Rugged sharp faced wild coastal landscapes
  • Waterfalls to match the tempestuous nature of the Catlins
  • Awesome action adventures on horseback or sea kayaking await

Where are the Catlins

Dunedin to Balclutha to Catlins to Invercargill: 236 km, 3 hours

About Trip
The Catlins road trip
4 days Southland exploration

The Catlins, what are you waiting for…

  • Want an untouched scenic drive?
  • Want to visit a part of New Zealand that encapsulates the great outdoors?

The Catlins is the region between Balclutha and Invercargill / Bluff. Located about an hour’s drive from Dunedin it is where winter wild and summer fair reign. The climate could be offputting for some visitors. The Catlins are not the tropics, rather the area is a mild summer day folded into a cool mist the next. Who wants cocktails on a balmy beach when visitors have massive sea lions to gawp at.

The Catlins @Country Views

Day One
Departure from Balclutha
Landscapes of the Catlins

Balclutha to Awakiki Bush Reserve to Kaka Point to Nugget Point Lighthouse to Roaring Bay (wildlife), Cannibal Bay (wildlife), Tunnel Hill, Pounawaea Motor Camp (overnight).

Today is scenery, wildlife and the wild rugged landscapes of the Catlins. The Catlins is home to the smallest penguin, the smallest dolphin and the most endangered sea lion. Lots of reasons to spend time observing their natural habitat and experience the joy of sharing moments with New Zealand’s wildlife. Your overnight stay is enhanced with the song of birds hearlding the day with a dawn chorus.

The Catlins @NZ Pocket Guide

Stay: Bird Watchers Delight

Pounawea Motor Camp @TripAdvisor

Pounawea Motor Camp. Perhaps one of the favourite camping grounds in New Zealand due to its location within a bush clad area, the proximity to the sea and the extensive facilities. In peak season it is often fully booked, forward bookings are essential. Birdlife is a feature of the motor camp and the surrounding estuary. The native Tui and Bellbird (komako) with their full throated chorus are regular entertainment. You have opportunities to view native Tomtits (miromiro) the Grey Warblers (riroriro) And large numbers of native Wood Pigeons (kukupa) both in the camp and out on the reserve.

Day Two
Early rising
To view bird life

Pounawea Bush walks, to Surat Bay to Owaka, to Orokonui lagoon (birding), to Jacks Blowhole, to Purakaaunui Falls to Matai Falls to Estuary walkway (birding) to Papatowai Traills Tractor (heritage fans) (Fleming River Bridge).

Migratory Godwits @Kiwi Nomad’s Wanderings

Stay: Option One

Purakaunui Bay Camping Site @Auckland i-SITE

Purakaunui Bay Camping Site

Purakaunui Bay conservation camping grounds are first come, first served. The site is idyllic however it is basic. There are no powered sites. Here are the details from DOC …

Striking cliff faces can be seen and Purakaunui Falls are not far. There is a good surf beach south of the camp. Cosgrove Island, a wildlife refuge, is off the coast and Jacks Blowhole is 10 km to the north. Getting there: Turn off SH1 at Balcutha. Drive south past Owaka until Ratanui turnoff. Follow Purakaunui Falls Rd to Long Point Rd, then follow Purakaunui Bay Rd to end. Narrow and gravel road.

Stay: Option Two

Papatowai Beach Motels & Store @Southland, New Zealand

Papatowai Store The Catlins New Zealand. The store that has everything but the actual thing you forgot to pack. A warm welcome complete with standard motel units that are sparkling clean. Papatowai is surrounded by native podocarp forest and there are waterfalls,and sandy beaches in addition to bushwalks. Papatowai is home to the quirky Lost Gypsy Gallery. The Lost Gypsy Gallery, a long green bus is a whimsical place, Blair owner and creator describes himself as ‘an organic mechanic’ Forward bookings are recommended for accommodation as there is a limited supply. Wifi is unreliable in this area.

Day Three
Florence Hill Lookout
MacLean Falls Walkway, Cathedral Cove, Waikawa to Curio Bay

Florence Hill Lookout to MacLean Falls Walkway (scenery) to Cathedral Cove (scenery) to Waikawa to Curio Bay (scenery / wildlife)

Your day will be dominated by the tides with either an early start or a rush to Cathedral Cove coupled with a desire to view a fossiled forest only visible at low tide.Keep an eye out for lookouts such as Florence Hill as are worth pulling over to stretch your legs. The view of the wild coastal landscape is just spectacular. MacLean Falls is another favourite for waterfall fans with today being the day where the tide is crucial. You can only visit Cathedral Caves at low tide as these gigantic caves flooded at high tide. You can juggle your time with an exploration of the Waikawa Museum photographic collection.

Curio Bay @Department of Conservation


Curio Bay Accommodation @TripAdvisor

Curio Bay Accommodation – is another glorious beach front location with choices between standard to comfortable motel units.  Forward bookings are strongly recommended in the peak season (Spring to Summer).

Day Four
Curio Bay
To Waipohatu Reserve to Invercargill

Today is a chance to have a photocall at the furthestmost southern point and to ponder the fate of shipwrecks. The dramatic coast has another lighthouse to walk around while the constant roar of the surf reminds visitors of the wild meets southern oceans. Perhaps the tides mean a return to Curio Bay to check out fossilised forests now hidden on the rocky shoreline. You will arrive in Invercargill mid afternoon.

Waipapa Point Lighthouse @intrepidlife

Travel Pack Information

Old Coach Road @MiroPark

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.

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