Catlins Southland

Visit The Catlins, Southland, NZ

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  • The Catlins region, at the extreme south-east of the South Island, is an area of outstanding natural beauty and wildlife that has grown as a tourist destination in recent decades.

    The Catlins extends along approximately 60 km of coastline and up to 40 km inland. It is a sparsely-populated area, with most of its industry associated with pastoral farming among parallel lines of rolling mountains.

    The coastline is notable for its ancient volcanic rock formations, and for its often wild oceanic weather and large waves, both the cause of many shipwrecks early in New Zealand’s colonial history, from the times of whalers and sealers to the early days of meat and wool trade.

    Accommodation in The Catlins (NZ)

    There are accommodation options throughout the Catlins region, especially at Owaka, its largest town, which has motels, bed & breakfast establishments and holiday homes for rent.

    Lodges and and farm-style accommodation are found throughout the Catlins. There are also holiday parks for camping, and backpacker lodges at popular holiday destinations, such as Kaka Point, Curio Bay.

    Transport around The Catlins

    The Catlins region has only one major road, the “Southern Scenic Route”, which connects with Invercargill, to the west, and Dunedin, to the north.

    Other routes within the region are often unsealed, gravel roads that are nevertheless navigable in an ordinary car.

    Tourist Activities around The Catlins

    Two often-visited coastal features of geological interest are the 160 million year old petrified forest, at Curio Bay, and the nearby Cathedral Caves. Much of the coast is bounded by high cliffs, which cause rivers to cascade in waterfalls, such as the spectacular Purakaunui Falls, to reach the sea.

    The Catlins Forest Park is the largest remaining area of podocarp forest on the east coast of the South Island. It is home to a great variety of bird and reptile life, including rare bird species such as the kakariki and yellowhead, the Southern Forest Gecko, and the native long-tailed bat. A number of local wildlife tour guides organise trips for bird watching etc.

    The region provides great opportunities for walking, especially on the coast, where two lighthouses stand, built in 1869 and 1884. Visitors may be able to see evidence of old shipwrecks. There are also good walks around a number of small lakes inland, including Catlins Lake and Lake Wilkie.

    Wildlife at the coast includes rare sea birds such as the mollymawk and gannet, and estuarine species, such as herons, bitterns, stilts, oystercatchers and the extremely rare fernbird and yellow-eyed penguin.

    Seals, sea lions and, occasionally, whales can be seen at the coast. The very rare, small, native hector’s dolphin is also found here, delighting people with its acrobatic displays swimming and surfing.

    In recent years, the Catlins coast has become known for its big wave surfing, attracting surfers from around the world.

    • Scroll down for Catlins accommodation & activity options


    Catlins Southland