Catlins – Nugget Point – stunning views
All of New Zealand makes me smile; there are hundreds of places which make my heart sing but there is only one place which awakens in me something I have never experienced anywhere else – the Catlins. It is my favourite place in the world!
Tourists rarely come here. Perhaps because it means taking a diversion from the main roads; perhaps because it is wild and rugged; perhaps because it is a well-kept secret. Whatever the reason, if you are a nature lover you will fall in love with the Catlins. If you enjoy escaping the hordes and getting off the most well-trodden tourist trails then the Catlins is your number one must-do in New Zealand.
1) Jack’s Blowhole
After a walk over sheep grazing land and 200 metres from the sea you can arrive at Jack’s Blowhole. At first it just looks like a giant hole in the land – the result of a collapsed underground cavern long ago. But when the tide is high and there are big ocean swells on then something amazing happens. Sea water surges up the underground tunnels and then explodes in a cascade of spray out of the hole.
2) Slope Point
Here you will be at the most southerly point of mainland New Zealand with a signpost which tells you ‘South Pole – 4803 km’ downwards and ‘The Equator – 5140 km’ upwards. The coastline here is a series of tall cliffs which drop off dramatically to the Southern Ocean below where, if you keep your eyes peeled, you may spot whales and dolphins passing by.
The area is full of trees which for all the world look to be growing sideways, as if frozen in time from the moment when a hurricane passed through. This is a result of the almost constant prevailing winds which over time sculpt the Macrocarpas trees into their eerily strange shapes.
3) Porpoise Bay
This large sweeping crescent of beach and ocean known as Porpoise Bay is where the rarest and smallest marine dolphin in the world lives for several months of the year. The black and white Hector’s dolphin, which is found only in the coastal waters of New Zealand, can be seen most days and when the water is especially calm you can stand on the headland and see them swimming beneath the surface.
My favourite sight of all is watching the mothers teach their tiny babies to surf – exploding out the backs of the waves at the last moment just as you are convinced they are going to beach themselves.
There is a small shop and tea room here which is part of the basic but wonderful Curio Bay Camp-site and a very short walk brings you to Curio Bay itself (see entry 5).
4) Cathedral Caves
The walk through the forest and along the beach is pretty special but what lies at the end is even more so – a series of sea caves and rock arches with impressively high ceilings giving a cathedral-like atmosphere, hence the name. One of the ceilings is 30 metres high and the acoustics are impressive. The caves can only be accessed at low tide and are sometimes shut for days at a time when there have been storms or super high tides.
5) Curio Bay
At low tide you can wander across the rocks here and trace out trees and tree stumps where in places the wood grain is so pronounced that it is hard to believe you are looking at stone and not wood. These are the remains of a 180 million year old petrified forest. Fern and other plant fossils can be found if you are up to the challenge.
There is a viewing platform which gives you a bird’s eye view of the forest as well as interpretation boards explaining what you are seeing. If you wait on this platform at dusk you will see the rare Yellow-eyed penguins come ashore and work their way over the rocks to their nests in the bushes.
Porpoise Bay is just the other side of the headland – literally a few minutes’ walk away.
6) Nugget Point
Here, where the land ends abruptly, dropping down dramatically in a series of jagged rocks and islets, there is a lighthouse. The views from here are incredible but usually the reason people come here is to see the New Zealand fur seals, hooker sea lions and Southern elephant seals which make the rocks their home. If you time it right you can watch the mother seals teaching their new born babies to swim in the rock pools.
7) Cannibal Bay/Surat Bay
Although these bays are beautiful in their own right, the big draw here is the hooker sea lions which loll about on the beach or snooze in the dunes. These very large sea mammals might look docile and slow but get too close and you will see how wrong you can be. Their flippers swivel round (unlike seals) and act like little legs on which they can move surprisingly fast for such cumbersome looking creatures.
8) Bush Walks
Although much of what the Catlins is known for is found around the coast, the area also extends inland to the Catlins Forest Park. Here you can get up close and personal with nature through a range of walks and explorations for all levels of fitness and ability. If you want to you can get lost for days, camping out overnight underneath the stars or alternatively you can choose a short stroll on well-maintained trails and board-walks. Local i-SITES have maps and all the information you need.
9) Purakanui Falls
Possibly one of the most easily accessed waterfalls, Purakanui Falls is a very short walk from the roadside. The falls are a three-tiered cascade which drops into a pretty pool – the image is so picturesque it is one which appears over and again on tourist literature. Matai Falls and McLean Falls are two more waterfalls which have relatively easy access and with the latter bush glow worms can be spotted winking away if you make the trip around dusk.
10) Roaring Bay
A short walk from Nugget Point will bring you to yet another wild bay where a small hide has been erected on the cliff side. Here you can watch the rare Yellow eyed penguins come ashore around dusk to make their way to their bush-setting nests which they leave every morning to search for food. Occasionally you might see someone else here but it is far more common to have the hide all to yourself.
There is an excellent Catlins map and guide which details all of these sights listed here and many more besides which can be downloaded from www.catlinsnz.com or alternatively you can pick up a free copy at an i-SITE (tourist information centre).
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