Wildlife adventures in the Catlins, New Zealand

New Zealand sea lion

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted about my travels, but my latest trip was just too good not to share.

After completing the Milford Track Great Walk (hopefully if I get into the swing of things that might be another post) we did our usual and had a bit of a road-trip. This time it was heading south to the Catlins.

The Catlins truely is a hidden gem in New Zealand. So much that I almost don’t want to show you what it was like. We split our trip between the north and the south ends, few days near Nugget Point and few more nights in Curio/Porpoise Bay.

Day 1: Kaka Point and Nugget Point

To start off with we stayed in a cute spot overlooking the Estuary from a hill. Then we went to check out the Tunnel Hill Historic Railway (1879-1971) which was kinda interesting to spot through grassy hills.

Tui from our accomodation

Then it was off to Kaka Point, which mainly consisted of Sea lion spotting…

New Zealand sea lion

Then onwards to check out Nugget Point’s lighthouse. We spotted lots of Royal Spoonbills nesting on an island near it, but the best view was of the islands out the back of the lighthouse.

Nugget Point lighthouse from Kaka Point
Path leading up to Nugget Point lighthouse
View from the lighthouse at Nugget Point

Day 2: Surat Bay, Spoonbills and Waterfalls

Day 2 we drove around spotting wildlife, going for beach walks and checking out waterfalls. We tried to keep to the north end so we could make the most of the south end as we moved down.

Surat Bay
Surat Bay looking towards the hills – moody morning
Large male sea lion at Surat Bay
Royal Spoonbill near Hinahina
Royal Spoonbill near Jacks Bay
Purakaunui Bay

Purakaunui Bay was a very popular camping spot and filled with surfers, the view of the cliffs along the beach was pretty amazing.

Not far from there was Purakaunui Falls. Not the ‘top waterfall’ of the trip, but quite pretty, would be amazing after a decent rainfall.

Purakaunui Falls

We also visited Matai Falls and Horseshoe falls, but sadly they didn’t deserve a photo.

Day 3: Travelling to Curio Bay

It was a mix of farmlands and forest on the way to Curio Bay. When you walked in the forest it was magic, so many birds and beautiful plants and trees. But it always backed onto farmland which was a bit sad. On the upside, as you moved down the coast the views were incredible!

Walking amongst ancient Moa Hunters
Beach at Papatowai

The Old Coach Road forest walk went along as estuary, through coastal bush to a beach. Traces of moa hunters being there were found along the way.

trees along the beach at Papatowai

Next up was one of the best lunch spots – Florence Hill Lookout.

Florence Hill Lookout

Onwards to Tautuku Board Walk we were in for a treat of bird life!

Tautuku Board Walk
Fantail bird near Tautuku

Curio Bay

We landed in Curio Bay with a sunny afternoon. Stopped in at our studio on the beach, opened up the doors to the beach and what did we see? Hectors dolphins!

This was to be one of the best spots in New Zealand in good weather (which we had for most of the trip). You could see a pod of hectors dolphins (must have been 20+) surfing waves, jumping up and down the beach and cruising around. Hence the name of the bay we stayed at being called Porpoise Bay.

When the dolphins were hiding, you’d often see a sea lion surf a wave or chilling on the beach. Plenty of people were in the surf with the wildlife, but it was just a quick dip for me. Cups of tea on the deck looking out at the dolphins, sea lions or birds was pretty amazing over the next few days.

Hectors dolphins surfing waves
Hectors dolphin jumping
Hectors dolphin jumping take 2
Sea lion a little too interested in people on the beach
Sea lion deciding it was swimming time
In the midst of surfing the sea lion looking around for people
Tui near Porpoise Bay

While those shots were over the course of a few days let me get back to our road-tripping…

Day 4: Mirror lake, Giant caves, Amazing waterfalls

First stop – early morning visit to Lake Wilkie. It’s no Lake Matheson but it did have a reflection…

Lake Wilkie
Cathedral Caves

Cathedral Caves did cost, owned by local Iwi, but it was worth doing. It was a decent walk down and more decent walk up, but we took it in our stride after having just done a great walk. The caves were giant, there was two entrances that were like a horseshoe. You could hear penguins up inside hiding away too.

Cathedral Caves

Our favourite waterfalls were next: McLean Falls. Well worth walking right up to the top, amazing views.

McLean Falls

We finished the day off at Curio Bay headland which was a great view over Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay.

Day 5: Slope Point, Fortrose and Waipapa Point Lighthouse

This was our last day of our adventures, from here it was a few lazy days as we expected rain to potentially come.

Slope Point is the most southern point of mainland New Zealand (we’ll be checking our the further south point of Stewart Island in the near future too). The trees here were definitely on a slope, I wouldn’t have like to visit in high winds!

Slope point

Fortrose was where there was a shipwreck, but to be honest this wasn’t really worth the visit, it was a few sticks in the sand. Lunch over the headland was still lovely though.

Our final spot to visit was the Waipapa Point Lighthouse, it had some interesting information on boards and sea lions are often found around there too.

Waipapa Point Lighthouse

Final days: Curio Bay

Curio Bay itself has a lot to offer. Some lovely forest walks, evening spotting of Yellow-eyed Penguins and a petrified forest to walk around.

Curio Bay Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest
Yellow eyed penguin

The Yellow eyed penguin is very endangered and very few spots are left to see them in New Zealand due to the rising temperatures of the sea water. It was sad to read about them, but incredible to spot them a couple of nights in a row as they came home waddling over the petrified forest.

Yellow eyed penguin
Variable Oystercatcher
New Zealand Fur Seal at the Petrified Forest
Tui snacking near the deck

Finally a little treat post yellow eyed penguin spotting, was seeing the little blue penguins come home late to their nests under the decks.

Little blue penguins

Blue penguins

The Catlins was one of the best New Zealand road trips I’ve done. We saw so much wildlife and had incredible weather. With New Zealand’s borders shut it was remote and pretty quiet. It was lovely staying in nature away from the cities.