The Catlins

After our hike on the Routeburn, we had a few days to kill before heading to Dunedin for our dog/house sitting gig, so we decided to head down to the Catlins Coast. This is an area that I have never been to before, so I was excited to do a little exploring there. If you don’t know where the Catlins are, they are on the very southeastern end of the South Island—definitely not on the “See New Zealand in 10 days” itinerary.

“Maori legends tell of the large, hairy monsters which inhabited the forested valleys of the Catlins. Their name was Maeroero, meaning “wild man of the forest” and they were feared by all Maori. Great chiefs of this southern coastline were Tuhawaiki, Taiaroa, and Karetai. Tuhawaiki was perhaps the most colourful character. He was based on Ruapuke Island in Foveaux Strait. He was nicknamed “Bloody Jack” and was known for his honesty and fair dealings.

Swept out to sea by adverse weather, Captain James Cook and his ship, the “Endeavour,” failed to sight The Catlins coast, consequently the first Europeans to land there were sealers and whalers. The only record from that time is Captain Cattlin’s (sic) sketch of the estuary which now bears his name. He claimed a large area of land but was granted only a small block. For a short period whaling stations were based at Tautuku and Waikawa, and in 1844 the “Deborah” skirted the coast with several passengers landing at the Tahakopa River estuary, Tautuku whaling station and Waikawa.”


We rented an Airbnb in Kaka Point called the “Headmasters House” which was part of an old school that has been rehabilitated into a vacation rental. It was pretty nice and was just across the road from the ocean. Sadly, the hot tub was not operational, as that would have been excellent for our still-very-sore bodies. Thankfully, the only real damage I sustained on the Routeburn hike was a mashed toenail that I must have gotten trying to get yet another picture of the stunning scenery. Doh!

Ouchy … gotta watch were I’m going

We got to the Airbnb around 2 pm and the weather was still holding, so we decided to drive out to Nugget Point where there is an old lighthouse and a yellow-eyed penguin colony. Kaka Point is a pretty small place and we had thought about going out for dinner, but the one good restaurant seemed to have been a victim of COVID and the other one didn’t look so appealing. No biggie, we like cooking our own food anyway.

It was a short drive there and then a short walk out to the lighthouse. Although the lighting wasn’t ideal, the place was still pretty photogenic. We cruised around for a while looking down at the seals, sea lions, and spoonbills. I guess the lighthouse is still active (although fully solarized and automated). Some lucky person gets to live in that house and take care of the preserve and suffer with those views every day. I want that job! We stopped by the yellowed-eye penguin colony and didn’t see any. Not that we expected to … shy little critters and all.

No penguins to be seen
Gorgeous all around

The weather was supposed to be pretty grim the following day, so we decided we would do a drive down the coastline and try to do a series of short tramps in between periods of rain. We picked a southern most point, McLean Falls to drive to and then work our way back. Surprisingly, the weather held up pretty well and the views were pretty amazing.

Florence Hill Lookout: nice surf break!

We pulled into a walk that sounded interesting, the “Tautuku Estuary Walkway” and loaded up the camera gear and did that. It was pretty dull, to be honest, and when we got to the viewing platform there was nothing but a mud flat and some marsh grasses to be seen. I don’t think there was a single bird there. Oh well. You win some and you lose some.

The hike into McLean Falls was, as the sign pointed out, 40 minutes return. There were a few other cars in the car park, but it wasn’t very busy. The forest and ferns along the hike were cool with some very odd gnarly trunks.

We passed a few people coming out, but when we got to the falls we had it to ourselves. I worked on taking some pics using all sorts of different settings and my super wide angle lens. I think a few came out pretty good! (see the banner photo). We headed back out just as the sky started to look more threatening.

Purakanui Falls

We decided to drive up to another waterfall, Purakanui Falls, which had a short 30 minute return walk. The weather was definitely looking ready to soak us to a squishy, so we pulled out the rain coats just in case. It was a pretty walk with some really big, old-growth native trees in there. The falls was nice, but nothing special.

The rain moved in and we boogied back to Otis and headed home. It was a short, relaxing, and low key visit to the Catlins. Probably worth coming back and exploring more in-depth, but was a good 2-day getaway, relax after the Routeburn. One of the things that’s been great about this trip is we’ve been able to explore a lot of places that would have been hard on a shorter vacation … even if we end up with a few Tautuku Estuary Walkways now and again.

Cheers to that!

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