The Catlins part two

With people having told us that the only time to view the Cathedral Caves was at low tide and as this was occurring at 7.30 am so we set off early from the DOC camp towards the caves only to arrive there to discover that we had already missed it with the next opening that evening so that’s one attraction that we missed out on. So without internet reception in the area you are meant to check online before arriving for viewing times.

The Catlins have a number of Beautiful waterfalls that you can view as you make your way along the road with the next ones being the Mclean Falls it’s about 3 kms down a reasonable quality metal road to get there with a large carpark available. These falls are the tallest in the region at 22 metres. I also think they had the highest volume of water running across them. The water appeared to be very full of tannin and given the density of the forest I guess that’s not surprising. The colour of the water reminded me of the Coca Cola lakes in Northland.

Yet again the walk too and from the falls takes you through a stand of native bush that has just hundreds of shades of green on display from all the different plant species. You would imagine that botanists would be in 7th heaven as they walked the track.

From the tallest falls in the region to the smallest the Niagara Falls, yes that’s right Niagara Falls they looked more like a rapid than falls to me but apparently the shape of the “falls”closely resembles the real thing hence the name. Not worth turning off the road for!

We had however already turned off the road to get to the NZMCA camp at Niagara (#9451) another handy spot well positioned to a number of the local attractions and with the hard stand area you wouldn’t have to worry about getting bogged down at anytime. With a large shed there is also space to socialise if the weather turned adverse whilst you visited.

As we arrived at the camp the farm around the camp was being crop dusted with the plane taking off directly across the road from the camp. These pilots are so brave flying just above the power lines circling down dropping the load flying back to reload and off again all in a matter of minutes. We found it absolutely fascinating watching, free entertainment.

With the skies the bluest they had been in two weeks it was time to get the bikes out of the back of the van and find some lunch. About 4 kms down the road from the campsite is the village of Waikawa with the caravan selling Blue Cod and Chips I hate to say it but it wasn’t the best we have tasted with the fish @$7.50 a piece and chips at $2.50 a scoop it was also rather expensive at least for the fish.

Next to the takeaways is the settlers museum which we didn’t visit as we hadn’t brought the locks for our bikes and didn’t want to leave them unattended but it looked small but interesting. With lunch eaten we set off on the bikes towards the wharf were the tidal flow underneath was so strong I am stunned that the wharf hasn’t been swept away as it’s now rather old and very rickety in places. It was also interesting to read about the old coach road that used to run at low tide along the foreshore. The sign says that they had built a roadway but when we visited the water was to high to see anything.

We arrived back at the campground to discover Beat & Thip Moser in their Dethleffs Esprit, They have owned their motorhome for around three years and I had quite a discussion with Beat, who originally hailed from Switzerland but had been in NZ as long as me about the joys of owning a Dethleffs.

The next morning was another one of those low tide early morning starts with the best time for viewing the fossilised forest at Curio Bay 2 hours either side of low tide. Since we also like to beat all the other tourists to these sort of things it was nice to arrive there early to discover the place deserted.

The fossilised forest was caused by a volcanic event around 180 million years ago with the mud flow knocking all the trees over and then the high silica content in the flow turning the trees to stone within a very short period. All the little volcano type features you can see in the photo above are the tree stumps left behind after the tree had been snapped off. The trees can be seen lying across the rocks but also in the cliffs nearby it was really interesting and well worth the visit.

It’s a really rugged coastline around parts of the Catlins with Curio Bay having this kelp forest growing right up to the beach. There are also Yellow Eyed penguins at the bay but they where all in hiding on the day we visited which was a little sad as we haven’t had the chance to meet one yet.

Walking through the camp to the headland we both came to the conclusion that we had chosen the best place to stay as the Curio campground had more people camped than any other campground we have seen it was absolutely packed. The view from the headland gives wide sweeping views of the bay in both directions and unlike a lot of the headlands we have visited it was an easy walk to the top. Again well worth it.

For all of the 46 years I have lived in New Zealand I always thought that Bluff was the most southerly point of the South Island even having a treasured photo of Sarah and I with our oldest son taken at the point there. So one huge myth busted when my cousin Jon mentioned Slope Point as the most southerly place.

The road from Curio Bay to the turn off to Slope Point is currently metal road but is being prepared for seal with works underway as we drove along the road, don’t be put off its a good piece of road. From the carpark area at Slope Point its only a 10 minute easy walk to the lighthouse if you can call it that as it’s nowhere near as grand as the others we have encountered.

Judging by the number of people we encountered here v’s all the people we came across the following day in Bluff it’s obvious that most people don’t know about this place.

Next stop around the Catlins was the “proper lighthouse at Waipapa Point “that as we approached I thought looked familiar only to read the signboard to discover that it is identical to the one in the Kaipara Harbour. Sarah and I also both found the DOC sign highly amusing telling us it was 70 metres to the lighthouse Oh we wondered what that big building was in front of us!!!!

Once you reach the top of the small crest the lighthouse is built on you see these stones that form a circle around it. We both thought this made the structure quite unique as no other lighthouse has a base like this.

Oh no it never gets windy here, they tell me. What an awesome sight to see these massive trees so bent over from the wind which luckily for us wasn’t present on the day we visited but with the wind coming straight in from the Antarctic with nothing between to stop it you could just imagine how pleasant it would be here some winter days.

The building in the carpark at the lighthouse not only houses the toilets but also has a number of really interesting picture story boards that tell the history of the lighthouse it’s keepers and the wildlife of the area. It’s worth taking another few minutes just to read all of these.

The final stop on our Catlins adventure was in Fortrose at the mouth of the Mataura River a really quiet sleepy looking place that fronted the river with a mixture of houses. Right next door to the reserve where we parked to take these photos is a freedom camping area and whilst we didn’t stay it looked like it could have been a nice place.


Final word goes to all the whitebait huts that line the Mataura River as we drive away from our time in the Catlins an area of New Zealand that has taken me 46 years to get too but the wait was worth it and it’s won’t be anywhere near as long till I return.

Next stop Bluff


  1. Very interesting pictures and story of a part of NZ that I haven’t been to, though Jon did take me and his parents to see the start of the Catlins. It looks fascinating. You were lucky to have reasonably good weather – didn’t like the look of those trees!

  2. 7.50 for Blue Cod excellent price … 60 bucks a kilo in Wellington supermarkets at the moment! Awesome travels thanks for sharing 😀

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