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The Catlins: New Zealand’s Rugged Coastal Paradise

The Catlins: New Zealand’s Rugged Coastal Paradise

After gorging on paradise white sand beaches in Asia, I couldn’t help but think about the coastal areas in my own neck of the woods. A world away in both distance and looks, the rugged stretch of coast just south of Dunedin (my home town) known as the Catlins is somehow just as stunning. On a recent trip back home I explored the Catlins coast better than I ever did when I lived in New Zealand. This is what I found.

Nugget point

This section of coastline is pretty incredible – little nuggets of rock jut out of a small green peninsula housing nothing but an old lighthouse. The sea is wild in these parts and the views are amazing; you really get a sense of the power and beauty of the Catlins coast. The lighthouse is a short walk from the car park but it can get pretty cold and windy, even in summer.


Roaring Bay

Close to Nugget Point, Roaring Bay is your best bet for seeing yellow eyed penguins in the Catlins region. There’s a small hut where you can hang out and wait for a penguin — we weren’t lucky enough to see any but sightings are apparently quite common if you’re patient. The rocky cliffs, windblown trees and angry ocean make Roaring Bay worth a visit even if you don’t have time to hang around waiting for penguins.


Purakaunui falls

The short walk through the forest to the Purakaunui Falls adds some great variety to a Catlins day trip. The three-tiered falls aren’t particularly big but they are scenic — mostly due to the surrounding sea of trees and moss.


Curio Bay

Curio bay is the most popular spot for surfing in the Catlins; I reckon you’d need a pretty good wet suit though as the water looks freezing. We didn’t see many humans out surfing but we did see some dolphins playing in the waves close to shore. The coastal scenery around Curio Bay is some of the most rugged in the Catlins and there is even a petrified forest on a nearby beach; we only caught a glimpse of it though as the tide was high.



I actually went to this area of the Catlins on a school camp. All I remember from those days was a tough and muddy bushwalk and cold, grey weather. This time around we didn’t hang around too long, but we did stop on the hill above the beach for some photos — it’s a great spot when the sun is shining.



Papatowai is a typical seaside camping ground, the likes of which you’ll find throughout the country. Go there during the Christmas/new year period and I bet it’ll be full of local holidaymakers barbequing up some sausages.  Papatowai feels very local but I’m sure international tourists frequent it too, and outside of long weekends and holidays it seems like it gets really quiet.


The Lost Gypsy Gallery

This place was an unexpected surprise. It’s a small shed and garden area full of homemade feats of engineering and art. Almost every little model/toy has a lever or a switch that makes it do something weird. It’s a fun trying them all out and you can also buy some of the owner’s crazy inventions. The museum is close to Curio Bay; look out for the big mechanical whale outside.


Getting around the Catlins

The Catlins is an area of New Zealand best explored with your own vehicle. A lot of people hire campervans and stay in the various camping grounds along the coast. You could spent anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks doing it — there’s a lot to explore and if you get good weather there are plenty of places to relax and take it slow. We went to the Catlins on a day trip from Dunedin with my Mum; you can’t beat free transport and some inside knowledge! Assuming your mother can’t take you and you can’t drive yourself, it’s also possible to do day tours to the Catlins from Dunedin.

What is your favourite stretch of coastline? Have you been to New Zealand? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.

Lydia Trauttenberg

Monday 14th of December 2015

Very interested in the Catlins New Zealand. Thanks!

Jon Algie

Thursday 17th of December 2015

Thanks for reading Lydia.


Thursday 15th of October 2015

Oh I loved New Zealand - I've only ever been in winter so too cold for water activities! Their beaches are stunning though! Great photography :) Simone x

Jon Algie

Thursday 15th of October 2015

Thanks Simone -- it's usually too cold for water activities in summer too!