The Catlins are known as one of the most beautiful areas in New Zealand, remaining nearly untainted by the modern world. After our adventure at Clifden Caves, we headed east past Invercargill along the Southern Scenic Route spending the next two days along the coastline.

Curio Bay was one of the highlights along the Caitlins shoreline. Home to a Jurassic Fossil Forest, a beautiful sweeping beach where Hector dolphins play and resident yellow eyed penguins nest – not many places offer so much in one place!

Porpoise Bay

The famous 180 million year old petrified forest is recognized as one of the most extensive and least disturbed Jurassic Fossil Forests in the world. The tidal shelf is littered with petrified logs from ancient conifers that were buried by volcanic mud flows and gradually replaced by silica to produce the fossils now exposed by the sea.

Mostly blocked off for protection, it was pretty incredible to get so close to such a fossil gem. Amazing to think there was a forest there at one point!

Petrified Jurassic Forest

Taking a stroll along the tidal shelf along Porpoise Bay, the waves were crashing against the rocks, sending water splashing into the sky. It reminded me of the cove around the point at my cottage in Nova Scotia – we would always go for a walk during a storm to watch the waves as they smashed along the rocks.

Waves crash along the rocky reef

Giant bull kelp (or Durvillaea Antarctica) was scattered all along the shoreline. The dominant seaweed in southern New Zealand, it was mesmerizing to watch it flow like a giants head of hair in the water – I definitely wouldn’t want to get tangled up in it!

Kristina in search of dolphins in the distance

Porpoise Bay is home to the playful endangered Hector Dolphins known for surfing the waves inside the cove. Excited for the opportunity to swim with these rare dolphins, we decided to brave the FREEZING cold waters for a chance to see them up close (unfortunately the shop that normally rents wetsuits and surfboards was closed for the Easter weekend – so our only option was our swim suits!).

Braving the freezing cold waters

Although we didn’t actually get to see the dolphins up close when we were in the water, some folks who were watching us from the shore said we must have been just 15 feet away – just out of sight on the other side of the crashing waves. If only we had our surfboards we could have cruised out to meet them! Definitely need to come back here again!

Hector Dolphin playfully rides the waves

The Catlins have some beautiful waterfalls which are easily accessible by a short paths through the bush just off the Southern Scenic Route. McLean’s falls is a spectacular 22m falls along the Tautuku River in Catlins Conservation Park. The water cascades down the rock ledges extending the falls even further down the river.

McLean’s Falls

Just down the road are the Matai Falls located in the Table Hill Scenic Reserve. A brief 10 min walk through the regenerating podocarp and broadleaf forest, the Matai Falls are accompanied by the Horseshoe Falls just above which are fed by water in nearly all directions.

Matai Falls

The Pūrākaunui Falls is New Zealand’s most photographed waterfall. Located in the Catlins Forest Park this three-tiered falls is often seen on calendars and postcards due to is natural beauty. Despite it being a popular destination we were lucky enough to experience it all to ourselves nestled in the quiet beech forest.

Pūrākaunui Falls

The drive along the coast was filled with beautiful views like this at the Florence Hill Lookout. Boy Jordan was wishing he had his surfboard this trip – look at those lines!!

Stunning views at Florence Hill Lookout

Just before sunset we made our last stop at Nugget Point. A 10min drive down a coastal dirt road, the climb to the top was worth it for the views! The rustic historic lighthouse sitting atop the steep headland provides views in all directions.

Sunset at Nugget Point

Below the lighthouse are a scattering of rocky islets (or nuggets – hence the name) that are home to hundreds of fur seals playing in the rock pools. Somewhere beyond the horizon lies Antarctica which is one place on our list we would love to see!

Rocky ‘Nuggets’ below the Nugget Point Lighthouse

I just couldn’t get enough of this place – the view at sunset was incredible and the sound of the smooth rocks on the beach below rolling as the waves crashed on the beach could have put me to sleep! This quickly become one of my favorite spots!

Nugget Point Cove

Just before sunset we ventured down to Roaring Bay towards the Penguin Hide in hopes of catching a glimpse of the penguin colony. Sure enough just after we arrived we spotted a little black figure splashing in the waves – a cute little Yellow Eyed Penguin! He waddled his way up the beach and began to groom himself for the next half hour as we watched on. No other penguins made it to shore before dark, but we were stoked to have seen one come onto the beach at least!

Yellow-eyed Penguin at Roaring Bay

The Catlins sure lived up to it’s reputation as a beautiful wildlife filled coastal drive, however it also had some of the weirdest attractions we’ve been in New Zealand! Just outside Papatowai was The Lost Gypsy Gallery. Located inside an old house bus it is a creative place of wonder with gadgets and gizmos made mostly from natural or recycled materials.  An interactive trinket gallery that gained national attention when it won the Museum and Galleries award in 2013, everything inside can be pushed, pressed, touched and played with – you can seriously amuse yourself for hours in there!

The Lost Gypsy Gallery

Another quirky attraction was TeaPot land and Dolly World in Owaka. A personal collection of over 800 teapots, it definitely catches your attention along the route! Dolly World is also next door which has toys and trinkets lining the windows and entrance to the doll, teddy bear and toy museum.

So if you’re looking for a few unique stops be sure to check out these quirky collections along the route!

TeaPot Land
Dolly World