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Road trip in the Catlins

01 September 2021

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There is something seductive about the frayed possibilities of land's end. Gondwana's remnants of buckled land are clothed with verdant pastures of sheep, interspersed with ancient forests, fairy-tale waterfalls and ragged cliffs where rocky creches offer refuge to fur seals, sea lions and the world's rarest penguins.

The Catlins, on the Southern Scenic Route that straddles Otago and the Southlands, is this end-of-land enigma.

The winding road that hugs the shores of the feisty Southern Ocean, between Kaka Point and Curio Bay is short in distance - 108km from point to point. Don't rush. Allow time to be sidetracked and sight-tracked as you deviate to discover the Catlins' natural beauties.

Driving into Kaka Point, the sweeping, windswept beach takes your eye. Majestic tides have heaved a hefty tree trunk on to the sand where it lies embedded like a bleached, beached leviathan. Beachcombers have constructed igloos and tents from the flotsam of driftwood while a scrounged, wooden cable spool is set up as a table ringed with odd, found chairs.

Taking in the sea-glass-green panorama is The Point Cafe & Bar. While sipping on a dewy glass of the Catlins Brewery's Nuggety Black Stout, I read of the day in 2006 when, not orcas, seals or whales skimmed the shores, but a procession of 500m-long icebergs. Complete with inner lakes and cascading waterfalls, the icebergs had escaped the subantarctic currents to promenade the Otago Coast.

The coastal road continues its dramatic drive to Nugget Point, a steep-sided, narrow neck of land where pinnacles of rock poke from the water like a pod of spy-hopping whales. It's debated whether Captain Cook named The Nuggets after pieces of gold, or whether the name evolved during the sealing and whaling era.

Read the rest of the story featured on the NZ Herald here.