The Catlins is on the south east side of New Zealand’s south island. The population of people is under two thousand. Not many people make the effort to visit nevertheless stay a few days in the Catlins. I don’t understand why this was the most diverse part of New Zealand so far.
We started our stay with three nights in a town named Pounawea. We stayed at Pounawea Holiday Homes and the owner had a dog named Ivy. As an animal lover I immediately bonded with Ivy. She loved hugs and kisses. The first night I gave Ivy a small piece of cheese while cooking and that was a big mistake. Every morning and evening or anytime she was outside, Ivy planted herself at my door staring into the room. The first morning was rainy so she didn’t get outside until later. As soon as I opened the blinds, there she was. The owner said she was “just dying to get outside today”. Not only did she look obvious, it was hard to get her to leave. I just kept giving her bits of cheese because she was just waiting and waiting for me to open the door. Note to self, dogs don’t know how to be cool when it comes to chicken and cheese.
Sea lions live in the Catlins. Seeing a sea lion in their natural environment was one of the most beautiful sights. Cannibal Bay is a secluded where sea lions come to rest.
The road to get to the bay is unpaved and rough. We were on the beach for about 2 minutes before a giant sea lion came out of the ocean and waddled on the sand. He was huge and wasn’t phased that we were standing there watching (from a distance). I read they have incredible hearing and eyesight.
What was really exciting is seeing the sea waddle off the sand and into the bushes to sleep. I never knew sea lions hid out in bushes. The grass was so tall it’s impossible to see them once they lay down.
Surat Bay is also home to many sea lions resting. This is where I spotted an entire family sleeping together on the sand. It was incredible to see them in a natural environement with all the time in the world.
One of the tourist attractions in Pounawea is Teapot Land. A local artist has turned his front yard into an art display of thousands of teapots in all shpes and sizes. It was puzzling and interesting at the same time. After walking through a narrow trail admiring his teapots, a small donation box was set up for pictures. I dropped a dollar in the box and kept on stepping.
Nugget Point is the most beautiful viewpoint I’ve ever seen on my travels thus far. There is a huge white lighthouse at the top of the hill. Hiking to the lighthouse leads to the point of the island. The whole time we were hiking I thought it was to a lighthouse to read a plaque about it’s history. Little did I know this was one of the most iconic images of New Zealand directly behind the lighthouse. While we were hiking we could hear and see seals down below at the shorelines calling out to each other and sunbathing. The actual lighthouse is off limits to people but the viewpoint behind it was something I’ll never forget. We were overlooking the Otago coast and seeing karst straight ahead of us in various places in the ocean. It was like something out of National Geographic. This point is sacred tot he Maori people of New Zealand. I can see why, it’s truly spectacular.
The Lost Gypsy is a local artist own rendition of a museum. The artist name is Blair Somerville and he’s created an interactive art museum of “experiments” and curiosities for all to see within a school bus. For an additional $5.00 (NZD) you can go further into the property and see his theater of art. This was well worth it. The inventions were on a much larger scale and there were an added three rooms to go into and see more interactive art. In one of the theaters a piano was set up and each key played set off a reaction to an item in the room. The best way to describe his artwork is a combination of physics, art and industrial. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
After taking a detour road back to the holiday apartment a huge herd of sheep were being rounded up by two dogs and a person driving a one person small cart or vehicle. Seeing this in person, I knew I was truly in New Zealand. All of the lamb I’ve eaten from Costco in America is from New Zealand and here they were! There had to be hundreds of them walking down the street and over the bridge into another huge field. It was beautiful and nice to see livestock being treated humanly. I love that the animals have free range of fields to live and be peaceful in their short lives. It does make a huge difference in the taste too.
Matai Falls is a stunning green and black rock waterfall. At the base of the falls lies a bed of moss covered large smooth rocks. A two minute walk uphill leads to Horseshoe falls. This waterfall spans across the wall of moss covered rock and trees and leads down towards Matai falls.
Walking the short ten minute trail was like walking into a living fairytale land. The trees are odd shaped and covered in deep and light green moss. Not to mention lots of bunnies live here. New Zealand is home to the native hare. Purakaunui Falls was even more stunning with a three tier waterfall and a wall of water falling from a moss wall.
We spotted three travelers sitting on the side of the road and their SUV had driven over the shoulder and was partially submerged the water. My first instinct was to stop and help but then I thought of all the scary movies I’ve ever seen. The one where people are stranded in the middle of nowhere, a person stops to help and ends up getting killed or kidnapped because the people were crazy. It was kind of eerie seeing the car in the water but the travelers looked relaxed and smiling. A camper van pulled over and talked to them only to leave a few seconds later so I guess everything was alright.
Our next stop in the Catlins was Curio Bay. We stayed on the neighboring beach Poipou Bay which is home to the rare and exotic Hector dolphins. These dolphins are only found here in New Zealand and are the smallest dolphin in the world. Poipou Bay is a beautiful bay that the dolphins play in the shallow water without being fed by humans. We could see them from our room and it never got old watching them.
This area is also home to a 180 million year old petrified forest and at the base of the forest is the ocean. Every day at sunrise and sunset the native Yellow Eyed penguin goes out to sea and returns later to feed their young. A local storekeeper told us to go to the beach around 7:30pm to see them return home. After an hour of standing on the rocks intensly looking out at the sea for penguins, we found out they don’t start returning home until after 9pm. It started to get very chilly as the evening went on and people started leaving disappointed. They must have gotten the wrong information too. We were lucky enough to see one lone penguin returning from the sea and hopping up the rocks to the safety of the bushes further from the shore.
Driving from the Catlins the landscaping is rolling green hills covered in white sheep with pockets of lakes and streams. I can’t imagine anything more peaceful than that. One of the things Doug started doing was honking the horn at herds of sheep relaxing on the hills close to the road. This sound sends them into a tizzy and they take off running until they have formed a single line all following each other.
I don’t like to see them scared but it is very funny seeing them follow each other into wherever. Poor things. Occasionally a sheep with have a red stripe down it’s back or side. I was told this is to mark them for a variety of reasons from going to slaughter, being sick, slower than others, etc. I always felt even worse when the marked sheep heard the horn.
Spending time in the Catlins really opened our eyes to the wildlife that lives in New Zealand. Seeing the sea lions and the Hector dolphins in their natural habitat and left alone by people made me realize just how far away we are from home. The next stop is Queenstown.