Having been spoilt with two brief overseas trips this year - (a weekend in Sydney to celebrate my brothers 60th birthday and 5 nights in Brisbane tagging along on my husbands work trip), I wasn't anticipating another trip for quite some time. However when my husband said he had leave owing and suggested a wee trip down South I jumped at the chance. Travelling within New Zealand has it's advantages – short flights or driving distances, it’s adventurous, it’s a gastro and scenic delight and most importantly it’s a reminder of just how fortunate I am to be living in this diverse and glorious paradise - New Zealand. Our choice of destination – Coastal Otago and the Catlins. The month was end of June so we were told to be prepared for cold weather and that it always rains in the Catlins – not so for this lucky travelling duo!! Not sure if it’s our positive attitude to weather conditions, but I can honestly say we never strike bad weather on holiday and we’ve done a fair bit of travel at unseasonal times of the year. However, we did arrive in Dunedin to a very cold start to the day – I just had to snapchat my daughter who had spent a year in Canada to say, it’s like arriving in Winnipeg (Winterpeg as commonly known). After picking up our rental car we had a brief coffee stop and drive through Dunedin. Being a true Wellingtonian it has become a mission to find cafés that make coffee as good as Wellington – generally when we do find a great café it is with great joy to discover they use a local Wellington brew - a cafe called The Good Oil on George St in Dunedin did not disappoint us!! We had a brief detour up Baldwin Street (the world’s steepest residential street) before heading North to our first overnight destination – Oamaru.
Downtown Dunedin with it's contrast of new & old architecture
and the infamous Baldwin Street in Dunedin.
Having the luxury of being on a real holiday and no urgent time restraints, we decided to drive the scenic coastal route. This proved a great decision - spectacular coastal scenery and hardly another car to be seen. By this time the winter sun had come out and we were treated with beautiful blue skies, endless sandy beaches and stunning coastal views.
Stunning Coastal Views
Karitane Beach, Otago
We arrived in Oamaru mid afternoon, stopping at various beaches and a quick pre viewing of Moeraki Boulders, which was to be our second overnight destination. My initial impression, driving down the main street of Oamaru, was it had some nice old buildings, but was nothing special. First impressions are often wrong, and after an afternoon, evening and morning in this historical town, I was sold. It’s a town itching to become a very special tourist haven and for this reason
I left excited and with very high hopes for this town. Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct is like nothing else I have seen in towns around New Zealand – it’s full of charming 19th Century Architecture that takes you back to another place and time, and yet pockets of 21st century eating establishments & shops are popping up, turning it into a very desirable and trendy destination, set amongst spectacular scenery and penguin and seal viewing. Whether we just lucked it with our eating choices – eating fresh bluecod at the Criterion Hotel, delicious woodfired pizzas amongst the beer tanks at Scotts Brewing Co and a fabulous breakfast and coffee at Tees Street Café, we left very impressed with what Oamaru had on offer.
We found some great eating establishments in Oamaru and enjoyed a trip
to Whitestone Cheese Factory Shop.
Surreal views of historical Oamaru from the lookout.
A visit to the Steampunk Headquarters is a must when visiting Oamaru
After leaving Oamaru we travelled 37km south to Moeraki. The Moeraki boulders have been on my wish list for many years now. As an artist whose subject matter predominately consists of rocks or stones. it was with great excitement we arrived at Koekohe Beach to view these amazing boulders. Again, on first viewing I was a little underwhelmed, but as I walked closer to these amazing spherical stones I was in photographic heaven and the mind boggled at how they possibly got there and just how many angles and aspects these mystical stones had been photographed and would be by me.
The many faces of Moeraki Boulders
After what seemed like a few hundred photos & poses we headed to our accommodation at Moeraki - Moeraki Beach Motels. Moeraki is a small but very pretty fishing village and home to the renowned restaurant, Fleur’s Place. Not wanting to miss out on this famous restaurant, we prebooked before leaving home. The plan was to have dinner at Fleur’s Place and lunch at the local tavern. Unfortunately the tavern was closed on a Wednesday so we just had to make two visits to Fleur’s Place instead!! Fortunately we were not disappointed and opted for a delicious platter at lunch time and beautiful fresh blue cod for dinner.
Charm, Character & Delicious Food at Fleur's Place
You could be forgiven if you miss the signpost to the lighthouse and penguin viewing at Moeraki. The sign post is not the most obvious but fortunately I asked the waitress at Fleur's Place and we found our way. Penguin viewing is best just before sunset - this is when the penguins start to come out of the sea to seek shelter for the night. We arrived at the lighthouse at around 4.40pm and found a path that took us down to a viewing shelter where you can watch the penguins. We managed to see two penguins already in from the sea sitting high up on a distant hill and then we were surprised by two more penguins tucked away in the bush just behind the viewing shelter (unfortunately too tucked in to manage a photo). We also got to see some lazy seals lying on the rocks below the shelter and a lovely sunset. Apart from one other couple we were the only ones there, making it seem like a very isolated and special place to be.
The lighthouse at Moeraki is worth a visit and also where you can view seals and penguins.
After two glorious winter days, we woke up on day 3 to a fairly grey & cloudy day. As this was our biggest travelling day (approx 180km to our destination) we weren't that worried and it definitely didn't spoil our views whilst travelling through the lovely countryside to Kaka Point. A bit of backtracking on this journey as we had to go through Dunedin again - where we originally started our journey. Again we only passed through the city but made one stop. The couple we had met at the lighthouse the evening before had told us if there is one place you must go in Dunedin then it is Tunnel beach. Having never heard of this beach we were eager to see what was so spectacular about it - we were not disappointed!! We also made a few stops on the way for provisions - New World in Balclutha and an honesty box selling fruit, vegetables and preserves somewhere in the middle of nowhere!! - so pleased this system still operates in rural New Zealand. We arrived late afternoon at Kaka Point. Kaka Point is at the beginning of the Catlins and where we based ourselves for 3 lovely nights.
Spectacular & rugged scenery of Tunnel Beach, Dunedin
Bookabach or airbnb has always been our preference for finding accommodation when travelling and more often than not we have been delighted with our choice. Sea Greene Beach Cottage our choice in Kaka Point was just lovely. A beautiful old cottage lovingly decorated with old family memorabilia and owned by - like myself an artist.
Our lovely, homely accommodation - Sea Greene Beach Cottage
After unpacking and a quick look around the cottage, we ventured out on a walk to see how close we were to the amenities. In Kaka Point there is an endless stretch of beach, one dairy and a tavern - what else do you need!! So at 5 o'clock we ventured out again to christen the local tavern - The Point Cafe & Bar. We read that it had recently changed hands and been done up so things were looking promising. We were thrilled to walk in and find a large roaring open fire - unfortunately the locals were too and always seemed to hog the spot by the fire. The clientele, as I expected of a rural pub - mainly men and looked like they'd come straight off the farm - therefore us city slickers stood out like a sore thumb!!! The Point Cafe & Bar didn't disappoint and became our local for the next 3 nights = a great place for a few drinks, dinner, pool challenges and an All Black rugby test!!
The Local Tavern at Kaka Point - The Point Cafe and Bar
The next morning - day 4, we woke to a crisp but lovely blue sky day. With only 3 days in the Catlins region and so much to see we decided to do as much sightseeing and driving as possible as there was no guarantee of getting another day like this.
So after cooking ourselves a hearty breakfast (incase there was nowhere to stop for food during our day outing) we headed of in the car with our map of the Catlins region. First stop was 23km away at Owaka - pronounced O- wha - ka by the locals. Owaka was actually bigger than I envisaged and quite a few eating establishments for a small town and is home to the infamous Teapot Land - a garden with more than 1000 teapots!! Eyeing up a cafe we decided to stop and test the coffee - unfortunately like most small town cafes they just don't know how to make coffee - way too hot and milky!!! Not to worry it was the sights we were really after so we then drove South to Purakaunui Falls. A 10 minute walk from the entrance gets you right up close to these cascading, multi tired falls and well worth the visit. Next stop was the Florence Hill Lookout with awesome views over the long stretches of beach and hills. The next planned stop was Cathedral Caves but unfortunately this was closed - never mind we still had many more locations to visit. McLean Falls was our next choice of call and again extremely picturesque falls - the tallest in the Catlins region.
The picturesque Purakaunui Falls
Florence Hil Lookout
McLean Falls - Tallest falls in the Catlins region.
What really struck us about travelling in the Catlins was the diversity of the scenery - beautiful bushwalks, a lake and then these amazing stretches of the most beautiful beaches. If you just stuck to the main road through the Catlin's you may be forgiven for thinking it is nothing special so I really advise you to pick up a map and look carefully for the turn offs to all the amazing places the Catlins has to offer.
The dramatic & beautiful coastline of the Catlins
We also enjoyed stops at Curio Bay, which is best known for its fossil forest, one of the best preserved Jurassic fossil forests in the world and the small but reflective Lake Wilkie before heading back to Kaka Point just in time for sunset and a drive to Nugget Point Lighthouse. It is 9.2km from Kaka Point to the Nugget Point lighthouse, one of New Zealand's most spectacular old lighthouses, built in 1869. From the carpark is a short walk up to the lighthouse and the most spectacular and dramatic views. This lighthouse would have to be my favourite - looks like something out of a fairytale perched on a pointy shaped hill.
Nugget Point & Lighthouse
Having left it too late in the day to stop at Roaring Bay for penguin viewing, which is a short distance before the lighthouse, we promised to make a return visit the following evening and headed back to our lovely cottage. Although hard to leave the cottages cosy fire we ventured out again to The Point Tavern for a night of dinner and rugby.
Day 5, we woke to another lovely morning and so after breakfast we ventured out for a walk along Kaka Point beach. Kaka Point is a lovely long, golden sandy beach - not unlike many of the other beaches in the Catlins but the beauty of Kaka Point is that it is more established and set up with places to stay and the bonus of a great nearby tavern. It feels like a seaside holiday destination - opposed to some of the remoter beaches in the Catlins. Having explored the Catlins we felt confident we had made the best choice of location to stay and use as our base.
We enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the long stretch of beach and my biggest joy was discovering natural artworks in the sand where the tide went out. I am always amazed by nature but these amazing artworks really have me baffled.
Natural patterns in the sand found along Kaka Point beach - natures artworks.
A walk along Kaka Point beach
After our walk along Kaka Point beach we decided to go driving and exploring some more of the sights. Heading South again and past Owaka we found the turning to Cannibal Bay - fortunately no cannibals but the long drive down to this beach and the remoteness of it left me a little uneasy, but once I ignored the airy feeling the name had conjured up we explored and thoroughly enjoyed. Next planned stop was Jack's blowhole - unfortunately they were doing maintenance on the bridge that took you to Jack's Bay and although we tried to find an alternative route - we never managed. So instead we took another turning along that same road and discovered the picturesque Surat Bay.
The remote but beautiful Cannibal Bay
Surat Bay - named after the sailing vessel Surat, wrecked in 1874.
Having spent the morning exploring we decided to drive back to our cottage and enjoy some relaxing downtime - after all we were on holiday. I really don't do relaxing that well - but after 5 enjoyable days of being active, lots of walking and sightseeing it seemed ok to spend an afternoon reading a book by the fire. Just before sunset though we ventured out again for our promised visit to Roaring Bay to view the penguins. We were rewarded with sightings of nine yellow eyed penguins and got to see these very cute flightless birds swimming in the sea, waddling from the sea and up the rocky beach to the bushy hillside for shelter. This made a very exciting ending to our five night holiday and a feeling of satisfaction that you can see and do so much during a short breakaway and what I would describe as an idyllic holiday.
Roaring Bay & Penguin Viewing
Sadly, the next morning we packed our bags, jumped in the car and made our way to Bluff and then onto Invercargill to catch our flight back to Wellington.
A passion for photography and a love of travel - Liz now enjoys combing the two.
Mangonui to Cape Reinga