If you’re an early bird in The Catlins, there are a few experiences not to be missed - the yellow-eyed penguins waddling out to go fishing, the sun rising over the rocks at Nugget Point and a bush-hopping ATV tour by Catlins Tours.
From sea lions sunning in the sand, fur seals on the rocks, waterfalls splashing down and native birds like the Mohua and Riroriro, there’s a reason why they call it the Wild South down here.
“What makes The Catlins really unique is basically there is 1900 sq. kms and within that huge area we only have 1400 people. So there's a bit of space here!” says Lyndon McKenzie, your tour guide.
“It’s an early start for people leaving Mohua Park at 5:30 in the morning and we go out and look for yellow eyed penguins, which is one of the rarest penguins in the world.” So rare, in fact you have to know where to find them – but leave that to Lyndon!
“The tour is six hours of me driving you around like Miss Daisy, going from the Nuggets, down to McLean Falls. So it's all good ocean, the sea, the cliffs and the bush,” he says.
Equally exhilarating is the chance to see all this from an ATV or ‘side-by-side’ as farmers call them. They are able to climb down steep, rugged tracks and speed along private beaches splashing in the waves.
“I came up with this tour because I saw an ad for a side-by-side and I thought, that's got to be the way. And it didn't involve any walking, which I, as you can tell, loved!”
“New Zealand sea lions are also one of the rarest sea lions in the world. It’s mainly a male population here in The Catlins and they are some big brutes here. You see them lying on the beach. Don't think they're a log – they’re not. And we also have a few females here in The Catlins as well, which are breeding quite well.
“We also get leopard seals. I just saw one the other day and we also get fur seals. New Zealand fur seals, Nugget Point has one of the largest fur seal colonies in New Zealand, actually. It's really good.”
“I tell everybody who comes here you won't find a traffic light unless you go an hour and a half that way or an hour and a half the other way. We don't have traffic lights in The Catlins, and that's a big drawcard.”
But what the locals do have in spade loads is Southern hospitality. “We're born into it. Southern hospitality is: if you are broken down on the side of the road we’ll stop, we’ll pick you up, we’ll make sure that you're all right.”
Discover a side of New Zealand you have never seen before and find yourself.