This could be done over two to three days or be combined with other itineraries – it goes down the Southern Scenic Route and main road through the Catlins from north to south, or it can be done in reverse.
Walk out to the 1869 lighthouse at Nugget Point perched above the famous rock formations (named by Captain Cook who thought that they looked like golden nuggets with the sun shining down on them).
Nugget Point - Roaring Bay [750m, 2 min drive]
Next stop is Roaring Bay where you can often spot the very rare yellow eyed penguins. The best time to see them is late in the afternoon once they come back to nest after a day’s fishing.
Roaring Bay - Surat Bay [27 km, 30 min drive]
Onwards to Cannibal and Surat Bay which are renowned as some of the best places to see sea lions in the Catlins. A marked walkway through the dunes connects these two beautiful beaches.
Surat Bay - Jack's Bay [17 km, 23 min drive]
Head to Long Point and Jack’s Bay for more opportunities to see penguins, seals and sea lions. The reserve is run by the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust and the Department of Conservation.
Jack's Bay - Jack's Blowhole [1.3 km, 4 min drive + 1 hour walk one way]
You can't go past, Jack’s blowhole, a sunken sea cave with marvelous views of Long Point and all the way back to the Nuggets.
Jack's Blowhole (carpark) - Pūrākaunui Bay [19.2 km, 30 min drive]
Pūrākaunui Bay could be the place to rest your head in this picture perfect campsite right by the beach where sea lions are regular visitors. It is also a stellar surfing spot with the highest winter waves ever recorded in New Zealand.
First stop is Tahakopa Beach which you can find from the Old Coach Road track at Papatowai, where sea lions and penguins turn up to enjoy the solitude. Old Coach Road walking track is 40 min return.
The area is well known for its fantastic birdlife and song with lots of the terrific tuis. The estuary also offers some good fishing options for flounder and clams.
Papatowai - Florence Hill Lookout [3.4 km, 4 min drive]
Florence Hill - Tautuku [1.5 km, 2 min drive]
Head to the layby opposite the Outdoor Education Centre and take the Tautuku Nature Walk where you will hear the roar of the waves getting louder before you emerge through the rainforest on to the sandy shore.
You can walk out to peninsula and into the estuary at low tide or turn left and head for the cliffs and caves at the other end.
Tautuku - Cathedral Caves [8.7 km, 11 min drive to carpark]
Cathedral Caves is one of the World’s largest sea cave complexes with 200 metres of passageways and amazing acoustics thanks to their sheer size rising up 30 metres high. It is $10 per adult. Check the tides and opening times at www.cathedralcaves.co.nz
Cathedral Caves - Curio Bay [34 km, 33 min drive]
The final stop is the stunning Curio Bay which has a 180 million year old Jurassic forest, one of only 3 accessible fossil forests in the World. The nearby Living Forest allows you to step back in time and is the only place on the planet where you can experience a direct descendant lying so close to its petrified counterpart. Curio Bay is a superb spot to see yellow eyed penguins and Hectors dolphins. You might even get the chance to swim or surf with them at Porpoise Bay.
You can also take specialist eco tours which take you to those seriously secret spots and hidden highlights. They are the only people to have the official Department of Conservation license to operate.
For bookings and more about Catlins Scenic and Wildlife tours - click here
If you want to try something different, see our Activity Trail