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Situated on the southeast coast of New Zealand, the Catlins is sometimes referred to as "New Zealand's best kept secret." A good area for wildlife spotting with empty beaches and native rainforest.
The Catlins is sparsely populated (pop. approx 1,200), and even when numbers sometimes triple in the summer months, it's not uncommon to be the only person on the beach.
The area's largest town with a population of about 400, Owaka is a good place to base yourself to explore the Catlins, and stock up on food and petrol.
Only a handful of permanent residents, popular for day trips, particularly to see the Petrified Forest, where you can sometimes spot the rare Yellow Eyed Penguin, or to swim and surf in Porpoise Bay.
The only non-coastal settlement in the Catlins.
Known for good surf.
Self-driving is recommended. The Southern Scenic Route winds through the area as an alternative to State Highway 1 (the main road between Dunedin and Invercargill). Be warned that free camping (i.e. setting up your tent outside of a designated camping area, or sleeping in your car or campervan on the side of the road) is at best frowned-upon, and in some places you can be fined.
What to see and do
Being in the Catlins is all about enjoying nature. There are many farms in the area, but beach walks, bush walks, fishing and horse riding are the main activities. Nearly all the beaches are of soft sand.
The Catlins is one of the few places in the world where you can spot the rarest penguin in the world: the Hoiho or Yellow Eyed Penguin. Please be aware that this is a very sensitive bird (known to have heart attacks when approached by humans). Remain quiet and do not disturb them. Oystercatchers and other shore-feeders are common on the water's edge. The Hookers Sea Lion and New Zealand Fur Seal can also be seen on beaches here. They can move very fast on land and sea lions will attack if provoked. In the bush, many of New Zealand's native birds can be seen: Ngirungiru or Tomtit, Korimako or Bellbird, Piwakawaka or Fantail, Toutouwai or the native Robin, Mohua or Yellowhead, Kereru or Wood Pigeon among others.
The Purukaunui Falls are some of the most photographed in New Zealand, and there are many others in the area, often just a short walk from the road.
The golden sand of Tautuku Bay can be seen on many calendars of New Zealand landscapes and is the most popular for photographs. Jacks Bay and Porpoise Bay are popular swimming spots. Average summer temperatures are 17-21 degrees Celsius.