The Big Trip: The Catlins

The next leg of our journey with the “Bottom Bus” was a full 12-hour day of exploring The Catlins. Known for it’s contrasting landscapes and diverse flora and fauna we were in for a long but rewarding day.

After an early pick up from our hostel in Dunedin, our first stop was Kaka Point to enjoy a warming coffee on the beach while enjoying the sun rise above the rugged coast line.

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After enjoying a nice hot drink we were back on the bus ready for our next stop, Nugget Point.

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We took the short five minute walk along the rugged headland to the lighthouse, standing on the protruding metal walkway to enjoy uninterrupted views of the rocky inlets and the gorgeous fur seal pups playing in the rock pools below.

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Our next stop was Cannibal Bay however our driver stopped by a beach en route as he had spotted a sea lion relaxing. We all piled off the bus, jumped through the overgrown shrubs on the roadside down to the beach to get a better look. What a handsome chap he was too!

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On arrival in Cannibal Bay we strolled along the beach and were lucky enough to see a number of Hooker’s Sea Lions.  This particular breed of sea lion is one of the world’s rarest following extensive hunting and reduction in food availability.  Whilst commercial sealing was prohibited by law in the 1800s, the sea lions and fur seal still remain critical and are at risk of extinction.

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After spending some time with the sea lions we headed to Owaka for lunch. Whilst Owaka is a small town, it is the largest community within the Catlins region.

After lunch we were shown the Purakaunui Peninsula; a region with fond memories for our driver Don as he used to holiday there with family as a child.

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The next stop of the day was a bushwalk down to Lake Wilkie. Don was very knowledgeable of all the plants which he was very kind to share with us.

Lake Wilkie is a bog lake formed during the last ice age. It is gradually shrinking in size as the native vegetation gradually reclaim the area.

Some of the group enjoyed a bit of tree climbing and sliding down the trunks like fireman poles. If you fancy a laugh you can see it in our video from the day available here.

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After this we enjoyed another bushwalk this time to the beautiful McLean Falls.  After the first cascade known as The Chute, we had to climb up what was effectively a mini waterfall to be able to see the main falls.  It was worth it though just to see the sheer scale of it.

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The penultimate stop of the day was in Porpoise Bay. This was, for us, the best part of the day. We were fortunate enough to swim with a small pod of Hector’s Dolphin as they played in the surf in the bay. We had initially seen them playing with the surfers when we arrived and despite the cold we were not going to give up the opportunity to be able to tick a big item off of our bucket list. When we say the water was cold, we mean literally arctic since it comes directly from the Antarctic!

Hector’s Dolphins are the smallest species of dolphin and are endangered. Every time a wave crested as it came into the bay the pod surfed and backflipped in the spray. Kelly was lucky enough to have a dolphin swim right around her. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience.

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After we’d got changed and warmed up, we were back on the bus for our final stop Curio Bay. The bay is famous for hosting a colony of yellow-eyed penguin but sadly we didn’t get to see any. Instead we enjoyed the sun setting over the petrified forest beneath our feet and reflected on what had been an amazing day.

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