Untainted by the modern world, a place where time stands still. The Catlins in the south-east of New Zealand boasts a rugged beauty and an untouched, magnetic quality.
Hosting native forests fringed with high cliffs, desolate sandy beaches and cascading waterfalls. A region of hidden lakes, caves, wildlife havens and the lifestyle of a bygone era.
Off the beaten track is exactly where you are once you've reached the Catlins.
The area boasts a rich history, the first inhabitants were the semi-nomadic Maori tribes of the Kāti Māmoe and Waitaha with archaeological evidence dating this at around 1350AD.
In 1770, the renowned European explorer Captain James Cook is recorded as sighting the region. But it wasn't until 1810-1830 that whalers and sealers arrived in the area.
Subsequently, Europeans began settling in the mid-1850s. Arriving primarily to mill trees, with the first mill going into operation around 1865.
The Catlins Surf
Positionally exposed, the Catlins’ coastline sees some of New Zealand's largest ocean swells. Consequently, the region has caught the eyes of big-wave surfers.
In the past, however, the swells are responsible for numerous shipwrecks. One, in particular, was the “SS Tararua”, a screw steamer with sails, owned by the Union Steamship Company and built by Gourley Brothers of Dundee.
The “Tararua” struck the reef at Waipapa Point on 29th April 1881 and was wrecked to pieces in a heavy swell.
A passenger did manage to swim ashore but help was still a long way off. A young workman from a nearby station rode to Wyndham, many miles away. Here he raised the alarm but it was already too late.
Passengers and crew were swept off the deck by the waves and the death toll of 131 passengers and crew (from 151 onboard, including Captain Francis Garrard) still stands as New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster involving civilians.
Photographing the Catlins
Capturing the Yellow-Eyed Penguin (Hoiho) as they arrive onshore at dusk to feed their young is a must for the wildlife enthusiast.
The historic, picturesque lighthouses at Nugget Point and Waipapa Point are particularly photogenic.
Add to this some of the most photographed waterfalls in the world such as the stunning McLean Falls, Purakaunui Falls and Matai Falls.
All in all, there's enough in the Catlins to keep you busier than a mozzy at dusk on a nudist beach.
Boring factual stuff about the Catlins
- It's a sparsely populated region of approximately 1200 residents. The largest town is Owaka, home to a population of around 400.
- The region takes its name from Edward Cattlin, a whaling ship's captain who made a land claim in the district in 1840.
- A petrified Jurassic forest at a ripe old age of 170 million years old can be found in the Catlins.
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