Truth be told, traversing the South Island from Te Anau to Dunedin would have been incredibly dull had we not made a detour to visit The Catlins. The Catlins are a little isolated and less visited by tourists. Whilst planning this trip, I read several blogs by Singaporean travelers and none had come this way. I had chanced upon the sights of The Catlins in a YouTube video. After researching the area, I decided to include it in my itinerary.
We bade Te Anau farewell at 0900 hrs and drove towards McLean Falls in the Catlins Forest Park. A pitstop was made 139km away at Gore to refuel. Referred to as the capital of country music in NZ, Gore has also been voted the most boring town in NZ. We rolled into the town centre with zero expectations. The Gore Visitor Centre had friendly staff, clean toilets and it also housed the Gore Historical Museum. Entry was free and I was actually fascinated by the collection of antiques, creepy period clothing, and vintage knick knacks they had on display. We didn't spend much time in there. Just enough to be re-energized and continue with our road trip.
It was another 112km to McLean Falls. Road works on the highway necessitated detours and the GPS led us to remote country roads where we were the lone vehicle for miles and miles. We disembarked and got acquainted with sheep and cows with massive udders. The bright green pastures dotted with grazing sheep and cattle all looked the same, and at times, it felt like we were going around in circles. We followed GoogleMaps blindly, then out of the blue, there was an obscure sign directing us down a dirt path to the car park of McLean Falls.
There was only a handful of visitors at McLean Falls. We could tell right away that the place was largely untouched when the vault-style, non-flushing toilets were clean, odourless, had running water from its taps and the hand sanitizer bottles were still full!
It was almost 1300 hrs and we were famished. We couldn't find a picnic table near the car park, so we ate our homemade chicken sandwiches in the vehicle, washed them down with some juice and were ready for the 40min return trek to the falls. The walk was mostly flat and easy. It was only towards the end that we had to climb up some steps which were rather muddy and slippery. At the top, we were rewarded with the spray and roar of the cascading McLean Falls.
Leaving McLean Falls, we saw a sign which indicated the closure of Cathedral Caves. We did not stop to investigate, but access to Cathedral Caves is via a private road and that road appeared shut that day. We gave Cathedral Caves a miss, and a little further on, spotted a sign which pointed to Florence Hill Lookout. We made the turnoff, and were surprised to see the coastline so suddenly. We were driving in a forested area one minute, and the next we were staring at the crashing waves of the ocean.
We continued down the road till we arrived at the most well-known falls in The Catlins, Purakaunui Falls. The beautiful tiered falls were once featured on a NZ postage stamp. The falls resembled a wedding cake in a fairytale setting.
Both McLean Falls and Purakaunui Falls were breathtaking in their own ways. They are only 25km apart, and should not be missed when visiting The Catlins.
Our next stop in The Catlins was Nugget Point Lighthouse. It was an uphill climb to the lighthouse. When we were there at around 1730 hrs, we could see seals on the rocky shore. We stayed to observe them for quite a while.
We passed Roaring Bay as we were driving from Nugget Point to Kaka Point. I wanted to stop to do the 20min return walk at Roaring Bay to try to spot some yellow-eyed penguins, but it was fast approaching 1900 hrs and the family vetoed me. We still had 110km of driving to do before we got to our accommodation in Dunedin, they were tired and longed for a proper meal for dinner. They readily agreed to a 5min stop in Kaka Point to use the public washroom though! And... snap a picture of the surf beach.
At The Catlins, we crossed rolling green farmlands, got up close to farm animals, were awed by spectacular waterfalls in the native forest, and explored its rugged coastline teeming with wildlife. The Catlins: possibly the best kept secret of the South Island, and we were glad to have experienced it!
Our drive to Dunedin took a little longer than expected. It started to rain heavily just as it was getting dark, so visibility was poor at certain stretches. We arrived in Dunedin at close to 2030 hrs that night. It was too late to cook at our holiday home, so we rushed to Princes Street to grab some Chinese and Japanese takeaway.
We can vouch for Great Wall Takeaways and Shinjuku Sushi Bar, just a few doors away from each other on Princes Street. The portions were huge at Great Wall Takeaways with wok hei to boot. Each portion of fried rice or noodles could easily serve 2. Shinjuku Sushi Bar was already closing up for the day when we got there. The kind Japanese couple running the place stayed back to prepare our food, and offered us deep discounts for sushi rolls which they had to clear off for the day. Everything tasted lip-smacking good that night!
That wasn't the end of the already long day though. We managed a grocery run to stock up the fridge with breakfast ingredients before Countdown supermarket closed at 2300 hrs that night!