The Catlins – ideas for free time

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There is a wonderful array of natural attractions in the Catlins and luckily they are all nicely ordered along the meandering highway between Baclutha in the east and Invercargill in the west.

Nugget Point Lighthouse is accessed by a short detour off the main highway then a short walk. Here the lighthouse has guarded the coastline since 1870 and overlooks a series of wave-eroded rocks – the Nuggets – which are home to an array of seabirds. Further along, take a walk along the beach at Waipati at low tide and you will reach Cathedral Caves, 30 metres high and disappearing far back in to the cliffs – take a torch! At Curio Bay discover a fine example of a petrified forest where, again at low tide, you can view fern imprints and fossilised tree stumps. This is also a great place to look for seals and sealions lounging on the beach.

Several waterfalls tumble through the forest park, the largest of which, Purakaunui Falls, is New Zealand’s most photographed, but Matai and McLean are also worth a visit. And finally, a short amble across a few farmer’s fields brings you to Slope Point, the most southerly point of the South Island, where the bizarrely windswept trees give you a sense of how exposed this little island nation is to the fierce south-westerly winds.

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