Dunedin to Invercargill via the Catlins

Dunedin to Invercargill via the Catlins

Dunedin to Invercargill via the Catlins

Driving: About 250- 300km depending on detours. Some winding roads and gravel depending on route choice.

Dunedin to Invercargill via the Catlins:

The drive from Dunedin to Invercargill via the Catlins may seem a short distance on the map.  However, the area’s coastal landscape and forest along with its winding roads may conspire to spread your journey over several days. The rugged coastline and proximity to the southern ocean can bring some wild weather on your trip. As they say in Southland – pack a raincoat today, so if it doesn’t rain, you can use it tomorrow!

The Good South gems:

  • Visit Pounawea Estuary and Curio Bay
  • Don’t rush the Catlins- take time to explore the many bays and estuaries
  • Do take the detour to Nugget Point and the nearby penguin viewing area

The Catlins are ecologically unique and still relatively untouched by the large commercial tourist ventures enabling a more low-key nature focussed experience. Native coastal bush and forest, waterways, beaches, birds and sealife combine with the coast’s temperamental weather to make your visit to the South a memorable one.

Starting from Dunedin, a scenic start to the trip can be had by turning off to Brighton and driving the Taieri Mouth coastal road. With hardly any other traffic and right next to the ocean, there are surf spots, beaches and the small fishing village of Taieri Mouth itself to take in. After a short drive inland over the hills to Waihola you’ll rejoin SH1 south to Balclutha.

Catlins and Southern Coast

The turn-off to Kaka Point and the Catlins is well-signposted 6km south of Balclutha on the Southern Scenic Route of SH92. Regardless of weather, it’s advised to drive the extra 30km return distance to Nugget Point Lighthouse for views of the coast and possible wildlife sightings. There is a nearby penguin viewing area, seals and sea lions reside in the area and there are a variety of coastal birds.

Waterfall in green forest

McLeans Falls in the Catlins

The Catlins main settlement is Owaka which has several cafes, services and a settlers museum. The township is a hub to a number of ecological attractions such as Jacks Blowhole, Cannibal Bay, the Pounawea Estuary with its salt marsh and Hinahina.

Further on is Papatowai and coastal areas of interest such as Tautuku Bay with its estuary boardwalk, Cathedral Caves and Mclean Falls.

Turning off the Chasland’s Highway toward the petrified forest of Curio Bay will give you the opportunity to try out the baking and coffee at Niagara Falls Cafe before exploring the Porpoise Bay area and viewing the 180 million year old ferns and trees.

Depending on your timeframe and the chosen route, a visit to Slope Point to chronicle being at the mainland’s most southern point also provides more extensive sea and coastal views. On the last leg of the drive to Invercargill you will have the opportunity to turn off  to another lighthouse on Waipapa Point which apart from its historical interest overlooks Foveaux Strait with views across Toetoes Bay to Bluff.

The town of Fortrose marks the end of the Catlins, with Invercargill 45 km away across the Mataura River.

Invercargill has a number of good cafes, an excellent public garden and park as well as a new motorcycle museum.