Described in tourist brochures as one of ‘New Zealand’s best kept secrets’, the shaggy bush-covered hills of the Catlins region stretch from Nugget Point in Otago to Waipapa Point in Southland.
Protected within the boundaries of the Catlins Forest Park is the largest remaining area of native forest on the east coast of the South Island. Here the southern beech forests reach their southernmost extremity and impressive stands of tall podocarps like totara, rimu, kahikatea and miro fringe the wild, rocky shores of the Catlins coast. Native birds abound (once the ancient Maori hunted the now extinct moa in this region) and ornithologists have registered around 60 different species within the forest park alone.
On the coastal rocks it is possible to see fur seals, elephant seals, Hookers sea lion and the rare yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes). A trip through the Catlins gives a good idea of what the once densely forested east coast must have looked like before the timber-millers and farmers arrived.
After leaving Invercargill along SH 92, the countryside is at first very flat and pastoral but it gradually takes on a hillier, more untamed aspect as the Catlins are approached. At Fortrose one has the choice of either following the partly unsealed coastal road to Curio Bay (21 miles/ 35km) or of continuing along SH92 (27 miles/44km).