Catlins Rainforest – New Zealand’s Often Missed South Coast

It’s been eight years since we drove through the Catlins rainforest along the southern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. We have done a lot of traveling since then, yet the Catlins is still one of my favorite spots. Looking at the old photos, two things occur to me, first our girls have grown up so quickly and second, the Catlins are as impressive as I remember.

Slope Point, the cliff in the background is the most southern point of New Zealand's South Island.

Slope Point, the cliff behind us, is the southernmost point on New Zealand’s South Island, located past the 46 degree south line.

The Catlins are the area along the Southern coast between Fortrose and Kaka Point. Entering the Catlins takes you off the beaten path and into an unspoiled, subtropical paradise. It’s an area to be savored and enjoyed.

If in a hurry, one could drive through the Catlins in less than 2 hours. We took 3 days and really enjoyed the wild, rugged coastline; dense, temperate rainforests dotted with spectacular waterfalls; 160 million year old petrified wood; and, several endangered species including Hector’s Dolphin and one of the world’s rarest penguins (yellow eyed penguins). Being a distance from the typical tourist routes, many visitors to New Zealand skip the Catlins.

Our hikes through the rainforest were spectacular, despite the on and off drizzle. It is the rain that amplifies the rich colors of the rainforest and the cool, humid weather kept us comfortable as we hiked. Each stop along the road was different, each hike dramatic in its own way.  A few highlights:

Entering the Catlins, a subtropical rainforest in New Zealand

Purakaunui Falls in the Catlins Rainforest, South Island, New Zealand

Purakaunui Falls

Catlins rain forest, South Island, New Zealand

McLean Falls in the Catlins Rainforest, South Island, New Zealand

McLean Falls

Catlins region along the southern coast of the South Island, New Zealand

Penguin colony in the Catlins the southern region of New Zealand's mainland

160 million year old petrified wood in the Catlins Rainforest, South Island, New Zealand

160 million year old petrified log (running up from the right)

Practical Information:

  • The total population of the Catlins is about 1,200 and the land mass is approximately 1900 km² (730 sq mi).
  • The climate is temperate, and cooler than other parts of New Zealand. Be sure to wear layers. The winds kick up and feel quite cold, contrasting the warmer calm areas.
  • As the Catlins is largely rainforest, you should expect some drizzle at minimum. It rains more than half of the days spread throughout the year.
  • Typical summer temperatures are 18-20 °C (64-68 °F), while average winter temperatures are 10-13 °C (50-55 °F).map of Catlins on the South Island of New Zealand

Have you been to the Catlins? Have you hiked in a rainforest? Does this inspire you to travel?

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Catlins Coastal Rain Forest Park on the South Island of New Zealand
Weekend Wanderlust The Weekly PostcardThis post also linked at The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Weekend Wanderlust at Justin plus Lauren, Sunday’s in My City at the Unknown Mami and, Travel Photo Mondays at Travel Photo Discoveries.

The Not-So-Famous Welcome to Fabulous Auckland Sign
Yellow Eyed Penguins in New Zealand: World's Rarest Penguin


  1. says

    Not every visitor to the N.Z skips the Caitlins, although I’ll admit it isn’t the best known tourist spot on the planet. We spent three days there once in a little cottage at Curio Bay. I dragged David down to a lookout one evening where we saw small groups of yellow-eyed penguins – got some decent photos too. And yes we saw dolphins too – the next day. I assume they were Hector’s dolphins but I can’t be sure.

    • says

      I am glad you made it down the Southern Coast. We stayed in a little cottage at Curio Bay as well. However, the only one little penguin came home the night we sat outside and waited.

  2. says

    I haven’t been there, but the Catlins rainforest look amazing. I have a thing for rain forests, they make me feel a lot better for some reason. Adding to our extensive list. Love the photo of the waterfalls over the rocks.

  3. says

    If i had to guess where you were i would had said Ireland. It looks like parts of the west coast. I love rugged coast lines. They are beautiful in a way that challenges you.

  4. says

    I love to hike, but I have yet to hike in rainforest. Your post told me it is a must. Absolutely stunning – and peaceful … Great pics, and yes, I know that feeling looking at pictures of kids… how did they grow so fast right?! Hugs Rhonda

  5. says

    What a beautiful area! Love places where there is a variety of nice coastal views and inland attractions like the waterfalls. I would take my time in this area too. It would be not fun to skip most of the amazing places!

  6. says

    Wow! Just gorgeous. I didn’t realise that New Zealand had a rainforest as well. There really is a lot of geographical diversity in a fairly small country. New Zealand is on our bucket list but it’s the challenge of distance and getting a chunk of time off that is holding us back.

  7. says

    Catlins Rainforest looks so much like Kauai island, Rhonda. If I just looked at your pictures and not read the post, I could swear they were taken in Hawaii. Just gorgeous! New Zealand is definitely on my list for places to visit.

  8. says

    I have never been to the Catlins or anywhere in the vicinity of New Zealand for that matter. I am in love with the falls, a hike through the rain forest sounds perfect. Did you get to see any penguins?

  9. says

    Good morning Rhonda. Today is the Monday, the 21st. Sorry I’ve been off because of internet problems but I’m back. I just LOVE the beautiful waterfalls. I love waterfalls, small ones and large ones. Have ayou ever seen Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. Now that is a waterfall. I was there last year and I plan on going back to Niagara next year. It’s so beautiful. Well time to go my friend. See ya.

    Cruisin Paul

    • says

      Yes, My hubby had work in Ottawa, and I took the girls (then 2 and 4) from Montreal to Niagra Falls. We even crossed into the states to see the other side of the falls. One of the girls fell asleep, and missed the entire America side. Next year Sarah (now age 15) will spend in Argentina, so hopefully she will see Iguazu falls.

  10. says

    Hi Rhonda – gosh I’d love to visit there … sounds gorgeous – wonderful photos. That petrified wood always amazes me when I see it … I can understand why people miss it out – but I can see why you’d recommend it.

    Cheers Hilary

  11. says

    Your girls were so young in the pictures!!

    we managed to visit the Catlins, we stayed one night and visited the waterfalls and of course we took a picture at Slope Point 🙂


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