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 travelling since then, yet the Catlins is still one of my favourite spots. Reviewing old photos after moving all my images to Adobe Lightroom, I discovered two things. First, our girls grew up quickly and, second the Catlins are as impressive as I remember.
The Catlins is the area along New Zealand’s 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 savoured and enjoyed.
If in a hurry, one could drive through the Catlins in less than 2 hours. We took three days and 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 Dolphins 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 vibrant colours 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 way. A few highlights:
- 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 a 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).
- There are plenty of accommodation options as you drive through the region, however, if you are visiting in peak season, it’s recommended to book in advance. Check for the best prices at Booking.com.
- It’s easy to drive the Catlins rainforest on your own, but if you prefer a tour with a company you know, Viator offers a Viator offers a private tour of the Catlins from Dunedin that sounds amazing.
- If you are headed to the Catlins or anywhere in New Zealand, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s New Zealand Travel Guide.
If you are driving on the South Island, be sure to visit a few other impressive spots like beautiful Lake Tekapo, Hokitika Gorge, Mount Iron, Mount Cook, or the glaciers. And don’t forget the mysterious Moeraki Boulders or the swamp forest on the west coast.
Have you been to the Catlins rainforest? Have you hiked in a subtropical rainforest?
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