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The Catlins

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The Southern Scenic Route (Catlins Highway)

The Catlins, or The Catlins Coast, is an area in the southeastern corner of the South Island of New Zealand. The area is between Balclutha and Invercargill, and includes the South Island's southernmost point, Slope Point. The Catlins is a rugged, sparsely populated area, noted for its scenic coastal landscape and its dense temperate rainforest, both of which are home to many endangered New Zealand birds. Its exposed location leads to its frequent wild weather and heavy ocean swells, which are an attraction to big-wave surfers.

The Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins is a journey through one of the best areas of New Zealand for birding. The road crosses ridges and valleys close to the coast and passes through large tracts of native forest. Views are gained over rocky headlands, sandy bays and bush fringed estuaries. There are many short forest walks to beaches, streams, lakes, waterfalls, caves and blow holes. Penguins, seals and dolphins are likely to be encountered, as well as forest birds, seabirds and waders.

Maori have a long association with the region and kaika or seasonal camps were dotted along the coast line, most notably at Papatowai. Owaka means place of the canoe. Excavations of ovens and middens dating from 1000 to 1700 AD have revealed the bones of eight species of Moa, and the extinct native goose and swan.

Captain James Cook sighted the area in 1770, but it was not until the period 1810-1830 that whalers and sealers arrived in the Catlins. The Catlins takes its name from Edward Catlin, a ship's captain who made a land claim in the district in 1840. The first settlements by Europeans took place in the mid 1850's. Settlers arrived primarily to mill trees, the first mill being in operation around 1865.

(page last updated  12 April 2007)