The wild southern coast of the Catlins. © Graeme Murray

Southern Scenic Route: a different way of life


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This is a drive of unparalleled beauty, an almost contradictory mix of dense woodlands, cool and canopied, and wild southern coast, battered with spray.

All of it is invigorating, awe-inspiring and able to be taken as you choose. Long as you’ve got a car, though. The Catlins – an area in the southeast corner of the country that includes a conservation park of quiet beauty – is a fine way to weave out of the deep south.

Of course, you can take State Highway 1 as you leave Southland with a bellyful of Bluff oysters, but you’d be missing out.

State Highway 92, which makes loops of spaghetti look positively ramrod, will twist and turn you inside and out and bewilder you with beauty of the beach and beech kind for as long as you care to drive it.

Even better, there are roads off that which will open your eyes to the many prizes of the area.

Wildlife abounds – and not just the legendary yeti-like māeroero, which was said to have actually driven Māori from the area. There are penguins, Hooker’s sea lions, fur seals and, further out in the cold depths, Hector’s dolphins and even whales can occasionally be spotted.

At Papatōwai you can find evidence of moa hunting, which will help give you some perspective if the wild landscape hasn’t already. There’s evidence of the whaling communities and timber millers who thrived here also.

Slowly each has had to pack up and go, leaving the Catlins for you to explore and enjoy all the way from Waipapa Point in deepest Southland to the lighthouse at Nugget Point, marking the return to Otago. And a different way of life altogether.

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