Natural Wildlife

Coastal Catlins is full of interest. Here, close to the rich Sub-Antarctic feeding grounds, can be found some of the world's rarest marine animals - three penguin species (including Hoiho, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin), Hooker's Sea Lions, Hector's Dolphins, Elephant Seals, as well as New Zealand Fur Seals. Notable also are the seabirds: Mollymawks, Shags, Gannets and millions of Titi (Sooty Shearwaters). Rocky platforms carved by the sea, secret coves and sweeping beaches of gleaming, wave-combed sand are all part of the exhilarating variety of coastal scenery.

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Bush Clematis
Native climbing plant with a gorgeous white bloom in spring.

Where found: Throughout the coastal native forest
Time to see: September to November
Best way: Along the scenic route, all bush walks and at Nuggets

Corokia Cotoneaster
A fine example of native shrub that grows at forest margins.

Where found: Catlins River walk, Nuggets
Time to see: September to October
Best way: Catlins River walk and Nuggets

Elephant Seal
A huge deep-diving seal that breeds at the Nuggets.

Where found: Nuggets
Time to see: December to February.
Best way: Depends on luck, visible about 10% of the time. View from the lighthouse, on the rocks near or in the sea.

Flax Flower
This very distinctive New Zealand plant has a beautiful flower full of nectar.

Where found: Throughout the Catlins, especially in wet areas
Time to see: November to December
Best way: Along the scenic route

Hector's Dolphin
The smallest and rarest dolphin is endemic to New Zealand.

Where found: Along the Catlins coast, especially at Porpoise Bay
Time to see: All year during calm seas
Best way: At Porpoise Bay or take a boat trip from Waikawa.

Hooker's Sea Lion
This impressive sea lion is one of the rarest in the world. Males are most commonly seen, as there are few females on the mainland.

Where found: Catlins coast, especially at Cannibal Bay, Surat Bay and Waipapa Point
Time to see: All year, though fewer are present in December
Best way: It is important not to disturb these animals and a guided tour at Cannibal Bay is the best way to see and learn about them.

Little Shag
One of 12 species of New Zealand shag (elsewhere called cormorant), the Little Shag is found in estuaries.

Where found: At Pounawea, Catlins Lake and Waikawa Estuaries
Time to see: All year
Best way: With binoculars from parking areas near estuaries

Beautiful and varied fungi are found in the native forest.

Where found: Native forest throughout the Catlins
Time to see: All year, but especially January to March
Best way: On the ground and tree trunks along forest paths, especially on the Catlins River walk

Pink Tree Blossom
Native broom flowers are small but beautiful.

Where found: Native forest margins and house gardens
Time to see: January to February
Best way: Catlins River walk

Southern rata trees are features of the Catlins native forests. The trees are often big and gnarled and their bright red flowers are superb.

Where found: Inland forest along the Owaka, Tahakopa and Waikawa Valleys, and the estuary edge forest at Pounawea, Papatowai and Waikawa
Time to see: Late December and early January, if you want to see the flowers
Best way: Around the estuaries

Black Backed Gull
The largest of three species of gull that breed in the Catlins, this gull is so big it is often mistaken for an albatross.

Where found: Everywhere along the Catlins coast and inland farmland
Time to see: All year and at nesting sites October to January
Best way: At the Nuggets during nesting; on estuaries and beaches all year

One of the many small forest birds to be seen in the Catlins, this bird came to New Zealand in the 1840's. Other native forest birds commonly seen are wood pigeons, tuis, bellbirds, tomtits, grey warblers, fan tails and brown creepers. Rarer forest birds are yellow head, rifleman, parakeet, shining and long tailed cuckoos.

Where found: Forest and farmland throughout the Catlins
Time to see: All year, but in winter is commonly seen in gardens
Best way: Stay with local people who know them

Yellow Eyed Penguin
This rare bird is one of the most significant wildlife species in the Catlins.

Where found: Nugget Point, viewing hide at Roaring Bay, Curio Bay
Time to see:
In the afternoon and evening as they come in from the sea. March and April are not recommended, as the birds moult and do not go to sea. It is also possible to see the birds in the very early morning.
Best way: Self-guided at the Nuggets, or with a tour guide

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