The Catlins Day #1: Waipapa Point & Slope Point


166 Days on the Road

The Catlins Coast: rugged coastline, wild beasts, waterfall-filled forests, rare penguins and dolphin sightings… This is our destination for the next few days. The Catlins has a wonder to be seen every 20 minutes and what’s more, almost all of them are free. We are starting our Catlins road trip from the east side and making our way west over the next several days because The Catlins is not a place to be rushed!

Gravel Road ramblings

Our first stop and the most eastern attraction of The Catlins is Waipapa Point – a location of a lighthouse, a memorial for a shipwreck, and sea lions! The road there is not as straight forward as we thought though. Our mantra when driving our massive campervan is “avoid gravel roads when we can” just because our campervan is a nightmare on tar-sealed roads let alone anything else. However, after avoiding three possible turn offs to Waipapa Point that all lead down gravel roads, we realise that the gravel roads are unavoidable between Waipapa Point and Curio Bay. Oh well. We rumble and shake ourselves silly all the way down to Waipapa Point.

The lonely lighthouse

There it is, a lonely lighthouse in the distance looking clean and fresh with its white paint. Some information boards at the car park explain about the lighthouse, as well as an old settlement that used to be here and the grave-site to some shipwreck disaster in the area. Then, there’s information on the infamous Hooker’s sea lions, some of the rarest and most hilariously-named sea lions in the world. They can be found right here at Waipapa Point… if you’re lucky. Let’s hope we are lucky.

We take a short walk around the grand Waipapa Point Lighthouse, along a walkway surrounded by flax bushes until we reach an opening to the beach. Well, we don’t see any sea lions…

Spotting sea lions at Waipapa Point

There are so many rocks around it would be pretty difficult to spot any sea lions even if there was any. Through Robin’s wishful thinking, he starts slowly walking towards the rocks where he sees a sea lion… But right at the last moment…

You’re about to stand on one!” Laura cries. Indeed, a massive sea lion is lying next to a rock just a couple of metres from Robin’s feet. “Is it dead?” Laura asks, because that thing is as still as a statue. Robin backs away and walks around to get a better look at the sea lion’s head. The sea lion lifts its head, looks at us, then puts it back down to continue sleeping.

Oh my God, it’s alive!

As if our visit couldn’t be better timed, another sea lion emerges from the water roaring at the sleeping sea lion. We don’t know what the relationship is between the two, but the wet sea lion looks pissed. It slowly moves its huge body, standing on all four flippers as if they were just your everyday feet, towards the sleeping sea lion. Once together, the sea lions gently bite each other’s faces, getting slightly more rough when things get heated. We don’t know if they are angry bites or love bites… It’s hard to tell. Whatever the reason, we are in awe of watching these massive beasts. We feel so lucky to be here!

As the beach starts to fill up with a few more tourists, the sea lion duo slip into the ocean and go out of sight. We take this time to explore more of the rock pools filled with algae and shells. Then it’s a walk back past the lighthouse, up to the campervan, and onto the next attraction along the Catlins Coast.

On the edge of the South Island!

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Campervan heaven

It’s another bumpy ride along the gravel roads, especially to Slope Point. Most of the other vehicles we see on the road are self-contained campervans, like ours! (Well, better than ours). That’s probably because there are plenty of spots along the Catlins for “freedom camping”. If you have a self-contained vehicle, you can really keep your costs low here. But, when you do need to power up, like us as we have so much equipment to charge, there are holiday parks around like the one we are staying in tonight, the Whistling Frog Cafe, Bar & Resort).

The most southern point on Mainland New Zealand

We park up at our next dot on the map, Slope Point. This is the most southern point of mainland New Zealand. (However, we have been lucky enough to go further south by spending some time on Stewart Island). Nevertheless, New Zealand does have a fascination with map surveying. We have been to The Centre of New Zealand in Nelson, and we are yet to go the famous northern point of New Zealand at Cape Reinga, and the first place to see the sunrise on New Zealand on the East Cape. The most southern point of the mainland though, we are about to tick off the list!

The walk to Slope Point

So, we’ll be honest, getting to Slope Point doesn’t look like much. We climb a fence into a sheep field, watch some sheep for a bit (it’s spring so the lambs are pretty cute to watch), and continue following the fence line and other people’s tracks to Slope Point. Once we get closer to the cliff edge, the green grass turns into a more wild tussock grass with a few birds flittering about.

We approach a shallow pool looking out to the most rugged of coastline. Huge rocks from the cliff have fallen into the depths below to be pounded by the dark blue sea. Wooden poles from old fences still remain on the top of the cliff where many of its brother have fallen. Slope Point is clearly a wild place.

Give us a sign!

Not much is here to mark the most southern point of mainland New Zealand – just a tank with a solar panel on it and a sign pointing how far away we are from the Equator and the South Pole, as well as a little explanation that we are at the most southern part of the South Island just in case we hadn’t mentioned that already.

Token photos taken, we head back to the campervan and continue our journey to tonight’s powersite at the Whistling Frog Cafe, Bar and Resort. Join us tomorrow when The Catlins adventure continues to Curio Bay, home of the petrified forest and yellow-eyed penguins, Porpoise Bay, home of the surf and dolphins, and Niagara Falls, the world’s smallest waterfall!

We do not know what is more stunning, Waipapa Point or the sea?

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Want more?

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See you tomorrow!


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