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Off the Beaten Track to... Curio Bay

Head south, as far south as you can on New Zealand's South Island and start exploring the South Catlins region. As you travel the Southern Scenic Route, you'll come across Curio Bay – a place full of unique wildlife and natural attractions including a petrified forest (petrified meaning wood that has turned into stone), Yellow-Eyed penguin colony, Hector's dolphins and Southern Right whales.

180 million years ago the Curio Bay area was a forested floodplain. During this time, New Zealand was part of the super-continent known as Gondwana and north of Curio Bay, most of the future New Zealand still lay beneath the sea. The forest was destroyed by floods and regrew at least four times over 20,000 years. Eventually, the remains of the forest turned from wood into rock, with fern fronds and leaves fossilising in the mudstone. Today, it's possible to explore Curio Bay, one of the world's finest fossil forests.

Things To Do

Copyright: New Zealand Tourism Guide. Curio Bay, South Catlins, New Zealand
  • Explore the fossil forest at low tide (there is a viewing platform and information panels)
  • Enjoy Curio Bay's lovely sandy beach popular for swimming, surfing or body boarding
  • Visit the beautiful sweeping beach at nearby Porpoise Bay (home to a pod of Hector's dolphins)
  • Watch yellow-eyed penguins come ashore to nest in the fossil forest (viewing platforms are available)
  • Look out for Hector's dolphins playing in the surf at Curio Bay (especially in the summer months of December, January and February)
  • Camp alongside the sea lions that make their home at the Curio Bay campsite
  • Drive to Cathedral Caves (40 minutes away from Curio Bay plus a 15 minute walk to the cave entrance)
  • See McLean Waterfalls – of numerous waterfalls near Curio Bay, this is one of the best – about 35 minutes drive away
  • Explore the area by bike and visit the local museum in Waikawa to find out more
  • Fishing, diving and wildlife charters are available in the area
  • Walk to Slope Point, the most southerly place on the South Island. The point is about 20 minutes walk from Curio Bay and is marked by a signpost showing the distance to the equator and south pole.

More Information

To help plan your holiday in the South Catlins region, simply choose from the main categories below:

More Off the Beaten Track Suggestions

If you want to discover some of New Zealand's hidden treasures, travel to some out-of-the-way places and see sites that many travellers and tourists miss out on, look at more of our 'Off the Beaten Track' suggestions.

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