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Southern Roady: The Catlins Coast and Lawrence

Southern Roady: The Catlins Coast and Lawrence

Stirling Point at Bluff is the ‘Roadsign end’ of New Zealand, but the ‘true south’ is further east, at Slope Point. Well, actually it’s Jacquemart Island, perched on the south of Campbell island, but let’s not split hairs. Slope point is easier to get to, so I go there.

For a windswept piece of coastal farmland not dissimilar to most of the rest of Southland, it has a cracking new two lane road. I drive along it slowly, tailing a campervan straddling the centreline so precisely I consider it may be a monorail.

Why commit either way?

I join the strolling tourists, popping out to a place unremarkable in it’s own right; we remark upon it because we remark.

As we stroll there is silence in the empty field, but for one solitary bird hovering far overhead, practicing its lovesong. Some curious tourists recognise me as a local and engage some local wisdom. “What’s that bird called?” they ask.
I squint at the tiny speck above. “It’s a yellowhead”.  It was meant as a joke – I have no idea, but it has a yellow head – but I say it with such confidence they carry on happy. Fortuitously, I find that it probably actually was – so there you go, I am a borne ornithologist.

Slope Point

A cute Russian couple took this creepy photo for me

I carry on east, into the Caitlins. I had heard amazing things about this area, but I am not sure why. It’s lovely forest and road, don’t get me wrong – but yea. Maybe the ‘travelling home blues’ muted it for me. While I am still in uncharted territory, I am heading north now, beginning the slow journey home.

McLean Falls

The evening draws near, and I find myself a bit stuck for evening accommodation. There are plenty of DOC campsites on the east of the Caitlins, but there’re a bunch of waterfalls and things and I don’t want to miss a thing. I drive on slowly, willing phone reception to find somewhere to stay closer. It never comes.

Eventually I arrive at the Papatowai DOC camp. I had heard this place is usually heaving; tonight it is just pulsing. I set myself up, pick up some overpriced but welcome Invercargill beer and chips from the local store and settle in for the night.

As I drift off to sleep, a car passes close. “Lucky we could fit by that tent” one occupant says to the other – luck has nothing to do with it, I was considerate.

The estuary off Papatowai DOC camp

I eat breakfast alone in the camp kitchen. A light rain clears as I head east, visiting waterfalls on my way.

First is the Matai Falls. It is disgustingly early in the day and I am the first visitor say the spiderwebs on my face. It’s a well-trodden route – well shat-in too, with the scatterings of toilet paper and nasty nappies in the trackside bushes.

Matai Falls – I am sure they look better at other times

Further on is the Purakaunui falls. It’s a nice wee walk out, and again I think I’ll be the only one there. I encounter nobody until I arrive and a woman with the friendliness of the lonely jumps out from beneath an overhang and accosts me for a photo. I do the same, and we blub away. Human interaction. 


I had no idea I was so grey.

There are rumours of New Zealand Sea Lions at Cannibal Bay, so named because of human remains found in the dunes by European explorers. The bones were later said to be part of a disturbed urupa (cemetery) – but if I were a cannibal that is exactly what I would say too. Lion or not, there aren’t any of the sea variety, but I enjoy my visit regardless. A visit to a quiet beach is never wasted.

Cannibal Bay

Windswept trees at Cannibal Bay

Nugget Point Lighthouse also gets a visit. The word ‘nugget’ is just the best, but the lighthouse is pretty good too. A windblasted headland, with seabirds soaring above and seals barking on the shore below.

On the track I bump into the surprise waterfall woman – it highlights how cookie-cutter and fast paced this visit of landmarks really is.

Nugget Point


Where ever you go, there you are – the phrase is never more apt for me than in the small town of Lawrence. I was named for this town, as it matches a theme with siblings and South Island towns. When I scan the map, I can’t be more grateful to Lawrence – without, I might have been christened Gore or Ettrick. I can’t recall having actually visited, but it has long been on my list.

I am surprised to find the place quite interesting! An old Goldmining settlement, it has some grand churches and public buildings left over from the rush. It is swelteringly hot, but I stroll the wide streets, just enjoying the history.

St Patricks, Lawrence

The old court and jail?

Other church, recently turned into a house

The local museum is open. I tell the woman at the desk I was named after the town – she doesn’t care.

The museum is pretty pokey, some goldmining stuff, other odds and ends from around town, church items donated as the buildings are slowly sold into private ownership. I donate far more than I ever usually do to help keep the museum chugging along; I want Lawrence to thrive, for purely selfish reasons. Unfortunately, GOD IT’S UNFORTUNATE, there are no fridge magnets to buy.

Heading back toward Dunedin, I have driven this road before. Milton’s grand church was closed last time –  today the doors are open. An old woman in fuzzy cashmere sweater is alone, playing the piano. It’s very sweet.

Milton church

Old dear smashing it

I eat an overpriced service station sandwich for lunch. It’s $7.50 but it tastes amazing – my body was screaming for a scrap of fresh vegetables. Shredded lettuce has never tasted so good. I might need to work on my travel diet.

My next stop is Dunedin – that’s Scottish for Edinburgh.

Larry's a 30-something chap interested in travel, being a dork and changing the world via less boring training.

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