Curio Bay, Catlins

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Curio Bay, Catlins

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Review of "Curio Bay, Catlins"

published 17/04/2015 | anwar
Member since : 30/04/2003
Reviews : 730
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Pro Remote, wildlife, sea and surf, solitude
Cons nothing for me.
Is it worth visiting?
Transport links
Family Friendly

"Finding solitute"

Yellow eyed penguin

Yellow eyed penguin

I have recently returned from a 5 week trip to New Zealand. Before leaving a lot of time was spent planning where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see in the short time that we had. I love to find places * off the beaten track* and so the remote Catlins situated in the lower south east coast of the South Island really appealed. Looking for somewhere to stay for a few days in this area I opted for Curio bay as it is prime location to view the rare yellow eyed penguins.

Getting there.

There is no public transport to this area. However during the summer months the bottom bus travels through the Catlins, there is a full timetable on their web site at

I arranged car hire before leaving home as this seems to be the cheapest option. There is an International airport in Christchurch; a drive of 539 KM. Alternatively there are airports located at Dunedin (I hours drive) and Invercargil (3 hour drive).

We drove from Te Anau following our trip on Doubtful sound and it took me about 4 hours to travel the 243km. The drive was stunning with lots of photo stops on route. There are no towns of any note and only a few tiny hamlets so I was glad I have packed drinks and snacks for the journey. It is also important to watch your fuel gauge as petrol stations and not plentiful!

The Catlins.

The Catlins encompass the area between Kaka point and Fortrose. It is a very remote area with low population. The largest town is Owaka with a population of just 400! The area contains stunning sea scapes with towering cliffs and long sandy beaches. Inland there are vast temperate rain forests, lakes and waterfalls. It is also an excellent place to spot wildlife such as the rare Hectors dolphins and yellow eyed penguins. Curio bay is located in the south Catlins.

Curio Bay.

Once we had decided we really wanted to see the Catlins we needed to find somewhere to stay. As we would be visiting near the end of out trip I decided we should stay for 4 nights giving us time to relax after what was to be a hectic schedule. I first read about Curio Bay in the lonely planet guide for the South Island. I really loved the sound of the place and so the decision was made.

Curio Bay and the adjoining porpoise Bay are reached via the SH 92 and my Sat Nav had no problems in getting us there. There is just one road through leading to a small campsite at the end. The road is lined with residential and holiday homes on one side facing the vast sandy beach below. On the other side of the road are fields with sheep backed by rain forest. There is only one small campsite shop so you will need to bring supplies with you. I stocked in the supermarket in Te Anau with all we needed for our stay.

The area has a long history of Maori occupation.

What is there to do?

Porpoise Bay is large sandy bay backed by sand dunes. It is an excellent place to surf and equipment including wet suits can be hired from the campsite shop. The owner of the campsite also runs the small surf school if you fancy a lesson.

During the spring and summer the Bay is home to a pod of Rare Hectors dolphins. We first spotted them from our sitting room window and later pulled on wet suits to get a closer look. You are advised never to get closer than 50 metres from the Dolphins and not to try and touch them. However once in the sea a pod of about 6 Dolphins approached us.

Being aware of the dangers!

What happened next was terrifying. When we first entered the sea the weather was good with little wind. However suddenly from nowhere the wind increased blowing spray into our faces so we couldn’t see. Our fascination with the Dolphins had led us to turn our backs on the beach; a massive mistake!

When we turned to swim back to shore we realised we had been swept out to sea further than we imagined possible. Trying to swim back we realised we were caught in the rip and were making little progress. My son is an excellent swimmer and remembered that you need to swim across the rip to get out of danger and luckily this worked; although it took us nearly an hour to get back to the shore.

The most amazing thing was that during the ordeal the Dolphins stayed with us even nudging our surf boards. Our plight had been witnessed by a few of the locals who were preparing to try to rescue us. The Dolphins didn’t leave until we could stand up deep and only then did they turn and swim out to sea. I have since read stories about Dolphins staying with people who are in trouble in the sea. When you consider that Dolphins will help each other if they get into difficulties in the same way I would like to think they really did try to help us.

We later discovered that a surfer was attacked in 2014 by a great white shark. The nearby Stewart Island attracts Great whites in large numbers during the breeding season and apparently has the largest population of great whites in the world! However shark attacks are incredibly rare .

There are no warning signs about the current anywhere on the beach and it is in fact advertised as a safe swimming and surfing beach.


Needless to say after our experience we were happy to spend the next few days on dry land!

Curio Bay joins Porpoise bay and is just a few minutes walk. Unlike Porpoise Bay, Curio Bay is rocky and contains the fossilised remains of an ancient from the Jurassic period 160 million years ago. At low tide the remains are clearly visible and a fascinating sight. There is a small car park with information boards along the short walk to the Viewing platform. There are steps leading down to the Bay if you want to explore further.

Curio Bay is home to the rare and engaged Yellow eyed penguins (Hoiho). They come ashore every evening around 8pm and make their way back to their burrows in the dunes that back the Bay. There are notices warning people not to get too close as they are timid and there is a danger they will abandon their nests if disturbed. Each evening we made our way to the Bay and waited patiently for a sighting. Seeing our first penguin waddle ashore was a real highlight! Hiding behind a rock we were able to watch as a parent bird regurgitated some fish ready to feed to its young!

In addition to the Yellow eyed penguins we also had little blue penguins nesting underneath our bungalow. We could hear them every night although we didn’t manage to see. Curio Bay is also home to sea lions and fur seals; every day we walked past a large male who enjoyed sleeping under a bush near the campsite shop.

The area has some lovely walking and biking trails through the surrounding forests. The rain forest trail we followed was about a 15 minute drive from Curio Bay along a dirt road to Waipohatu. We walked for hours and came across a beautiful waterfall. We also saw lots of birds including bellbirds and fantails. I loved being in the rain forest and the solitude was just what we needed to feel at one with nature.

Another fun place to visit is New Zealand’s very own Niagara Falls! A 15 minute drive from Curio Bay brings you to a waterfall that looks just like a miniature version of the real thing! Not much else to see here but it does make for an interesting photo opportunity.

The rest of out time in the area was spent exploring the beach when the weather allowed! When it was too wet and windy we enjoyed watching the surf crash in from the huge picture window in our bungalow.


I did regret that we were unable to visit the nearby Cathedral caves. We had planned to visit on our way back to the airport but the tide was against us. Cathedral caves are located at Waipati beach and are on private land. They can only be visited 2 hours before or after low tide.


Accommodation in Curio Bay includes a campsite, hostel and several self catering options. We stayed in Curio cottage (look under Curio Bay accommodation) a Kiwi back right on the beach. We arrived to find the cottage open and a welcome message on the notice board outside. We were greeted by the owners 2 friendly cats.

The bach has its own drive and outside swing sea. Inside are 3 bedrooms; 2 queen rooms overlooking the sae and 1 bunkroom. The there is an open plan sitting room with dining table and chairs plus comfortable seating in the living room. The wood burning stove was very welcome as even in late spring it was very cold in the evening. Wood is supplied.

The kitchen area is well equipped with large fridge/freezer, cooker and oven. There is a good range of utensils. The owners lived in the bach until fairly recently and it still feels like a proper home! There is an excellent utility room with free use of washing machine and dryer. The shower room is small and basic but overall I loved the calm of this place and could quite happily have lived here!

The owners Dani and Nick live just along the road and are really friendly and are happy to give you information and ideas about what to do. Dani gave us wet suits and body boards for no extra charge. We paid $ 180 (about £92) a night and there is a minimum 2 night stay.


This is not somewhere to come if you want to experience fine dining- or any kind of eating out for that matter! We self catered and stocked up before leaving Te Anau. There are small towns in the area, but they are few and far between.

There is a small café about 15 minutes drive from Curio Bay near the Niagara falls. The Niagara café serves evening meals and booking is essential. The café is housed in the old school house and we did take a look at the evening menu. However we were told we would need to eat at 6 pm and that we would be the only diners! The cafe likes to close early! The menu was very limited and quite expensive. Given its remote location this is understandable but we decided to eat at home and save money.

In the summer months there is a mobile fish and chip van that visits. The campsite shop also serves coffee and light refreshments.

Overall I loved the Catlins and Curio Bay was an excellent choice for us. If you love getting up close and personal with nature then this place is for you!

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Comments on this review

  • justarube published 03/09/2016
    Good review
  • Secre published 21/08/2015
    This sounds wonderful!
  • gothic_moon published 01/05/2015
    This sounds like somewhere I want to go! And wow about having 6 dolphins approach you, how amazing. Super review - E x
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Product Information : Curio Bay, Catlins

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Listed on Ciao since: 15/04/2015