The Catlins Day #2: Petrified Forest and a Hilarious Waterfall

The Catlins Coast is full of natural wonders! Perhaps we are seeing the most wonderful of them today?!

Still buzzing from such an awesome day yesterday, seeing sea lions and going to the southernmost point of the South Island, we hit the road early to Curio Bay. Curio Bay is not only home to yellow-eyed penguins, but low tide reveals a petrified forest! That’s right, an ancient forest has been frozen in time among the rock pools. It’s hard to imagine what that actually looks like, but we’re about to find out!

Thankfully, our gravel road days are behind us along the Catlins Coast. From Curio Bay heading east, we mostly have the modern delight of tar-sealed roads to enjoy, unlike yesterday’s relentless gravel road journey.

Unsuccessful penguin spotting

We park up at Curio Bay and follow the signs to the “Petrified Forest”. It’s only a 2-second walk to a huge platform full of information boards, from how the forest has been preserved from the Jurassic era to how much distance you should have between you and a penguin… It’s 10 metres, by the way, 10 metres…

Well, we do keep well and truly away from the yellow-eyed penguins. So far away, in fact, that they must be out at sea gathering food for their chicks. It’s said that if you arrive at Curio Bay at dawn or dusk, it is likely that you’ll see the rare yellow-eyed penguins return from fishing to feed their chicks. Although we stay at Curio Bay for a good hour, we don’t see a single thing. (After seeing such an awesome display from the sea lions yesterday, perhaps we are asking too much?)

Tree stumps frozen in time Tree stumps frozen in time
Now the seashells call the forest home Now the seashells call the forest home
Curio Bay from a higher perspective Curio Bay from a higher perspective
What's a trip to the beach without ice cream? What's a trip to the beach without ice cream?

A walk on the petrified forest

Nevertheless, Curio Bay is a marvel in itself. From the platforms above we can see distinct outlines in the rock pools below of fallen tree trunks. We head down the steps and onto the rock pools for a closer look.

Mounds of rock surround us looking like mini volcanoes. Within their craters is a distinct change in colour, an orange colour, with circular lines etched in the stone. It becomes obvious that these are tree stumps! They have the very same lines that you would see if you cut a tree in half. There are heaps of them! It’s fair to say that a whole forest once stood here.

So once again, we are having a completely different forest walk in New Zealand, unlike the beech forest of the Routeburn Track, the enchanted forest of Mt Taranaki, the regenerating forest of the Abel Tasman, and, more recently, the veil of moss in the Croydon Bush Reserve… We are now walking on a fossilised forest! Insane!

From birds to seashells

Once, birds occupied this forest, but today, seashells reign supreme! They cling to the shadows cast by the petrified logs in the harsh sunlight. When we waited long enough, we could see the shells moving around at a slow and painful pace. At least we saw some wildlife today.

Ice cream on Porpoise Bay

After spending way too long checking out Curio Bay and waiting for any sign of penguins, we decide to hit Curio Bay’s next-door neighbour, Porpoise Bay. This is another bay famous for its wildlife, especially Hector’s dolphins. We’ll stop you right there by saying we don’t see any dolphins today either…

On the bright side, we do get ourselves some ice cream from a small shop isolated just above the bay. What’s a trip to the beach without ice cream, anyway?

A view of all bays

As expected, the ice creams are delicious. Now we have the energy to do a one-minute climb up to a viewpoint looking over both Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay. While Laura is lapping up the views of Curio Bay from above, Robin is looking over at the rocks protecting Porpoise Bay from the swells coming in. Huge waves crash against the rock, trying to bring down any kelp that clings to the rock faces. It’s fierce, but nowhere near as fierce as the waves we have seen on the West Coast of the South Island. (Seriously, check out our blog post: From Snow to Blowholes: On the Road in the Wild West Coast).

Robin witnessing the power of the ocean at Porpoise Bay Robin witnessing the power of the ocean at Porpoise Bay
Niagara Falls... The world's smallest waterfall Niagara Falls... The world's smallest waterfall
Robin cracks up at the sight of Niagara Falls Robin cracks up at the sight of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, NZ

Before we head back to our lovely powersite at the Whistling Frog Cafe, Bar & Resort tonight, there is one more place we have to check out and it’s in a place called “Niagara”.

Now, the Catlins is pretty famous for its amount of stunning waterfalls and we’ll be sure to visit them over the next few days. But the very first waterfall we are visiting is labelled as “The World’s Smallest Waterfall“. Yes, that’s right, we are going to the New Zealand version of Niagara Falls.

Is that it?!

The world’s smallest waterfall is not the most well sign-posted out of the Catlins attractions but we are about to find out why. Once we do spot a tiny sign off the side of the road for it, we cross a bridge and spot another sign surrounded by overgrown vegetation. The sign has a photo of the Niagara Falls in Canada then the words “Niagara Falls (NZ)”. We look behind the sign at some water flowing over some rocks. Is that it?!!

It’s more like “rapids” than a waterfall but then again, what are we to expect from being the world’s smallest waterfall. No wonder it is not so easy to find from the roadside, the waterfall is so disappointing the locals are probably ashamed of it. Again, here’s another example of the Kiwi sense of humour. Love it!

Well, our day sure had an anti-climax but it was pretty hilarious all the same. Tomorrow, let’s hope we find natural wonders worthy of their name, such as the Cathedral Caves and the Mirror Lake! See you then!

Laura and Robin

Deep in the petrified forest...
Deep in the petrified forest... Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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