The Catlins Day #5: Nugget Point and Balclutha

Our final day in the Catlins is going out with a bang! Today, we’re going to check out one of New Zealand’s most famous lighthouses at Nugget Point! It’s the perfect way to complete our road trip sharing with you some places you probably hadn’t heard of in The Catlins and ending on something you’ve most definitely seen photos of if you have every researched about New Zealand. (And being on this website, the biggest guide to backpacking in New Zealand, we are guessing you have done a wee bit of research)…

It’s said that sunrise is A MUST at Nugget Point. However, we are just over an hour away from the landmark, so we don’t try too hard to make it work. Either way, we are getting to Nugget Point early morning for a more peaceful experience.

Van unplugged, photo taken with Whistlewood the Whistling Frog of the Whistling Frog Resort, (can we say “whistle” any more?!), we hit the road for our final leg in The Catlins.

A golden drive on the roads of The Catlins

Although we are missing sunrise at Nugget Point itself, at least we are not missing it emerging over the coast as we drive. Once the sun peaks over the hills, it is beaming its golden rays across the many sheep fields – just to add the cherry on top of what already is a beautiful drive.

Like most roads in The Catlins, however, your happy and shiny mood is slightly tainted by the sight of gravel roads. (Well, this only effects you if you care about the insurance of your rental vehicle, or you have a huge crappy campervan like ours).

Nevertheless, the gravel road from Kaka Point to Nugget point is lined with golden beach after golden beach with super clear water from the gentle waves rolling in. Gorgeous!

We spot it! Our first glimpse of the Nugget Point Lighthouse! We spot it! Our first glimpse of the Nugget Point Lighthouse!
An iconic feature of The Catlins to end our time here An iconic feature of The Catlins to end our time here
Look at all those nuggets! Look at all those nuggets!
We can't forget the lighthouse... We can't forget the lighthouse...

The path to Nugget Point

We reach the Nugget Point car park and begin our 10-minute walk up to the lighthouse and viewpoint, following a road that then turns into a footpath clinging to the side of a mountain’s edge. Seagulls slowly glide above us then swoop down past the lighthouse in the distance. Vegetation has kept a leaning shape thanks to a life of relentlessly being blown the sh*t out of by the wind. Only seemingly getting a break today when there’s little wind and only the beaming sun straight ahead of us.

The path then moves onto the ridge for the final 50 metres to the lighthouse. Little side sections have been made along the path to take in the views of pebble-filled bays getting lashed by waves on one side, while the other side of the mountain is having a peaceful day. Aspects of the walk, from frequent weather conditions to wildlife, are pointed out by stone interpretation panels.

The Nuggets!

Like all activities we have found in The Catlins, we reach the finale in no time. Just in front of the lonely lighthouse is a viewing deck looking down to those famous “nuggets”. These huge lumps of rock sticking out of the sea were named by Captain James Cook, the English dude who was the first European to set foot on New Zealand, after their resemblance to nuggets. However you interpret them, they are a stunning sight!

We now see where all the seagulls were swooping down to. One nugget has been claimed by the seagulls. We can see the little white dots occupying the nugget (and hear the noise too). A flat nugget with a pool stretching through the middle has some moving black shapes bobbing in and out of the water, which we realise are seals! We can even here those guys too! At this point, we wished we owned a pair of binoculars. The zoom lens on our camera just won’t cut it.

The rugged Catlins Coast

Nature’s occupation of Nugget Point

In the vegetation leading down the slope below the viewing deck, heaps of small birds fly from branch to branch, flax to flax. No matter how many people come here to capture some wonderful photos and soak in the views, Nugget Point totally belongs to the wildlife and the sea.

From here, it’s back to the van and continuing New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year. Our final stop today is Dunedin, but we make sure we have a lunch stop somewhere in between…

Next stop, Balclutha

… That place is Balclutha, one of the larger hubs that services the Clutha and Catlins District. However, once we pull up to Naish Park in Balclutha, we realise we don’t have anything for lunch… We’ve been off the grid for too long! All we have now is a bag of chips, some nuts and some juice. The first thing we are doing when we get to Dunedin is go to Pakn’Save. Screw the penguins, the architecture, the city vibes: we want some food!

A blossoming park in Balclutha A blossoming park in Balclutha
Just one of the many residents of the Naish Park Aviary Just one of the many residents of the Naish Park Aviary
Balclutha's very own Mirror Lake Balclutha's very own Mirror Lake

A pitstop at Naish Park

Anyway, back to Balclutha. We go to find ourselves a picnic table in the lovely Naish Park recommended to us by, well, BackpackerGuide.NZ, wheyyyooo! But are totally distracted by an unexpected bird aviary. Exotic birds chirp from behind their fences, flying from branch to branch, bird table to bird table. Budgies, parakeets, some sort of white pigeons, cockatiels, peacocks and golden peacocks… The cages have an array of colourful birds.

More birds could be found at the pond, although perhaps not as exciting. You can probably guess what we saw in a pond at the park…

The pond itself, surrounded by gardens of camellias, is super reflective. Could this be yet another “Mirror Lake” in New Zealand?! This is our fifth mirror lake seen on this trip so far!

The final leg to Dunedin

A disappointing lunch eaten while staring at the ducks and the reflections of the ducks in this delightful little park, we feel ready to hit the road for the last hour on our trip to Dunedin. As Robin points out, the road from Balclutha to Dunedin doesn’t have a single section of the road without seeing a sheep field on one side. Ah New Zealand, you so fit the stereotype…

We don’t need to tell you what the first thing we do in Dunedin is, but now that we have a van stocked with groceries, we can check-in at the Chalet Backpackers, a historic hospital turned backpackers with a whole lot of character. The place has just got a new owner, so we can see the tender-loving care going into the hostel already.

Tomorrow, our 10-day stay in Dunedin begins with wildlife spotting out on the Otago Peninsula! Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Being blinding by the sun (and the beauty) of Nugget Point
Being blinding by the sun (and the beauty) of Nugget Point Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Really? After all that? Ok then, knock yourself out:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, occupy your time by checking us out on HerePin. We also like to hang out on the standard Facebook and Instagram.

See you tomorrow!

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