I’m a great fan of information boards (I read every word, much to the extreme frustration of my travelling companions), and at Kākā Point on the south-east coast of the South Island, the boards told us we were standing where the Clutha River used to flow to sea until a massive flood in 1878 moved the river mouth to the north.

Molyneux Bay marked the much-anticipated start of our Catlins adventure, all new territory for us.

Māori settled here about 900AD living on moa and seal meat. Captain James Cook sailed by in 1770 but did not make landfall. He named the bay Molyneux after the ship’s master who died on the journey.

The silvery sea and white sands of Molyneux Bay marked the much-anticipated start of our Catlins adventure, all new territory for us

Whalers and sealers from England and Europe came to hunt the abundant prey in the coastal waters of the southern coast during the early 19th century, and European settlers arrived in the mid-1850s to mill timber. The name Catlins was bestowed upon the region in honour of a whaling captain, Edward Catlin, who purchased land beside the river from a Māori chief in 1840.

Late in April, just after Easter, we almost had the place to ourselves.

Ten minutes down the coast, the headland at Nugget Point looks as though it has thrust itself into the Pacific Ocean with such force that fragments have broken off. Captain Cook decided the rocky outcrops scattered at the tip of the long, deeply weathered finger looked like gold nuggets – hence the name.

A group of New Zealand sea lions or ‘rapoka’, were having some sort of territorial dispute on the beach at Cannibal Bay

A lighthouse, one of the oldest in the country, was built on the far end of the promontory in 1869–70 at the height of the coastal shipping era. The 600-metre walk to the impressive white beacon runs along a narrow ridge allowing breathtaking views of the coastline to the north and south. Vertiginous cliffs rise almost vertically in both directions.

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