The Catlins has a rich history - from the time of European arrival and back to the Maori and further back still!

Named after Captain Cattlin, a seafaring captain who traded along the NZ coast and regularly carried exports to Australia. Edward Cattlin, purchased this huge tract from local Maori in 1840, but never received title to the original claim. Australian authorities reduced the size to a fraction of the former size when they issued title in 1873, 17 years after his death!

There are unfortunately no known photos or drawings of the now famous, Captain Cattlin.

The Catlins were occupied by early Maori who hunted the now extinct Moa and fished the coast which were teeming with fish and shellfish.

The dense bush provided ample habitat for the large emu like bird and this became a favorite of the early inhabitants. Legends tell of the great chief Tuhawaiki and his exploits with the large hairy monsters of the forest or “Maeroero”. There was a large Maori village at the entrance to the Tahakopa River near Papatowai.

A walk along the Old Coach Road at the estuary along the Tahakopa River mouth is worth the effort if you have time.

Early European settlements relied on shipping and good port access for the prosperity of their emerging townships. Whaling Stations such as the one at the Tautuku River estuary were common in the 1840’s, but short lived. The early settlers relied on sawmilling of the abundant giant Podocarps.

Much of Dunedin was built using this timber. Coastal scows transported the lumber to market, but many shipwrecks dot this dangerous coastline.

Gold mining, stone quarrying, flax milling and finally farming made the region profitable in the 1860’s through to the 1960’s. When the available large timber ran out, the area was depopulated and left to a few runholders. Remnants of the once thriving region are all that remain of this vibrant area.

The Catlins River Branch Railway, (“Catlins Rail”, written by A.R. Tyrell, is an interesting read) was in place from 1879 to 1971. The final stretch went all the way to the small hamlet of, Tahakopa. The station is still there but the rail tracks have unfortunately been removed. Sawmills filled the valley and this was a major marshalling terminus. Nothing remains of terminus or sawmills. Guided walks are available to walk this wonderful stretch of easy graded track.


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Contact Us

 Ph 03 415 8338

Rewcastle Rd,
The Catlins,
New Zealand

On the Southern Scenic Route