DANNY : DE HEKCome and explore one of our least-known wilderness areas, hidden away in the southernmost part of the South Island. Here life is unhurried and moves in synch with nature.

Catlins Forest Park is well off the beaten track, straddling the border between Otago and Southland. It is found the Southern Scenic Route, 50 km from Invercargill and 100 km from Dunedin.

The park comprises more than 10 forests and reserves spread over a rugged landscape of parallel ridges leading inland to the highest point, Mt Pye (720m). The Catlin’s forests are unique because they have been largely untouched by animals, fires or past glacial action. They are thought to have been one of the last sanctuaries of the giant flightless moa, which died out 200 years ago. There is rich bird life in the park, and you are likely to see and hear the tui, bellbird, kaka, rifleman, yellowhead and pigeon.

The Catlins River Track leads you into a delicate rainforest ecosystem with 28 species of fern and many epiphytes, orchids and vines. The Pounawea Nature Walk on the northern side of the river, is a 45 minute loop through luxuriant native forest dominated by rimu, totara, kahikatea and southern rata.

Once you have experienced the bush, head down to the rugged cliffs, bays and sea caves of the Catlins Coast. Don’t miss Curio Bay, home to one of the best fossilized forests in the world. The rocky foreshore is a maze of stumps and trunks of ancient trees, frozen in time since the day they fell 160 million years ago. Just around the headland is Porpoise Bay, which has been adopted as a permanent home by a pod of Hector’s dolphins. Keeping them company are yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals and sometimes sea lions. Other coastal highlights are the dramatic seascape of Nugget Point, and also Slope Point, which is the southernmost part of the South Island. It lies halfway between the Equator and the South Pole.

Discover this forgotten corner of New Zealand with its ‘Garden of Eden’ forests and Jurassic Park petrified trees. You won’t be disappointed.