There’s nowhere else on our planet like Curio Bay. A strong statement, yes, but there’s simply nowhere else in the world that you can watch happyhour penguins hop atop barnacle-encrusted petrified tree stumps after an afternoon of surfing with friendly mini-dolphins......read on.
Curio Bay’s main claim-to-fame is its large tidal shelf replete with a 170-million-year-old petrified-stump forest which pokes up out of it. This ancient forest was petrified as it once stood, and nowadays each stump has a cone of mud around it, making them look like little volcanoes. There are also petrified logs lying cross-wise amongst the stumps. At full high tide the shelf is floodedover, but anytime else you can easily walk down amongst this bizarre Jurassic park. Ever seen a barnacleencrusted petrified stump?
The BEST time to explore Curio Bay is between 6-8pm when the resident colony of Yellow-eyed penguins comes ashore for the night. Watching the Curio Bay penguin parade is remarkably better than at the other sites up the coast towards Oamaru. First, there’s no “Hide” and you are free to wander around the Jurassic tidal-shelf and perch your butt on a petrified stump to watch the nightly waddle. Secondly, the penguins of Curio seem habituated to human presence, so they don’t retreat at the sight of a human. During “hoppy hour” the penguins pop out of the surf (a bit left/ east of the view platform) and preen a bit before rock-hopping to their bush-line nests. These are the best penguin photo-ops you’ll EVER get! Once in their nests, the penguins often screech and call, just adding more bizarre to this bizarrest of locales.
Curio Bay also harbors a little-known “secret”…shhhh. Porpoise Bay begins just around the Curio Bay headland. Porpoise Bay is a long crescent of sand so-named for its resident Hectors Dolphins. These rare mini dolphins live in-shore and spend their lives in this bay. Thus, the local Hectors’ have become quite accustomed to humans and they’re super friendly to surfers and swimmers!! The trick though is that the water is Antarctic-cold, so you’ll need a wetsuit to spend any length of time in the water.
Fortunately, at the campground, Catlins Surf will kit you out with wetsuit, booties and surfboard for about $50/3 hours. Nick cannot rent you just a wetsuit, as then he’d become a “dolphin encounter” operation (all sorts of permitting and regulations…and tourist publicity). Thus, he’s solely a lowkey surfboard rental/lessons operation, not attempting to publicize the rare “surf-with-dolphins” opportunity. Most Catlins tourists hurry elsewhere where there’s more publicity, but now that you know you’ll stay, wait for the wind to stop, hire a board, or maybe take a lesson with some playful Hectors to “hang ten” with!
Imagine the story you’ll tell at home of the Jurassic bay where you belly-rode a surfboard amidst a pod of friendly mini-dolphins, then watched an up-close penguin parade while perched on a petrified stump! Nowhere in the Catlins is as cool as Curio…don’t hurry away.
Camping: The Curio Bay Camping Ground has one of the sweetest spots on the island. No sandflies! Quick walk to both Curio and Porpoise Bays, with a cliff-top sunset overlook to boot! Extra fun is when friendly young Sea Lions invade the camp to tussle. About $15 pp.