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Unassuming Nugget Point, The Catlins – Southland

Nugget Point, Southland - New Zealand

Nugget Point & Tokatā lighthouse, Southland, New Zealand

Tokatā lighthouse at Nugget Point, Southland, is perched high on cliffs. It is a simple, unassuming structure, but it protects ships in this dangerous stretch of water. Built in 1869, it stands 76m above sea level and still operates remotely today.

After watching a road cycling race, we found a little way out of Invercargill. We took a chance late one afternoon and headed out to The Catlins – Nugget Point and Lighthouse, to be exact. On a previous trip, we had ventured as far as Waipapa Point to see the lighthouse, the rugged coastline, and the dunes – even lucky enough to see sea lions sunbathing on the beach.

We had hoped to venture further and see more of The Catlins

However, we ran out of time on this trip, so we made a last-minute decision and dashed to Nugget Point that afternoon. Not knowing if we would have another trip or opportunity, we headed off with blackening skies and heavy rain threatening the horizon.

We passed through a little village called Kaka Point, about 11km from Nugget Point, famous for its surfing, beaches, and lighthouse. To our surprise, the sun shone as we reached the car park at Nugget Point. A slither of blue covered the whole sky. With the strong wind whipping up around us, though, we were more bothered about thick jackets and hats, but the reality was T-shirts and sunblock!

Hidden from view initially, Tokatā Lighthouse is perched up high – a simple, unassuming structure – but tasked with protecting ships in this dangerous stretch of water. Built in 1869, standing 76m above sea level.

How lucky we were! The 5 o’clock evening light was the perfect time to see ‘the nuggets’, as they are called – the various bits of eroded rock sticking out of the water, so named by Captain Cook because they looked like pieces of gold.

Even though we had the golden light, we couldn’t quite see what Captain Cook saw that day, but with views of the dramatic, rugged coastline and the surrounding blue waters, you can’t help but be impressed.

This is nature at its rawness - if that's a word!

The cliffs’ sheer rock face makes you hold onto the rail or step back, particularly if you are peering over the edge – it’s entirely a drop.

We didn’t spy any fur seals or penguins that day as it wasn’t the right time of year, but plenty of birdlife was riding the windy conditions.

As the only ones standing on the viewing platform that evening, we felt like the only people alive standing at the very tip end of the world.

It made us realise there is definitely gold out there to discover.

Nugget Point & Tokatā lighthouse Information

  • Captain Cook named the famous rocks because they looked like pieces of gold.
  • History – Nugget Point was considered a dangerous stretch of water, particularly for small ships travelling to the Clutha River.
  • Tokatā is the Māori name for Nugget Point.
  • Tokatā Lighthouse was built in 1869 and stands 76 metres above sea level.
  • Nugget Point is approximately 10km from Kaka Point (named after the Kaka parrot), at the northern end of the Catlins coast.
  • The viewing platform and lighthouse are a 10 – 20 min return walk.
  • Distance – Nugget Point from Invercargill – 2 hours, from Balclutha – 30 minutes, from Dunedin 1.5 hours
  • The light began operating in July 1870. It was initially powered by oil, converted to diesel-generated electric power, and later connected to mains electricity.
  • The last keeper of Nugget Point lighthouse finished in 1989, and the light is now monitored remotely by Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
  • The original light was replaced in 2006 with an LED beacon. It is now powered by mains electricity backed up by battery power.

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