Nugget Point is the pinniped capital of New Zealand. It is the only place where the three species (New Zealand fur seal, sea lions and elephant seals) co-exist and breed. This is probably due to the fact the protruding point cuts down the commuting time to fertile fishing grounds out to sea.
In Ahuriri Flat turn right into Ahuriri Flat Road, which merges with Karoro Creek Road then with Molyneaux Bay Road. Turn right into Nugget Road, which leads 7 km along the coast to enter the Scientific Reserve. The track is signposted from the roadend carpark at the top of the hill.
The even metalled track follows the ridgeline, although it is slightly sheltered from the southerly winds near the beginning of the track. Initially the views north are extensive all the way to Otago Peninsula, but as you reach the end of the track, views south along the Catlins Coast also open up.
A viewing platform by the lighthouse spies the rocky beach to the north, flanked by high sheer cliffs. The nuggets of rock out to sea give the setting its’ European name.
Note the bladder kelp on the northern, more protected side, which borders the bottoms of the cliffs in ribbon-like swirls, giving a graphic demonstration of the water currents. The turquoise blue waters below are so clear you can even make out the silhouette of resident fur seals and sea lions diving. On the more exposed southern side, forests of bull kelp, up to 15 metres long, somehow stay attached against a voracious waves, which pound the coastline. The frothing waters around the nuggets are an impressive display.
The inclined mudstone beds were originally laid down flat, but tectonic butchering has inclined them to the vertical. Less resistant layers are now eaten out by weathering agents such as salt, wind and rain, creating the spectacular jagged profiles on show today.
The Catlins Daisy grows on the hillside below the viewing platform.
Sea birds are prolific, and include red and black-billed gulls, sooty shearwaters, spotted shags and royal spoonbills.
Seals are known as pinnipeds (wing footed) because of the webbed flippers instead of paws or feet. Streamlined bodies and blubber keep them warm (hence their hunting for fur). Their ears, nose flaps close when diving. They feed on squid, octopus and hoki.
Bull sea lions are absolute monsters, tipping the scales at 400kg. You don’t want to get in the way of one, so be especially vigilant if passing between them and the sea – their escape route. They prefer to slumber on the sand, unlike fur seals who use the rocks as their mattresses. The sea lions are often observed flipping sand onto their backs in an effort to keep cool.
Elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) are the super heavyweights of the seal world. It is normal for a bull male to weigh in at 3.5 tonnes, a full 2.5 tonnes heavier than the females. At 4-5m long these behemoths are the largest lumps of blubber you will find on land. Their engorged proboscis stuck on the front of their faces does nothing for their looks, but apparently makes males roar louder. Perhaps in their armoury of wooing techniques, as personal hygiene is never that flattering for any animal that predominantly eats fish. They range over most of the Southern Ocean areas and populations are in decline. Likely because we humans are eating all the fish. They are deep sea feeders and can spend nearly 30 minutes underwater on a single breath, diving to over 800m.
Nugget Point Lighthouse is 9.5 metres tall, 76 metres above sea level and was built of locally quarried stone in 1869-70. The lens is 3.6 metres in diameter and houses over 200 individual pieces of glass.
South Island ▷ Southland ▷ Owaka
Showing 13 reviews of 104.
Fantastic place for an easy stroll. 900m walk out to the lighthouse on a well maintained track. Heard the seals before we saw them. Absolutely stunning views. Well worth it.
Nice views and some seals.
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Lovely short walk up to the lighthouse. Was able to see seals down on the rocks below. Tracks were well signed and maintained.
Well worth the walk out past the lighthouse! Great view!
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Beautiful views and incredible wildlife.
Seeing seals and penguins, the area of the lighthouse where you lookout to is amazing with regards to nature and wildlife.
Short walk to get to this beautiful lighthouse. Better to go at sunset or even for a more special right before sunrise and catch the orange sky and the sun rising behind the lighthouse.
We went at sunset - it was stunning. Easy walk, beautiful views, lots of birds to spot!
Beautiful stopover! Gorgeous location. Need a car to get there but totally worth the drive.
Great views over the coast, saw some seals, easy walk.
Took the 20-30 minute return walk to the lighthouse. Beautiful views of rock formations with lots of birds and coastal cliffs.
Delightful evening walk to the lighthouse with brilliant views. Good viewing hut to watch the penguins.
Very nice little walk to a beautiful coastline. Penguin and seals on the way!
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍