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 relie d 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.
Chaslands, named after Tommy Chaseland, an 1840’s whaler and sealer, who lived there for 45 years. Being the remotest part of the Catlins, was the last place to receive a road and power. This hidden valley, with the dominant conical shaped “Samson Hill” (240m)(named after the surveyor’s red setter dog) makes an ideal stop over for a trip to the many natural wonders that make up this area. After tree felling and logging, the settlers turned to dairy farming. Each farm ran several cows and Chaslands had it’s own dairy factory, making cheese. The ‘canoe brand’ was made in the factory at Heathfield, Chaslands. It no longer remains but the McKenzie’s, our neighbours, who have farmed there for over 30 years, have retained the ‘Heathfield’ name and you will see it on their letter box immediately opposite where the old factory used to reside.Today, there are only five farms left in Chaslands, running sheep and beef cattle. Some of the old homesteads remain in various states of repair. The Catlins Eco -Campground, is part of the 850 acre, Bellbird Ranch farm and supplies the excellent, clover-raised, Texel lamb and Highland beef, which travellers will enjoy while visiting this special part of New Zealand. The McLean Falls road is located on this farm and an easement has been granted to the Department of Conservation to allow public access to these magnificent falls.