A Startling Experience
Surat Bay on the Catlins coast in Southland has one of the most beautiful unspoiled beaches in New Zealand. It is also one of the favourite resting areas for seal lions that come here from their breeding grounds in the Auckland Islands south of New Zealand. Visitors to the area are warned to keep their distance from the animals when visiting the beach.
The track to the beach is through grass-covered sand dunes. Flattened grass along the track is evidence that sea lions have recently visited.
We reached the beach without encountering any animals. I was trying to photograph the margin where the grass meets the sand when suddenly, and without warning, there was a loud roar behind me and this sea lion reared up in the grass about five metres away. Startled, I quickly backed off to a safe distance and was able to capture this image of the sea lion guarding its territory. Apparently it is mostly sub-adult males that haul themselves onto the beaches along this coast.
Surat Bay is named after a 1,000 ton immigrant sailing ship that became wrecked here in 1874 after striking rocks further south along the coast. No lives were lost.