What to Do in The Catlins: Nature’s Paradise
Cascading waterfalls, rare wildlife, vibrant rainforest, rolling rural hills and breathtaking coastline: it all awaits along the Catlins Coast. The Catlins sits in the southeastern corner of the South Island, teetering on the edge of the Otago and Southland regions. It’s the ideal destination for road trips with an attraction to see every 20 minutes or so down the road, as well as offering a fantastic array of campsites and accommodation to stay a while longer. Check out the highlights of this stunning corner of New Zealand with this list of things to do in The Catlins!
While you’re here, you might also be interested in the 18 Amazing Attractions You Can’t Miss in The Catlins.
1. See a Fossilised Forest and Penguins at Curio Bay
A must-stop on a Catlins road trip is the fascinating fossilised forest of Curio Bay. Walk on the rock pools of the bay and discover distinct tree trunks and stumps shaping the rocks. Interpretation panels at Curio Bay explain the history of this natural attraction. During summer’s mornings and evenings, you’re also likely to spot one of the rarest penguins in the world, yellow-eyed penguins! See 5 Tips for Watching Wildlife in the Catlins for more information.
Location: Curio Bay, Waikawa-Curio Bay Road
2. Look Out for Sea Lions and See a Historic Lighthouse at Waipapa Point
In the southern reaches of The Catlins, take a short walk to a stunning beach at Waipapa Point. Here, you’ll see a photo-worthy lighthouse and learn about the point’s rocky history of shipwrecks. Be careful as you explore the beach, as it’s easy to mistake a sleeping sea lion for a rock! New Zealand sea lions are some of New Zealand’s largest animals and extremely rare. Enjoy observing them in their natural habitat and be sure to not get too close.
Location: Waipapa Point, Waipapa Lighthouse Road
3. Check Out the Southernmost Point of the South Island
If geographical points of interest are your thing, then don’t miss Slope Point. Slope Point is the southernmost point of the South Island, marked by a yellow signpost marking your distance from The Equator and the South Pole. It’s a short walk following a farmland trail to Slope Point where the coastal scenery alone is well worth the walk.
Location: Slope Point, Slope Point Road
4. Walk to McLean Falls
The Catlins has no lack of waterfalls. The most majestic of them all is McLean Falls. Follow the Tautuku River, along the 40-minute McLean Falls Walkway, through lush rainforest past teasing cascades of small waterfalls until you reach the main event! It’s possible to climb alongside the first tiered section of this large waterfall until you reach a long-drop waterfall tumbling into a pool (pictured).
Location: McLean Falls Walkway, Rewcastle Road
5. Check Out Cathedral Cave
One of the 30 longest sea caves in the world, Cathedral Cave is an incredible sight not to be missed. After a 40-minute bush and beach walk, you’ll arrive at two cave entrances connected by a 199m passage. Walk through the passage and test out the acoustics to find out why they call it “Cathedral Cave”. Note that the gate to the Cathedral Caves car park is only open two hours before low tide. There is a small admission fee for this walk.
Location: Cathedral Caves car park, Pratt Road
6. Discover a Stunning Forest and Lake on the Lake Wilkie Walk
A picturesque area worth stopping by for a short visit is Lake Wilkie. A 10-minute walk takes you through a succession of forest with some fine examples of native trees. At the end of the walk, you’ll come across a boardwalk alongside Lake Wilkie, offering vivid reflections of the surrounding forest.
Location: Lake Wilkie Walk, Chaslands Highway, Paptowai
7. Get Epic Photos at Nugget Point
One of the most iconic attractions of the Catlins Coast, Nugget Point is often the first/last thing to see by being located in the north of the district. Enjoy a short and well-maintained walking track along a coastal cliff to the Nugget Point Lighthouse built in 1869. Here, a viewing platform overlooks the rocky “nuggets” in the ocean, as well as a seal colony on the rocks below. Binoculars are needed for the best viewing of the seals.
Location: The Nuggets Road, Kaka Point
8. Watch the Sunset from Tautuku Estuary
A lesser-explored short walk in The Catlins is the Tautuku Estuary Boardwalk. This peaceful 20-minute return walk follows an old tramline to a boardwalk meandering across the estuary. The reeds hide crabs and the extremely rare fernbird, so keep an eye out. The best time to visit the estuary is for sunset.
Location: Tautuku Estuary Walkway, Fleming Road
9. See the Picture-perfect Pukakaunui Falls
This forest walk is fairytale-like from start to finish. Follow a 20-minute walk through spectacular rainforest following a gentle stream with footbridges. At the end, you’ll come to a view of the beautifully cascading Purakaunui Falls.
Location: Purakaunui Falls Walk, Puaho Road
10. Check Out the “World’s Smallest Waterfall”
Well, this is a waterfall you can afford to miss, but if you’re intrigued then check out New Zealand’s very own version of Niagara Falls. Only, this Niagara Falls’ claim to fame is being the world’s smallest waterfall. You would easily miss it if it wasn’t for the interpretation panel explaining the quirky story behind the name.
Location: Manse Road, Niagara (near the Niagara Falls Cafe)