Awesome Attractions in The Catlins
Did someone say waterfall? The Catlins Coast, nestled in the southeastern corner of the South Island, is where backpackers can get their New Zealand wildlife fix in some of the most rugged and varied scenery in New Zealand. Walk amongst the thick green forests to many, and we mean many, super stunning waterfalls. Then find yourself walking sandy beaches where the only other beach-users are the sunbathing sea lions. Finally, visit some of New Zealand’s most famous rock formations, such as a blowhole 200 metres away from the ocean, or an ancient fossilised forest. It’s fair to say there are a lot of amazing attractions in The Catlins!
It’s hard to determine when to stop this list of amazing attractions in The Catlins, as it feels like every 5km drive there is something new to see. But you have no excuse to not visit them all! The coast is scattered with quiet hostels and campsites so make the most of every second in this beautiful location. And if you need a place to stay, see 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in The Catlins.
The bay’s main attraction is the shipwreck of the Ino Steamship that is unveiled at low tide. Apart from shipwreck spotting, you can enjoy a walk along the beach and sit on the giant rock. The area also has fantastic wetland wildlife spotting. In Fortrose town, grab yourself a selfie with the giant pukeko statue.
2. Jack’s Blowhole
You may have seen a few blowholes in New Zealand, whether it’s a rock formation or a that of a dolphin. However, what makes Jack’s Blowhole so special is that it is located more than 200 metres away from the sea! As you approach the blowhole on the 1-hour track, you’ll hear the sounds of the waves rushing through the hole.
3. Surat Bay
The colony of sea lions draw the crowds in every day but the history of Surat Bay is quite fascinating too. It got its name from the ship Surat that wrecked in the bay in 1874.
4. Matai Falls
Take a stunning 30-minute track through a sheltered forest thick with mossy trunks and branches. All this leads to Matai Stream in the Catlins Forest Park with two waterfalls, Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls.
5. McLean Falls
At 22 metres high, the McLean Falls is the tallest in the Catlins. Easy to access using a 30-minute loop track to the Tautuku River, the falls is a paradise for photographers. It features a huge drop and multiple small terraces that offer some great angles.
6. Cathedral Caves
The gigantic hole in the cliff resonates from the roar of the sea. Unlike anything you’ve seen before, the Cathedral Caves are impressive by size and sound way to make you feel small! The 1-hour walk to reach them is mainly a stroll down the beach after a few minutes of bushwalk. Make sure to check the opening times though, as it accessed at low tide.
The quiet area is home to a 2h30min loop track through wild bushes to yes, you guessed it a waterfall. A shorter track is suitable for wheelchairs too. Bordering the Waikawa Forest, the area is a typical coastal forest with endemic trees and birds.
8. Slope Point
Don’t miss the most southern point of New Zealand’s South Island. If you are not planning to go to Stewart Island, this is probably the further south you’ll ever go! Slope Point is also an amazing place to admire the tumultuous southern ocean.
9. Niagara Falls
Wait, what?! Yes, New Zealand has its own Niagara Falls. Be aware though, some ironic so-and-so gave this name to probably the smallest waterfall in the world, as opposed as the huge Niagara Falls at the border of the USA and Canada. The walk is short and the cafe nearby has good food so, it is still worth a stop.
10. Lake Wilkie
This stunning reflective lake is small but it is so easy to get to via an easy 30-minute track that it would be a shame to miss it. Plus, it is only a few minutes away from the Cathedral Caves so make sure you visit the area fully.
11. Kaka Point
“Sun, Sand, Scenery” this is how the residents of Kaka Point describes the small settlement. Not only is it a great base for sea lion and bird spotting, but the campsite is one of the best ways to explore the area surrounding the famous Nugget Point.
12. Purakaunui Bay & Falls
The stunning bay is home beautiful beach featuring rugged cliffs. On the edge of the beach, you will find a humble Department of Conservation (DoC) campsite. Nearby, look for the Purakaunui Falls, gorgeous waterfalls hidden at the end of a short 5-minute path.
13. Tunnel Hill
The tunnel was built in the late 1800s to link Balclutha and Owaka for railway construction. The sight of the tunnel in the middle of the wilderness is a reminder of the colonial time where there was a determination to build, no matter the height or the wilderness.
In the midst of all the forest walks and beach walks, we strongly recommend tackling the Old Coach Road Forest Track that will take you to some moa hunter sites. Although it is only a 45-minute return walk, it will not disappoint. Aside from walking, the town also has a well-known surf spot.
15. Curio Bay
The petrified forest of Curio Bay is a world-famous geological phenomenon. At low tide, see the ancient tree trunks and stumps of a fossilised forest. Curio Bay is also home to a pod of Hector’s dolphins, the world’s smallest dolphins, and even yellow-eyed penguins.
16. Catlins River and Wisp Loop Track
Combined, the two tracks are a full 2 days hike more than 24km long. It’s a great way to explore the native bush around and spend a night in an isolated campsite. For those that are not into camping, both routes can be done individually under a day.
17. Nugget Point
Sea birds, yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, rocky shores and a century-old lighthouse. No wonder Nugget Point is the hottest spot in The Catlins. Added to that, the walk to see it all is way under an hour and you have a perfect see-it-all lazy trip!
18. Waipapa Point
The historic lighthouse is guarding the site of many shipwrecks. There are multiple walks available around, but the most memorable will take you to Tararua Acre, which is the cemetery for the victims of the biggest shipwreck of the area that happened in 1881.