Plan a Family Trip to The Catlins
One of the greatest yet most underrated road trips for families in New Zealand, The Catlins is the coastline that spans from Balclutha in Otago to Fortrose in Southland. This stretch of coast is wild, rugged and beautiful. Awash in short walks to majestic waterfalls, lakes, beaches and bays that are home to an array of penguins, seals and sea lions, there’s so much to do with the little ones here that are sure to give the whole family a boost of appreciation for the natural world. What’s more, most of the sights are free, making The Catlins also kind on the budget.
So, plan your family getaway to The Catlins Coast with this complete travel guide to The Catlins for families.
Things to Do in The Catlins with Kids
- Go for a dip at McLean Falls
- Marvel at the beautiful Purakaunui Falls
- Look out for seals at Nugget Point
- Watch out for penguins at Roaring Bay or Curio Bay
- Be amazed by the sea lions at Surat Bay, Cannibal Bay or Waipapa Point
- Visit the Owaka Museum
- Explore Earthlore Wildlife Gardens
- Horse trek in the majestic scenery of The Catlins
- Build sandcastles and get an ice cream at Porpoise Bay
- Walk the family-friendly Lake Wilkie Track.
For more details on each activity, check out the 10 Things to Do in The Catlins with Kids.
Family Adventure Activities
While most of The Catlins’ adventures are free natural attractions, which we’ll get to later, some of the more complete family adventures include horse riding. Join Te Taunga Adventures for their scenic horse treks that are ideal for all ages and abilities. With more than 660ha of sheep and beef farm to explore, awash with panoramic views of the coast, beaches, rivers and forest, the team can curate a ride to suit your family. Alternatively, choose from an already prepared schedule of one-hour to six-hour rides with a spectacular array of sceneries to discover that are achievable for beginners and children.
A must for families visiting Owaka, Earthlore Wildlife Gardens is a fun, educational and downright quirky attraction that will stick with the little ones for years to come. As you explore the gardens where native birds are seen and heard year-round, you’ll come across a mini frisbee golf course, gypsy caravan with dress-up costumes for hilarious photos, meet friendly donkeys, sheep, geese and many more surprises. On a more serious note, the gardens take an active role in insect conservation, where kids can join in by picking up an activity pack from the gift store.
For more family-friendly activities, check out the 10 Things to Do in The Catlins with Kids.
All-weather Family Activities
If the rain catches up with you in The Catlins, make it an excuse to visit the revered Owaka Museum. Browse an array of exhibitions of relics found in The Catlins, like remains of shipwrecks, pioneering industries, early Maori history, clothing wore by the early settlers, and much much more. There are interesting stories and audiovisual displays to appeal to all ages. On-site is also the information centre and a community art gallery.
For more museums to check out around The Catlins, check out the 6 Best Museums in Clutha & The Catlins.
Free Family Activities
The Catlins is famous for its breathtaking waterfalls, sweeping beaches, wildlife and dramatic coastal formations. But the real beauty, at least for families with more mouths to feed, is that all of this can be enjoyed for free!
Starting with some waterfalls, The Catlins is arguably home to some of the most picturesque waterfalls that are easy for families to get to via short walks. McLean Falls is a highlight, boasting multiple tiers that kids love to climb. The walk is an easy 40-minute return walk. For a waterfall that’s so easy to get to you can take a stroller, choose Purakaunui Falls accessed on a 20-minute walk through majestic beech forest to a cascading waterfall.
The Catlins also has many places to spot New Zealand’s marine wildlife, from cute fur seals to waddling yellow-eyed penguins to monstrous sea lions! For instance, visit Roaring Bay on the way to Nugget Point to access a short walk to viewing hides where you can watch yellow-eyed penguins without disturbing them – the best time to visit is before 9am and after 3pm. Then continue to Nugget Point where an easy 20-minute walk takes you to below the Nugget Point Lighthouse with a viewing area overlooking a New Zealand fur seal colony among nugget-shaped rocks. Take binoculars for the best viewing experience. Finally, enjoy a stroll along Surat Bay beach where you’re likely to come across groups of New Zealand sea lions basking in the sun. Just remember to keep the little ones in check and keep your distance from these large animals.
For more free activities, like building sandcastles on Papatowai Beach or walking to Lake Wilkie, check out 10 Things to Do in The Catlins with Kids and the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in The Catlins.