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The Catlins

Published on 30 November 2021

4 minute read

The Catlins Image

At the Southeast corner of the South Island is a large natural region that has stayed relatively untouched. Full of natural wonders, the Catlins are a popular region in the south for hiking, ocean visits, and natural wonders like waterfalls and caves. Just a short drive from Invercargill, there’s a lot to see in the region. If possible, we recommend taking a few days to explore everything the Catlins has to offer. Make sure you plan your trip before you leave Invercargill as mobile coverage around this region can be touch and go!

To help you find what you’re looking for, we’ve made up a quick guide of some popular destinations. We’ve included higlights such as walks, beaches, lighthouses, and more.

Cathedral Caves

One of the most popular highlights in The Catlins is the Cathedral Caves. These enormous caves lead straight to the ocean and are only accessible during the warmer months due to the dangers of weather and high tides in the area. It’s important to check the tide times online as the caves are only open for a specific time each day–and are closed entirely on some days.

These caves are accessed off of a small road on the Chaslands highway that can be easily missed if you aren’t looking out for it. The road into the car park is at the end of an old logging road. From the park, It is quite a decent walk down to the caves so we suggest good footwear and take a water bottle for the walk back up the hill. There are strictly no dogs allowed in the caves as it is a protected area.

Because the caves are on private Māori land, there is a fee to enter. This fee is used to maintain the car park in addition to walking paths. They have recently added an EFTPOS option and it is $10 per adult and $2 per child for parking and entry.

You can find out more about the caves on the Catherdral Caves Website.

Beaches and Lighthouses

Part of the Catlins includes both Southern and Eastern coastlines, and there are several beaches with public access along the way.

Curio Bay

Curio Bay is more than a beach. It’s one of the few places in the world that has an undisturbed fossilised Jurassic forest. Curio Bay is also an area filled with wildlife. Along with the regulars like sea lions and seagulls, the area occasionally has visits from the very rare Hector’s Dolphin (papakanua) and Yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho).

Due to all of the unique features of the area, dogs are not allowed in several areas of Curio Bay. This includes all areas inhabited by penguins, sea lions, and seals.

Kaka Point

Kaka Point is a town in the northern edge of The Catlins. The small town has about 300 permanent residents and has beaches ideal for sports such as surfing, kayaking, and hiking. Occasionally, yellow-eyed penguins and dolphins make an appearance too.

Nugget Point

Nugget Point is an iconic lighthouse situated in The Catlins. The region itself is quite isolated and off of most major roads so it helps to plan your route ahead of time.

The lighthouse itself was originally built in the mid-1800s; it is a sight to behold, nearly 10 metres high situated on a rocky cliff path about 75 metres above sea level. From that viewpoint you get a full 360-degree view where you can see the landscape for kilometres all around.

Waterfalls and walking trails

With rich natural forests and a long coastline, there are plenty of places to walk and natural sights to see in The Catlins.

  • McLean Falls is in the Chaslands and is about 22 metres high. From the parking area it is about a 40-minute return.
  • Purakanui Falls is south of Owaka. The walk is short and simple while also having wheelchair access. The walk is about 20 minutes return.
  • Slope Point is the southernmost point of the South Island. There is a car park near the point and a ten-minute walk from the park to the signpost.
  • Matai Falls is both a hike to waterfalls and an option to go along the old rail track that used to connect Owaka to Tahakopa Township. 40-minute return.
  • Catlins Lake connects to the Catlins River where there are plenty of walking trails in addition to picnic areas.
  • Jack’s Blowhole is a 55-metre deep canyon filled with water that leads out to Jack’s Bay. The walk from the nearby car park is about 1-hour return.