31 best things to do in the central North Island
Dominated by the enormous Lake Taupō and a trio of volcanoes including Mount Ruapehu, the Central Plateau is sporting a plethora of natural ...
To the east of Invercargill on the southeastern coast of the lower South Island you can find the spellbinding dramatics of the Catlins, a rugged coastland that is a highlight of the Southern Scenic Route. Here you can journey through farmland and native podocarp forests and discover hidden lakes, stunning waterfalls and beaches, spectacular caves, a petrified forest and dinosaur-age fossils of marine and plant life, the latter remnants from Gondwanaland before New Zealand split the party some 80 million years ago.
Must see Visit Curio Bay’s 180 million-year-old petrified forest – it’s one of only three such accessible fossil forests in the world (when the tide goes out!). Adrenaline junkie Surf the extreme break at the reef near Tautuku Beach. Rest & relax Soak in the hot water and take in floor-to-ceiling views at Kaka Point Luxury Spa Accommodation. Culture fix Grab a guide brochure and drive the Catlins Heritage Trail, a five-hour trip including 13 stops and a few short walks. Back to nature Get an eyeful of the seals, sea lions and penguins at Nugget Point. Cash strapped There’s no end of stunning walks and hikes – check out the Catlins River Track for five hours of beech forest, river views and swing bridges. Casual fare Niagara Falls Café/Restaurant and Gallery. Café Get a great beach view at The Point Café and Bar. Catlins Inn.
Niagara Falls Bluegrass and Roots Festival [Feb] One of the best value-for-money weekends you’ll get in Aotearoa. Music, camping, and family-friendly fun.
Nugget Point is an incredibly iconic piece of Aotearoa coastline, with a serpentine path leading out to the 1860s lighthouse on the point. Get on the sea with Catlins Kayak and Adventure for an up-close view of unique coastline, natural formations and wildlife including seals, birdlife and dolphins. Perhaps unfairly named by a surveyor who found some human remains at the beach, Cannibal Bay is an idyllic spot with white sand, blue sea, and plenty of photogenic sea lions. Whip out your rod and try your hand at fishing – the Catlins’ rivers, estuaries and sea are full of beautiful kai moana. The naturally formed Cathedral Caves are huge passages through rocky cliffs, accessed by a lovely short walk. Who needs to go to Canada? We’ve got our own Niagara Falls right here in the Catlins – at just under 1 metre high, they may not be as big, but they are in a truly beautiful part of the region. Slope Point, the southernmost point of the South Island, is a desolately beautiful and windswept landscape unlike anything else you’ll see.
Contrary to popular belief, Bluff is not the southernmost point on the mainland. That gong goes to Slope Point. The spot is marked by a classic yellow AA signpost indicating the distance to the South Pole and the equator.
The Point Café and Bar is right by the sea at Kaka Point, with great views of the coast and a speciality fresh seafood menu. Get a Southland classic deep fried cheese roll, or a house-made burger, pizza or sushi at Bake House Takeaways in Owaka. Niagara Falls Café in South Catlins is a former school serving simple, delicious food made from local hand-picked ingredients, and just down the road, the excellent Tumu Toka Curioscape Café & Restaurant is the culinary outlet for the South Catlins Charitable Trust, tasked with preserving the area’s natural environment.
The Whistling Frog whistlingfrogresort.com
Beresford Heights beresfordheights.nz
Kaka Point Luxury Spa Accommodation kakapointspaaccommodation.co.nz
Air The nearest airports are in Invercargill, Dunedin and Queenstown. Road Head down State Highway 1 from Dunedin, or SH6 from Queenstown or Te Anau. The Catlins is part of the Southern Scenic Route, and the main coastal drive is in places unsealed and narrow, so drive with care and take your time to enjoy this beautiful part of the country.
Catlins Information Centre, 10 Campbell Street, Owaka
Waikawa Information Centre, 604 Niagara-Waikawa Highway
Balclutha Sitting near the end of the Clutha River, this is a great stopover between Dunedin and Invercargill, and acts as a gateway to the Catlins.
Kaka Point A small seaside town and popular destination for beachgoers.
Waikawa A former port town that still services fishing and pleasure boats. Close to the wildlife-filled Curio Bay.
Papatowai One of the tiniest towns in the country, with access to an estuary that makes for great fishing and wildlife watching.
Tokanui A great stopping point for food, socialising and accommodation near the western end of the Catlins.
What's Hot New Zealand Newsletter
Stay in the loop with all the latest food, fashion, trends, events and more. Delivered hot to your inbox every month.