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 ...
Get off the beaten track and experience untamed nature in the raw and rugged Catlins. You’ll find gorgeous waterfalls and quirky collections of curiosities, see rare wildlife and unique geological wonders, and discover plenty of ways to admire the wild, unrestrained beauty of this stunning landscape.
Head along to Fortrose at low tide to see skeletal remains of the steamship Ino sticking up out of the sand. The ship was built in Hokitika and grounded here in 1886. While you’re here, go wetland wildlife spotting, and take a photo with the giant pukeko statue in the town. If you’re a golfer, Fortrose is also home to New Zealand’s southernmost nine-hole course at the Tokanui Golf Club.
See seawater surge and explode up out of this blowhole over 200 metres inland. Water crashes noisily through this 55-metre-deep hole and creates a spectacular sight at Jacks Bay. It’s a beautiful walk to get to the blowhole, with incredible ocean views once you get there.
The Catlins is a veritable coastal safari, with an abundance of wildlife including seals, sea lions, penguins, and dolphins. Surat Bay is a great place to watch the sea lion colony going about its business – just be sure to keep a safe distance. For yellow-eyed penguins, head to Roaring Bay, where you can view the little waddlers coming in from the ocean for the evening from a hide on the hill. The best time is between 3pm and dusk.
There are several gorgeous waterfalls in the Catlins, all accessible via short, gentle walking tracks. One of the prettiest and most popular is Purakaunui Falls, which cascade beautifully over rocks into the river, made extra stunning after a bit of rain. The easy track is wheelchair accessible to the viewing platform at the top of the falls. McLean Falls is the highest in the Catlins, reached via a 30-minute loop track and featuring highly photogenic terraces. A peaceful two-and-a-half-hour walk through native coastal forest leads you to Waipohatu Falls, and a 30-minute track in the Table Hill Scenic Reserve rewards you with two waterfalls – Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls. We even have our own Niagara Falls here in New Zealand, although be aware that these falls were named in the same ironic spirit that spawned Rotorua’s ‘Rotovegas’ nickname.
One of those natural wonders that makes your jaw drop, the giant Cathedral Caves are bound to make you feel tiny. Each sea-worn passage is approximately 30 metres high and they reach a combined length of 200m. Access the caves at low tide via a one-hour walk through coastal forest and along Waipati beach. There is a small car parking charge, which helps maintain the track and caves. While you’re here, take a detour to the stunning reflective Lake Wilkie, just a few minutes away from the caves.
Despite common misconception, the southernmost point of the South Island is not actually Bluff, but here in the Catlins at Slope Point. Visit to collect your bragging rights, and take a photo with the iconic yellow sign showing the distance to the North and South Poles.
An entirely unique sight that has to be seen to be believed, the garden at Owaka dubbed ‘Teapotland’ is absolutely overflowing with teapots of every size, shape and colour, over a thousand of them in total. The collection started with one teapot unearthed in the garden and popped out on the fence for display and has now grown to become a full-on attraction. Try and spot the largest teapot in the collection – and the smallest!
With dramatic rugged cliffs, panoramic ocean views and resident wildlife, the lighthouse at Nugget Point is one of the most popular attractions in the Catlins. The endlessly photogenic lighthouse is one of the country’s oldest. Peer down at the nugget-like rocks below to see if you can spot fur seals, yellow-eyed penguins, and maybe even sea lions, elephant seals or Hector’s dolphins if you’re lucky. Sunrise is one of the best times to visit, for the least amount of foot traffic and maximum natural beauty.
Art meets endless amusement as you explore this garden filled with water-powered and wind-up contraptions, toys, and curiosities such as a bicycle-powered television and a retro hairdryer that sounds like a kakapo. The one-of-a-kind collection of automata, gadgets and gizmos is created mostly from junk, odds and ends salvaged and given new life by artist Blair Somerville.
This forest is a remnant from over 170 million years ago when Aotearoa was part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland – you can see the forest’s fossilised remains on the seashore at low tide at Curio Bay. Get a unique comparison of the petrified forest with its living counterpart on the Living Forest walkway, where you can imagine how the fossil trees might have looked millions of years ago. Curio Bay is also home to yellow-eyed penguins, and you may even spot Hector’s dolphins playing in the surf at neighbouring Porpoise Bay during the warmer months. Aspiring surfers can also get some lessons here with the Catlins Surf School.