Activities in the Catlins area, New Zealand

Experience the rugged cost of the Catlins at Nugget Point. Home to Seals and Yellow-eyed penguins.

The Catlins, is an area located in the southeastern corner of the South Island of New Zealand. It is home to Slope Point, the South Island's southernmost point. Heavy ocean swells attract big-wave surfers and have also caused numerous shipwrecks in the past.

Featuring a scenic coastal landscape and dense temperate rainforest it is habitat to different species of birds and mammals.

Why should you go there?

The Catlins area combines relaxing at the beach and watching wildlife. Among others, the rare yellow-eyed penguin, fur seals and sea lions.

Getting there and how long to stay

From Dunedin take the southern Scenic Route towards Invercargill. The route is sign posted by the red triangle shown on the left, and conviniently passes all attractions in the Catlins.

If you are in a rush to get to Fiordland and still want to squeeze in the Catlins, your best option is a small detour to visit Nugget point and watch sea lions at Cannibal Bay before getting back on Highway 1 towards Gore.

If possible plan at least one or two overnight stays though. You will need some buffer time as penguins mostly come at shore at dusk and the cathedral coves or Curio Bay are only accessible during low tide.

Activities in the Catlins area

Seals, Sea lions and Yellow-eyed penguins at Nugget Point and Cannibal Bay

Nugget point is the first stop on your route through the Cattlins. Its steep headland has a lighthouse at its tip.

From there you get an impressive view of the rugged coast line and its "nuggets", the rocky islets. The point is home to many seabirds, including penguins and a large colony of fur seals. As you are standing on a cliff you need some good binoculars to see the seals, though. Honestly, there are many places further north, like Shag point, where you can get closer to seals.

Roaring Bay, only a few 100 meters away from Nugget Point is the home of the rare yellow-eyed penguin.

From Nugget point you can see Roaring Bay to your right, home to a small colony of yellow-eyed penguins. The access is just a few hundred meeters back the road.

 There is a shelter from which you can watch them get to shore. Most will arrive at dusk so the later in the afternoon you arrive the higher your chance of seeing these birds.

From Nugget Point and Roaring Bay it is a 30 minutes drive to Cannibal Bay, home to a Sea lion colony. If you have time, do a return walk along the beach and through the sand dunes to Surat Bay.

The gravel road to Cannibal Bay is signposted off the only road towards Owaka. It is said to average about one tourist accident a week in the summer months so do take care. There might be a car, campervan, people or stock (farm animals) just around the corner.

A seal playing in the whitewater at Roaring Bay next to Nugget Point.As with all wildlife, be careful when watching them. While they look slow and blubbery, they can move at surprising speed and outpace humans over short distances. So do not to get between them and the sea. If disturbed or annoyed, they will take action - they have killed dogs by grabbing hold of them then sitting on top of them, smothering them in the sand.

Purakaunui falls

One of two waterfalls in the Catlins area. Just a 10 minutes walk from the car park.On the South island, the Purakaunui Falls and McLean Falls (see below) are on of the few waterfalls outside the alpine region. Besides that, well, the Purakaunui is just a small waterfall and New Zealand definitely has more beautiful specimen. But it is only a 5 minute walk from the car park and allows for some nice pictures.

Jack's Blowhole

Jack's Blowhole is a 55 metres deep cavern near Jack's Bay that formed when part of a sea cavern's roof collapsed. The blowhole is 200 metres from the sea.

Tautuku Walks

Nice view from Florence lookout onto Tautuku Bay, New Zealand.Driving down the Southern Scenic Route you will get to Florence lookout from which you get a good view over Tautuku Bay and the Tautuku Peninsula.

If the weather is good, enjoy a pleasent walk at the beach or at the Tautuku Estuary Walkand and have a look at Lake Wilkie. There is direct access to all three walks off SH92.

Cathedral Caves


Over thousands of years, the ocean carved two caves with a 30-metre-high ceiling out of the Jurassic sandstone. The caves are only accessible during low tide and tickets are $5 per adult.

The land owner runs a small website www.cathedralcaves.co.nz, which shows when the tides allow entering the caves.

McLean Falls


The Purakanui waterfall might be easier to access, and therefore be more visited, but the McLean Falls are definitely more impressing. It descends a number of steep drops of in total 22 m. The McLean Falls are best viewed in the late afternoon when the sun is shining on them.

If you take a torch with you and don't mind walking after sun set, bush glow worms can be viewed along the walking track to / from the McLean Falls.

Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay


With a camping place situated at Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay just being a 10 minutes walk down the road, this spots is perfectly suited to stay the night.

First enjoy a swim at Portpoise Bay together with the Hector's dolphins. Afterwards, at low tide, have a look at the fossil forest at Curio Bay. If you are patient enough you might even see some Yellow-eyed penguins getting ashore at dusk.

There are volunteer rangers at Curio Bay who will answer any of your questions concerning the location and its wildlife.

Curio Bay and low tide with the fossile forest visible.

Slope Point and Waipapa Point


Slope Point by Cinda.christian, CC BY 3.0, cropped

Slope point is the southern most point on the South Islands and impresses with its trees bent by the strong winds. So don't miss your picture in front of the signpost. 

Another 30minutes drive will take you to Waipapa Point. Should you not have had the chance to see sea lions before, this is your last chance in the Catlins. Just walk through the dunes but keep your distance.