The Catlins has a variety of features which make it unique to the eastern coast of the South Island. It is rugged, remote and endowed with large tracts of native rainforest. It has abundant wildlife, is sparsely populated and is very scenic and unspoilt. The climate is temperate with a generous annual rainfall which nurtures the predominantly green landscape. River valleys, hills, farmland, and forests which reach to the sea dominate the landscape. Coastal cliffs, estuaries, beaches, sea caves, rock stacks and a petrified forest add to the seascape.
Wildlife and native plants and trees are a feature of the Catlins. Varieties of sea birds are prolific and you may see the forest-dwelling birds tui, bellbird, fantail, native pigeon and the rare mohua. You may also be fortunate enough to observe yellow-eyed penguins from the viewing hides provided. The Catlins is also home to the New Zealand sea lion, fur seal and the Hector’s dolphin.
The forests contain many native tree species especially tree ferns, rata, kahikatea, miro, kamahi, and silver beech.
Nugget Point - This is a 47-hectare wildlife reserve and is home to many of the southern coast’s animals and birds, including elephant seals, fur seals, New Zealand (Hooker’s) sea lions, the rare yellow-eyed penguin and many other species of seabirds. Please use the hide for viewing the yellow-eyed penguins, and never approach within 20 metres of penguins or sea lions.
Farm and bush walk to a conservation reserve featuring a very large totara tree.
Bush track at the top of Marine Terrace. This 30-minute loop track takes you through a good cross-section of vegetation types, including ferns and perching plants. Most podocarp species are also present
One of the last remains of the old Catlins River railway which, when completed, ran from Balclutha to Tahakopa. The tunnel was completed in 1895. You can walk through the 250m tunnel, but the old line beyond the other side is impassable and overgrown. Take a torch with you.
The walk to the falls starts at the Purakaunui Falls Reserve directly opposite the toilets and car park. The 10-minute (one way) walk to the top viewing point is an interpretative walk, highlighting many native trees and shrubs.
The nature walk is 15 minutes for the round trip. You can take a longer walk (40 minutes for a round trip) through this remnant stand of virgin podocarp forest, rich in birdlife, and return via the saltmarsh and estuary. It is rare to find this kind of intact sequence of vegetation from estuary shore to forest. Each year godwits return to the sand spit near the mouth of the estuary. There is also a short walk (20-minute round trip), starting from in front of the Pounawea Keswick Convention Centre. It follows the Owaka River, an area of the river known as ‘The Elbow’, and brings you out at the beginning of the town.
The Catlins River Track runs from ‘The Wisp’ to the Tawanui Camp Ground (DOC). The entire track is 5 hours one way, or can be broken up into three smaller segments. The Wisp to Wallis Stream – 1 hour, Wallis Stream to Frank’s Creek – 1.5 hours, and Frank’s Creek to Tawanui – 2.5 hours. Along the track you will pass through attractive silver beech forest, cross swing bridges and possibly spot the endangered mohua, or yellowhead bird. The track offers excellent opportunities for trout fishing.
This walk takes you along the beach atCannibal Bay to False Islet where you can climb to the top of the cliffs for the spectacular view, then drop down to Surat Bay. Return through the sand hills where the remains of a forest and moa hunters’ camp may be seen. These beaches are popular resting spots for Hooker’s sea lions.
Jack’s Blowhole is in Tunnel Rocks Scenic Reserve and is a large hole 55 metres deep, 200 metres from the sea.
The walk to the falls is through regenerating podocarp/broadleaf forest. A wooden platform built into the bed of the stream provides a convenient place to view the 10m high falls. About 50m upstream the stream divides and drops over Horseshoe Falls which are worth the steep 5 minute climb to view them when the river is running high.
A 20 minute self-guided walk through a variety of habitats in a private reserve. Located in Papatowai at the junction of Chaslands Highway and Tahakopa Valley Road.
Scenic Route. Horse and coach teams once forded the river below the present bridge and you will follow the same route to the beach. The silver beech trees in this forest are the southern-most stand of this species. Near the mouth of the river, where the totara are growing, is the site of early Maori occupation and this area has been the centre of much archaeological interest in the past.
This walk is suitable for all age groups and provides plenty of variety. It is a 20 minute walk each way with a possible extension of another 20 minutes each way to King’s Rock (signposted from junction). The start of the walk from the bush side is signposted from the Papatowai township. You can return via the sandy shore. The layering of the rock structure at Picnic Point provides an excellent view of the geological structure of the region. The extension towards King’s Rock offers bush scenery and views of seascapes.
When the rata is in flower around the viewing area, there can be a magnificent feast of colour as well as birdsong as tui and bellbirds enjoy the nectar.
This peaceful walk meanders out onto the estuary where you may see fernbirds, and to the edge of the mudflat habitat of crabs, snails and wading birds.
The tractor, a Fordson farm tractor converted for use on wooden rails, was the invention of Frank Traill who took out a patent for it in 1924.
Open Nov-May, cutting back into cliffs right on the beach, the huge, arched Cathedral Caves are only accessible for two hours either side of low tide even then they can be closed at short notice if the conditions are deemed too dangerous. If you’re happy to wade, you can walk in one entrance and out the other. 15-minute forest walk down to the beach and a further 25 minutes to the caves
This is a forest walk to what some say is the most striking of the Catlins’ waterfalls.
One of our most popular tours is to see the rare Yellow Eyed Penguin
Watch the video