Australia and Oceania New Zealand Travel

Things to do in Catlins – the most beautiful region in New Zealand

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things to do in catlins - catlins attractions

Things to do in Catlins are so amazing and really unique, but usually, tourists skip this region. While Rotorua and the Fiordland are rather crowded places, we didn’t meet tons of people visiting Catlins attractions. On the other hand, also not many kiwis live here permanently – only around 1200 people. That’s a pity! The Catlins, located in the south of the South Island, is just loaded with spectacular landscapes, wonders of nature and unique animals! We still haven’t decided, but I think the Catlins attractions make it the most beautiful region we visited in New Zealand… Look at the pics below and decide yourself! 

things to do in catlins - catlins attractions - cow and the seaBest things to do in Catlins

It’s hard to tell why we love this place. Maybe because we didn’t find much info about this place before our visit, so we weren’t spoiled when discovering every new gem? Maybe because of the vibrant, green forest, looking like a Jurassic Park movie set? Maybe because of these picturesque waterfalls? Or because of penguins? The Catlins is just the perfect place for all the outdoor lovers. What are the best things to do in Catlins if you love exploring the wild? 

Tip: Find out more how our New Zealand itinerary looked like, how we planned our New Zealand budget and of course, where to see kiwi in New Zealand!

Jaw-dropping road – Southern Scenic Route

The road to the Catlins is impressive. The Southern Scenic Route connects Te Anau, Invercargill, and Dunedin. When in Invercargill (check what to see in Invercargill), you must visit the city of Bluff – the southernmost point of the South Island. Plenty of people come here only to take a picture with the famous signpost at Stirling Point. It’s only 4810km to the South Pole from there! 😉 We recommend especially a trip to the Bluff Hill lookout. You will be amazed by spectacular views of the Stuart Island (the best place to meet kiwi in wild). Great place for a picnic as well! Bluff itself is a paradise for seafood lovers – this is the home of famous Bluff oysters.

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Stirling Point, Bluff

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Where to go next?

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Amazing views of the Stuart Island

When we left Bluff and we started heading towards the Catlins, the landscape changed completely. The green farmlands with thousands of sheep were replaced with a thick, dark forest, which eventually revealed us the wild Pacific coast. Just pull over at one of the secluded beaches or bays and you may be lucky to encounter some dolphins or sea lions?

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On our way to the Catlins

McLean Falls – that high one

Waterfalls are definitely the best Catlins attractions. The most famous ones are McLean Falls and Purakaunui Falls. To reach the first one, you need to take 20 minutes forest hike. Ferns, lianas, springs, colorful birds… pure magic! We had a feeling that some dinosaur would cross our path soon 😉 The hike itself is very pleasant and not tiring at all. 

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Into the wild!

things to do in catlins - catlins attractions - new zealand forest

In the middle of the jungle

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Michal exploring the unknown

At the end, he waited for us. No, not a dinosaur, the waterfall! McLean Falls in its 22-meter splendor. The sun rising above the trees gently illuminated the water drops, whirling in the air. Ohh! We couldn’t get enough of this miraculous phenomenon, we spent at least 1.5 hours there, looking at this spectacular view. Michal, as our braver half, climbed a little higher, near the upper basin of the waterfall. This place is also worth visiting at night – because of glowworms!

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McLean Falls

Purakaunui Falls – that wide one

If you have ever seen a picture of a waterfall in New Zealand, there is a very good chance you have seen this one – Purakaunui. Water falls down the broad, three-stage cascades. The waterfall is not too high (I was a bit disappointed…) but definitely still worth a visit! If you’re visiting Catlins attractions and don’t have plenty of time, go here. Just look at this majestic pic… and you know why.

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Purakaunui Falls

Cathedral Caves – sea caves on the beach

You don’t have to look for Catlins’ best attractions deep in the woods… On the Pacific coast, on the Waipati beach, there are one of the world’s largest sea caves – the Cathedral Caves. The 30 meter high vaults actually looks like the interior of the cathedral! Apparently sometimes at the end of the cave you can spot blue penguins or seals… We just stumbled across the laughing kiwis playing baseball inside 🙂 The caves are only accessible at low tide – check the visiting times earlier, as the accessibility may vary depending on the time of year (check here). There is a small fee charged (it was NZD 5 per person).

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Cathedral Caves

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Cathedral Caves beach

Lovely animals at the Nugget Point

Exploring Catlins wouldn’t be complete without meeting locals…  but it’s much easier to see an animal than a human here 🙂 Be sure to watch the yellow-eyed penguins at the Nugget Point – you can spot them here as well as in the Moeraki Boulders area. The Nugget Point is definitely another thing to add to your “what to see in Catlins” list!

There is a special hideout on the hill, where you can watch the penguins before sunset or just after sunrise. I have to disappoint you a little – this hideout is located 300 meters from the beach… Initially, it’s a little hard to see a penguin at all, but once you do – what a satisfaction! They are moving slowly on the beach, stepping from foot to foot. Unfortunately, our photos in such conditions (dark-cloudy-rainy-far) didn’t look spectacular 😉 Try to spot the penguin! 

In the Nugget Point, you can also meet fur seals. At the end of the road, there is also a picturesque lighthouse. If you have a little more time, take a look at the nearby Kaka Point (maybe you will spot some kaka birds there?) and the Cannibal Bay. In this place human bones were found in the past, hence a rather macabre name… don’t worry, now it’s only one of the favorite places of sea lions 😉 

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Can you spot the penguins?


How much time do you need? The Catlins area is very broad, to see all the Catlins attractions, you will need 1,5-2 days 

How to get there? Best things to do in Catlins are located mainly next to Chasland Highway.

Where to stay? The Catlins area is a bit isolated and not populated, so the choice of accommodation is rather limited… There are basically two accommodation options – at Owaka or at Kaka Point. We decided to stay at the Catlins Kiwi Holiday Park as this location suited us best. It’s situated a few hundred meters from McLean Falls and a few kilometers from the Cathedral Caves. The Whistling Frog restaurant on-site is also great (though a bit expensive).

Click here to book your perfect accomodation in the Catlins!

Fee: Free, except 5 NZD to access the Cathedral Caves 🙂

Do you recommend other things to do in Catlins? What are your favourite Catlins attractions?

For more our adventures in New Zealand, click here!

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What to see in Catlins? Top things to do in Catlins, the most beautiful place in New Zealand - our guide to Catlins attractions.

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  • Reply
    April 24, 2017 at 06:14

    Magnificent pictures 🙂 Even I hadn’t heard about Caitlins and I’m a New Zealander – on the list now! Thanks for the info.

    • Reply
      April 24, 2017 at 06:17

      Thank you, this area is so so great, hope you will visit soon! 🙂

  • Reply
    Catherine - Red Door Ponderings
    May 4, 2017 at 07:49

    Great post about a beautiful but little known about part of New Zealand. Fabulous photos too. We live in Wellington and travel frequently in NZ (plus offshore) but haven’t made it to the Caitlins yet. We just posted about our favourite in Wellington

    • Reply
      May 4, 2017 at 08:05

      Catlins is definitely a must! We loved Wellington too, it’s a bit quirky city 🙂

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