The variety of forests, waterfalls, and coastal views over open rolling farmland makes the Catlins a walker’s dream. Apart from the most popular half dozen places you will possibly meet no-one else in a day’s exploring.  For information on guided walks check the Outdoor Activities section.

South Catlins Area

Waikawa Estuary. Photo by Nick Smart.Waikawa

The Old Coach Road is a walk across the estuary, possible at low tide, starting from the right side of the jetty. Evidence can still be seen of the stone bridges over the creeks and the road raised above the sand.

A short forest walk named in memory of a well-loved local, George Aitken, starts behind the Waikawa Hall. You will find some helpful labels naming the native trees, and peaceful views of the estuary.

Easy Walking

Curio Bay

Easy walking to the beach, the headland and to view the Fossil Forest.

Slope Point

The southern most point in the South Island, which is accessible through private property, is closed to the public from 1 September to 1 November due to the lambing season. It is absolutely essential to respect the signs at the parking area.

Easy Walking - 30 minute return


It is a short walk from the road to the Tararua Acre. There is a cemetery here with graves of some of the casualties of the worst civilian shipwreck in New Zealand which occurred on the Waipapa Reef in 1881.The Waipapa Lighthouse, the last wooden lighthouse built in NZ, was erected in 1884 as a result of the disaster. If sea lions and tide permit you can walk east on a wide sandy beach for eight kilometres and on towards Slope Point via a legal roadline. A derelict gold dredge lies in the sandhills.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return


The Waipohatu Recreation Area gives wheelchair access to an excellent example of the southern rainforest, with an impressive range of species especially ferns. It is registered as a Kiwi Walk. A second, less-maintained, three hour track leads to two small waterfalls.

This is a short bush walk suitable for wheelchairs - approximately 15 minutes return. There is a longer bush walk of approximately 3 hours.


The walk along the beach and around the headland near the golf course at Fortrose leads to a view over the swirling exit of the Mataura River.

Easy Walking - 30 minute circuit

O’Neill’s Bush

This is a small remnant of lowland beech forest on the flat close to where the Fortrose-Invercargill highway crosses the Titiroa River.

Easy Walking - 15 minute circuit.

Kaka Point Area

Nugget Point

There is a 20 minute return walking path to the Roaring Bay viewing hide, as well as a 10-20 minute return walk to the Lighthouse. 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.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Awakiki Bush

Farm and bush walk to a conservation reserve featuring a very large totara tree.

Kaka Point

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.

Easy Walking - 30 minutes return

Tunnel Hill

On the road between the Nugget Point turn-off and Owaka you will find 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. It is just a short walk (10 minutes each way) to the tunnel. You can walk through the 250m tunnel, but the old line beyond the other side is impassable and overgrown. Take a torch with you.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Owaka Area

Purakaunui Falls Walk - photo by Cheryl Pullar.Purakaunui Falls

The road to these falls, which have long been a trademark of the Catlins, is well signposted from the south end of the Catlins River Bridge. 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. This part of the track is accessible by wheelchair.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

The Catlins River-Wisp Loop Track

The Catlins River-Wisp Loop Track includes two 12 kilometre routes, the Catlins River Walk and Wisp Loop Walk. The routes can be walked in either direction and can be done as a 24 km two day tramp or one long day tramp. Sections of the track can be walked independently of the others, as there are many entry/exit points along the way. The Wisp Loop returns along the forestry roads and could be mountain biked separately. The Rocky Knoll extension track is a side route that runs off the Wisp Loop Walk, and is well worth the short climb to get the views and also see some nice sub-alpine vegetation not often accessible in the Catlins to the general tourist.

Catlins River Walk 5-6 hours.
Wisp Loop Walk 4-5 hours.

For more information view the brochure and map.

Pounawea Bush & Nature Walk

The start of this walk is at the rear of the Pounawea Motor Camp. Please park your car outside the gate. 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. Follow the road back to the Convention Centre.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Catlins River Valley

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. At times parts of this track may be closed due to nearby logging of exotic forest. Check at the Catlins Information Centre. It is recommended that if you venture off the track you are well versed in compass and map work. The 1-50,000 series, G46 Clinton map contains the track in its entirety.

Good fitness required. Hilly in some areas. 5 hours one way

Coastal Route – Cannibal Bay to Surat Bay

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. DO NOT approach within 20 metres of any New Zealand sea lion.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Jack’s Blowhole

Jack’s Blowhole is in Tunnel Rocks Scenic Reserve and is a large hole 55 metres deep, 200 metres from the sea. This one hour return walk is accessed from Jack’s Bay. Please stay on the marked track and use the fence stiles. You are requested to respect the right granted by the landowner to cross private land. The track is closed during lambing, 1 September – 1 November.

Easy Walking - 40 minutes return

Matai Falls

This 20 minute return walk is signposted along the Southern Scenic Route, approximately 18km south of Owaka. 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.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Papatowai Area

Shanks’ Bush Nature Trail 

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.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Old Coach Road

The start of this 40 minute return walk is at the north end of the Tahakopa River bridge on the Southern 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. To extend this walk you can continue along the beach and re-enter the bush to follow the Tahakopa Bay Loop Track back to the car park. This creates a 3 hour return journey. Alternatively, follow the beach to the end and rejoin the Old Coach Road once more. Climb the hill to Purakauiti, and eventually join the Puaho Road which descends to the Maclennan River not far from the estuary. This would be a day walk.

Medium fitness required - 3 hours return

Picnic Point

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.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Tautuku Area

Lake Wilkie

Just south of the Tautuku Outdoor Education Centre on the Southern Scenic Route a short walk takes you to a boardwalk over part of the lake. 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 walk is suitable for wheelchairs to the top viewing point.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Estuary Boardwalk

A project of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, this 20 minute return walk starts from the Fleming River Bridge on the Southern Scenic Route.
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.

Easy Walking - 20 minutes return

Lenz Reserve

This reserve is virtually opposite the road leading to the estuary walkway. There is access to it from the south side of the Fleming River bridge. The reserve, owned by the Forest and Bird organisation, contains three walks – a short nature trail, a wetland walk (one hour return) and a longer trail into the forested hills which follows the tramlines that carried logs to Clarke’s sawmill. To gain access to the reserve phone the caretaker in Papatowai at (03) 415 8024.

Easy Walking -1 hour return

Traill’s Tractor

A flat walk of 200m leads you to a shelter where this early piece of bush-tram machinery has been set up on rails near the site of the long-gone Cook’s sawmill. 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.

Easy Walking - 10 minutes return

Chaslands Area

Cathedral Caves

Another trademark of the Catlins is the Cathedral Caves on Waipati Beach, south of Tautuku. The caves and access road are only accessible two hours before and up to two hours after low tide. The 40 minute return walk winds down to the beach through dense bush and then a short distance north along the beautiful Waipati beach. The charge to visit the caves is $5 per adult and $1 per school child. Access to the caves may be closed, even at low tide, due to inclement weather. Be sure to check Tide Times before visiting the caves.  

Easy Walking - 40 minutes return

McLean Falls. Photo by Cheryl Pullar.

McLean Falls

Take the turn off at Rewcastle Road and travel 3km to the car park where this 40 minute return walk begins. This is a forest walk to what some say is the most striking of the Catlins’ waterfalls.

Easy Walking - 40 minutes return


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