The Catlins is one of New Zealand’s best beach destinations, but with all those options it can be hard to know which ones to visit! Luckily, I wrote this post (and you’re reading it) – I’ll show you the best beaches in the Catlins and give you some tips on how to choose the right ones for you.
Curio Bay / Porpoise Bay
If you’re only going to visit one beach in the Catlins, Curio Bay should be it. The beach itself is beautiful, but there’s heaps to do nearby as well, including spotting penguins, dolphins (they swim in the waves right by the beach sometimes) and a petrified forest. Curio Bay sits at the southern end of the Catlins and there’s lots to see nearby, including Slope Point and the Waipohatu Waterfall Track.
Purakaunui Bay is a bit of a detour from the main road, meaning it’s a bit wilder and quieter than Curio Bay. It’s another lovely beach – the perfect combination of white sand, clear blue water and rugged green cliffs stretching into the distance. There’s also a basic camping ground there.
Tautuku Bay plays a starring role in one of the best coastal views in all New Zealand. Florence Hill Lookout is amazing, but this place is great at beach level too. If you get sick of walking along the white sands of Tautuku Bay you can check out Lake Wilkie or the marshland boardwalk.
We visited Cannibal Bay on a calm, sunny day and it was a pretty special experience. We walked between Cannibal Bay and Surat Bay and managed to get some nice views of the beach and surrounding cliffs. It’s one of the most photogenic beaches in the Catlins, and since it’s off the beaten path it’s usually quiet.
Surat Bay is right next door to Cannibal Bay and is a lot more expansive. You can get a nice view of the beach from the headland separating Cannibal Bay and Surat Bay, or head down to beach-level and spot some sea lions.
Waipati Beach (Cathedral Caves)
You’ll need to time your visit well in order to visit Waipati Beach and the Cathedral Caves, but it’s worth the hassle. There’s a small fee to visit this beach (and the caves) and it’s only open a couple of hours either side of low tide. It’s a great place if you manage to see it!
You’d think by about number 7 on a “best beaches” list you’d be starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel, but Jack’s Bay proves that wrong. It’s an awesome little spot and there are a few things to keep you busy, including watching the resident sea lions (and trying to spot penguins) and the short walk to Jacks Blowhole. Again, the beach itself is lovely too and it’s a also nice place to watch the sunrise.
READ MORE: Where Are the Best Waterfalls in the Catlins?
Papatowai Beach is a great option for anyone looking for a beach destination in the Catlins to stay at for a few days. There’s a nice camping ground there as well as a shop, a café and the Lost Gypsy Gallery, one of the most unique attractions in New Zealand. The Beach isn’t bad either!
Sitting right next to the famous Nugget Point Lighthouse, Roaring Bay is a nice place to sit in a hide for an hour or so and search for penguins. The beach (more of a stony bay) is nice enough, but go for the potential penguins!
Weir Beach / Fortrose Beach
OK, maybe we’re starting to get closer to the bottom of that barrel. These last two Catlins Beaches are nice, but not quite up to the standards of the ones I listed before. Weir Beach is close to Slope Point – we saw a nice view of it from above but didn’t see much at sea-level.
We visited Fortrose on a grey day, which dulled its charm quite a lot. The beach is nice enough though, and if you visit at low tide you can see an old shipwreck. Fortrose is at the far western edge of the Catlins – I wouldn’t recommend going that far unless you’re continuing to Invercargill (or you just want to fully explore the region).
So, which beaches in the Catlins should You Choose?
If you’re doing a day trip to the Catlins I’d recommend picking two or three of the beaches above. Personally, I’d go for Curio Bay, Tautuku Bay and Cannibal Bay. The first two are right by the main road, meaning no detour. Cannibal Bay is stunning, but you can’t go wrong with Jack’s Bay either. So many options! If you want to stay near the beach, your best bets are Curio Bay, Papatowai and Purakaunui Bay (if you’re willing to camp).
If staying a few days in the Catlins, why not visit them all. They are all quite different, and most of them have other things to do other than just look at a beach. You’ll also want to visit some of the region’s waterfalls, lighthouses and viewpoints – there’s so much to see!
Are you road-tripping around New Zealand? Check out our South Island travel guide!
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