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10 of the Best Things to Do in Owaka

10 of the Best Things to Do in Owaka

Owaka, population 320, is a bustling metropolis compared to the rest of the Catlins. More a town to spend the night in than somewhere full of sights, it’s on the doorstep of some of the Catlins most spectacular spots. I’ll show you the best things to do in Owaka, both in town and within a short drive.

Note: Most of the entries on this list are located a short drive away from Owaka. I’ve kept it to places within a 30-minute drive from town, although most are much closer (Nugget Point / Catlins River Walk are the two furthest).

Hang Out in Town

If you need to do “town” things in the Catlins Owaka is the place. Stock up on food, grab a coffee and do some shopping — it’s a tiny town and you can walk between most places of interest in a few minutes. Tourist sights in Owaka are limited, except of course for Teapot Land — you don’t want to miss it!

The Owaka Museum is worth a look if you want to learn about the history of the area. Pretty much every tourist town has a museum like this, so pick and choose the ones that seem the most interesting.

READ MORE: Catlins Itinerary: Day Trip from Dunedin + Longer Stays

Barrs Falls

Barrs Falls is a 10-minute drive from Owaka and is best seen after recent rain. The first time we visited it was almost completely dry, but we went back recently (in winter) and it was much better. It takes around five minutes to walk to Barrs Falls — at the end of the track you’ll find a viewing platform with a front-row seat to the falls.

READ MORE: Where Are the Best Waterfalls in the Catlins?

Tunnel Hill Track

This short walk is located on the main road to Owaka, around five minutes before reaching town. The Tunnel Hill Track takes you up to an old rail tunnel which you can walk through. There are a few of these old tunnels scattered around the South Island — they’re easy to visit and kids tend to enjoy walking through them.

Catlins Lake

The Catlins Lake is a saltwater estuary close to Owaka — you’ll see it when driving to Jack’s Bay or south from Owaka via the Papatowai Highway (main road through the Catlins). On the latter road there’s a viewpoint and short walking track. Great views on a clear day, and quite different to the other nature areas you’ll see in the Catlins.

Jack’s Bay

Jack’s Bay is one of the closest beaches to Owaka and is a good place to visit if you’re keen for a short walk. The track to Jack’s Blowhole is short and sweet, with beautiful coastline views and possible yellow-eyed penguin sightings.

At Jack’s Bay you’ll likely see lots of sea lions — that’s the case for a lot of beaches in the Catlins though!

Kaka Point

Just a 15-minute drive from Owaka, Kaka Point is a good alternative for people wanting to spend a night or two in the area. Kaka Point is much nicer than Owaka in terms of scenery — it’s right by the beach after all.

There are some good places to stay in Kaka Point with views of the ocean — it’s a popular spot for weekenders from Dunedin / South Otago. It’s very close to Nugget Point, which is good if you’re wanting to visit for sunrise.

Nugget Point

Nugget Point is a 25-minute drive from Owaka (15 minutes from Kaka Point) and is one of the main reasons I’d advise spending a night in one of those two towns. Nugget Point is fun to visit at any time, but you can’t beat it as a sunrise spot. 

Cannibal Bay / Surat Bay

Cannibal Bay is one of our favourite beaches in the Catlins — it’s sheltered with white sand, clear blue water and a pair of rugged headlands.

READ MORE: 10 of the Best Beaches in the Catlins

Cannibal Bay, the Catlins, New Zealand

From Cannibal Bay it’s a short walk over to Surat Bay, a long stretch of beach ending up close to Pounawea. You can also drive to Surat Bay via a different road.

Surat Bay, the Catlins, New Zealand

Pounawea

The Catlins River empties out at Pounawea, a small village just outside of Owaka. There’s a walk by the estuary and a couple of old shipwrecks to photograph, but not too much else with which to attract tourists. There are holiday rentals in Pounawea so it could be a decent alternative to Owaka / Kaka Point.

Catlins River Walk

One end of the Catlins River Walk starts around a 30-minute drive from Owaka. We haven’t walked the whole thing but drove to the start and did a short section — definitely low-key compared to the iconic Catlins nature spots but worth looking into if you enjoy long walks.

Other Things to Do in Owaka

Other things to do in Owaka include golf, surfing at Kaka Point or exploring the further reaches of the Catlins. You could use Owaka as a base to explore further into the Catlins for multiple days, although it’d probably be best to stay in Papatowai or Curio Bay (pictured below) or somewhere else along that route on the second / third nights.

READ MORE: 23 of the Best Things to Do in the Catlins

Are you planning a trip around the South Island? Check out our two-week itinerary!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.