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Monkey Island, Southland

Monkey Island, Southland

I’ve been to a few “Monkey Islands” in my time, and they’ve always contained actual monkeys. You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting to see them at Southland’s Monkey Island though, so I’ll tell you what you can see there instead.

Where is Monkey Island?

Monkey Island is on the southern coast of New Zealand’s South Island, on the road between Riverton and Tuatapere. It’s on the Southern Scenic Route, with sights nearby including Gemstone Beach, Colac Bay and Cosy Nook. Keep driving this way towards Te Anau and Queenstown – make sure to stop off at Lake Hauroko if you do.

Lake Hauroko

Why is it called Monkey Island?

Apparently it has something to do with the fact they used to use a monkey winch (first time I’d ever heard of that) to bring boats ashore. Not as exciting a story as I’d hoped! The original inhabitants of this area, the Ngai Tahu tribe, called it Te Puka o Takitimu and used it to spot whales.

What Can You See There?

Monkey Island is a small island off the southern coast and you can walk there at low tide. It’s very close to the beach, but if the tide is high it’ll require a fair bit of wading. We saw some people doing it but we opted for the comfort of dry land.

Monkey Island, Southland, New Zealand

Seeing as we didn’t set foot on Monkey Island, I can’t fully comfirm its lack of monkeys, so maybe you’ll have some luck. Apparently you can get some good mountain views from the island – let us know if you’ve seen them. The Beach close to Monkey Island is nice for a stroll, and if you go far enough you’ll eventually reach Gemstone Beach (or you can drive there).

Monkey Island beach, Southland, New Zealand

We always look to get as high as possible (in altitude at least) when visiting beaches — you can’t beat a  nice view of a beach from above! You can walk up the short road behind the beach (near the carpark), or, if you’re driving further west, turn off at Orepuki. There’s a seat up there and you get a great view of this long stretch of coastline (there’s also a cafe and a bar nearby).

Viewpoint at Monkey Island, Southland, New ZealandViewpoint in Orepuki, Southland, New Zealand

Freedom Camping at Monkey Island

Monkey Island is one of the go-to freedom camping spots in Southland. There’s a large carpark to set-up in, and I reckon it’d be a great place to spend the night (we didn’t stay there). Obviously when freedom camping, make sure to respect the area and leave it as tidy as you found it.

Freedom camping at Monkey Island, Southland, New Zealand

Are you road-tripping around New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island 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.