Papatowai Beach, about halfway along the main road through the Catlins, is an awesome place to stop while exploring the area. The beach is great, it’s right next to camping ground and there’s also a unique attraction nearby (you’ll have to keep reading to find out).
There are heaps of beaches in the Catlins and it can be a little hard to choose which ones to visit. Papatowai Beach is right by the main road, so if you want to avoid detours on gravel roads it’s one of your best bets. There’s more to recommend it for than just the location. The beach itself is beautiful, especially the estuary area. The sand is white and the water blue – it’s often cold though so I’d think twice before diving in!
There’s also a different section of beach close to the camping ground. We’ve been to the spot below a couple of times and it was completely deserted both times – such a relaxing spot! There are some walks in the area (Picnic Point / Shanks Bush Nature Trail) – we haven’t done them, and I can’t find any photos of them online, but they could be worth a look (let me know in the comments below if you’ve done them).
Camping at Papatowai Beach
Papatowai is one of the best places to camp in the Catlins, mainly due to the beautiful location and the fact there’s a shop / café there. The camping ground is basic (it’s a DOC camp) and costs $8 per adult per night. The sights are unpowered and there doesn’t appear to be showers, or hot water at least. Let me know about the facilities if you’ve stayed there!
Lost Gypsy Gallery
This is the “unique attraction” I mentioned earlier. You’ll notice the bus when driving past, and inside that bus there are hundreds of little homemade contraptions and gadgets (it’s known as an automata galley). It’s a hard place to describe, so do yourself a favour and check it out (it’s free).
There’s also a café there as well as a separate section which will set you back a few dollars. There are heaps of little machines and “exhibits” that you can interact with – it’s easily the most interesting and fun thing to do in the Catlins that doesn’t involve nature (although it isn’t competing with much). I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best indoor tourist attractions in the South Island – it’s unlike anything else you’ll see, and it’ll definitely be memorable. Note: Lost Gypsy Gallery is open from late October til’ late April (labour weekend – Anzac Weekend) and is closed on Wednesdays.
Things to See Nearby
Papatowai Beach is close to lots of iconic Catlins attractions, including Tautuku Bay (don’t miss the viewpoint above it) and the Cathedral Caves. McLean Falls also isn’t far away, and from there you’re close to Curio Bay and the southern part of the Catlins.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island travel guide!
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