A short, sandy track separates Cannibal Bay and Surat Bay, two of the best beaches in the Catlins. There are some interesting things to see along the way, including viewpoints, tidal pools, sea lions and some of the bluest water you’ll see in this part of New Zealand.
We parked at the south end of Cannibal Bay and headed straight for the beach. Before walking towards Surat Bay we explored the rocks at the south end and saw a sea lion relaxing by the water. I had seen a really nice photo from the big headland above the rocks so I tried to climb up, only making it part of the way before it got too treacherous.
We then walked along the beach and tried to climb up False Islet, the headland which separates the two bays. Again, I couldn’t get right to the top but the views from halfway up were amazing. The calm blue water and white sand of Cannibal Bay look so inviting from above — it’s definitely one of the best viewpoints in the Catlins. To get that view, walk all the way along Cannibal Bay and find a rough “track” heading up the hill. Obviously use caution!
I couldn’t find much information on how Cannibal Bay got its name. I assumed, as I’m sure you did too, that a well documented case of cannibalism took place there. It seems like someone found some human remains and decided the deceased must have been eaten by humans (or they just decided it was a cool name for a beach).
There’s a short track through low sand dunes between Cannibal Bay and Surat Bay. It takes around 10 minutes to walk between the two. I’m always searching for good viewpoints, so just before reaching the beach I followed another rough track up the hill overlooking Surat Bay. The view from up there was great as well — you need to work for your views on this walk but they are worth it!
Down at the beach we were joined by a few sea lions hanging out in the shallow water. Surat Bay is really long and we didn’t come close to walking it all. You can also drive straight to the beach if you don’t mind walking (it’s a bit of a detour though).
Surat Bay was named after the “Surat”, a migrant ship which ran aground there in 1874.
Walking from Cannibal Bay to Surat Bay tips
- It took us around two hours to walk between these two beaches, but we stopped a lot. You could do it in an hour if you were in a rush. You can also do a longer walk from Newhaven along the entire length of Surat Bay and then over to Cannibal Bay. It seems like a long walk though!
- Watch out for sea lions. They sometimes sleep in the dunes and can be quite hard to spot. Try and keep at least 20 metres away from sea lions and don’t stand between them and the sea.
- Bring warm clothes as it can get cold in these parts. Also, it’s worth wearing long pants and decent shoes if you’re going to climb up to the viewpoints.
Getting to Cannibal Bay / Surat Bay
If coming from the north (Dunedin) drive towards Owaka and turn down Cannibal Bay Road (it’s a few kilometres before Owaka). It’s a gravel road for most of the way but it’s in good condition. You can also drive straight to Surat Bay — follow Pounawea Road (from Owaka — it’s also the turnoff to Jack’s Bay), cross the bridge onto Newhaven Road then follow it to the beach.
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