From the wild beauty of The Catlins to the charming towns and historical and geological marvels of Waitaki, when you fly into the gateway hub of Dunedin, a world of extraordinary possibilities await.
That spirit of adventure when exploring somewhere new is unbeatable – on a trip to the Lower South of New Zealand, you'll be positively fi lled to the brim with it. From touching down in Dunedin and soaking up this creative city's offerings, to driving south to the ruggedly beautiful hidden gem of The Catlins, or north to the many riches of the Waitaki region, this part of the country is jam-packed with incredible surprises.
Once you've thrilled the kids with the mindblowing interactive exhibits of Tuhura Otago Community Trust Science Centre at Otago Museum; picked up a killer bacon sarnie or famed cheese roll at the cut-above Otago Farmers Market; and meandered through the vibrant street art, architecture and artisan food and beverage scene of Dunedin City, it's time to hit the road. With views from tussock clad hills to the ocean, the drive along Highcliff Road on the Otago Peninsula is a real showstopper. On the way, you'll find the famous Kiwi landmark of Larnach Castle, with its gorgeous gardens and top-notch high tea a more-than-worthy stop. But it's the wild beauty of the beaches along this coastline and the world's only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross at Harington Point that will set your spirits soaring. Sea-lovers should take it all in on a Monarch's Wildlife Cruise, leaving from Wellers Rock Wharf. You'll likely see sea lions basking on Aramoana Beach, uninterrupted views of the royal albatross colony, and postcard-worthy vistas of the lighthouse perched above the volcanic cliffs of Taiaroa Head.
There's another lighthouse further south on a two-hour drive to The Catlins with a vantage point second-to-none. At Nugget Point, on a panoramic platform stretching out to the sea, perched above rocks named by Captain Cook for their gold nugget-like appearance, is Tokata Lighthouse, one of the country's oldest. Stroll out to the lighthouse for breathtaking ocean views and glimpses of wildlife below, such as fur seals, sea lions and, if you're lucky, the world's rarest penguins can be spotted here too.
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The Catlins just keep on giving as you drive further south. A 20-minute walk through podocarp and beech forest from Purakaunui Falls Scenic Reserve will reward you with the sight of a cascading flow of water from 20 metres high, over three tiers, all framed by native forest. Keep heading south and the tiny town of Papatowai holds a unique excursion; the utterly fascinating The Lost Gypsy is a gallery and theatre experience filled with automata, made from recycled and found objects, which you can interact with. Great coffee too.
A little further on prepare to marvel at the geological wonder of the Cathedral Caves, which sit at the northern end of the beautifully unspoiled Waipati Beach; these sea-formed caves measure 200 metres in width and 30 metres in height and are quite the sight to behold. A road trip north of Dunedin brings its own memorable moments. From the village of Waitati, detour to Doctors Point to visit a beautifully calm beach that flows into an inlet at Blueskin Bay.
Beer lovers should make a beeline for Arc Brewing Co., where they serve up small batch beers and visiting food trucks keep the hunger pangs at bay. Karitane is another lovely beach town worthy of a pitstop for a coffee and some browsing. And, further north, Moeraki needs little introduction, famed for its sci-fi looking spherical boulders seemingly emerging from the sand at the shore and for some of the best seafood in the country at Fleur's Place. Half an hour's drive from here and you'll hit Waitaki's largest town, Oamaru; linger to explore the limestone architecture of the Victorian Precinct and check out the famed Steampunk scene, with its dedicated museum. It's here, too, you'll find some of the country's cutest creatures at the Little Blue Penguin Colony – not to be missed.
A 1.5 hour drive inland from Oamaru, weary bones can be soaked at the stunningly picturesque Hot Tubs Omarama, an Instagram winner. At the nearby Clay Cliffs, you'll forget where in the world you are when you clap eyes on these staggering natural land forms, created by layers of silt and gravel formed into sharp pinnacles and ridges, interspersed with steep and narrow ravines.
So when that craving for wonder and discovery hits, get yourself to the Lower South. We've only just scratched the surface. If you're dreaming of an adventure, look no further than the Lower South lowersouthnz.com