The Captivating Catlins | Apollo Campervans NZ
× Search

The Captivating Catlins

Get off the beaten track and enter the wilderness! Your journey takes you along the untouched, untamed east coast of the South Island

Amazing waterfalls

Visit New Zealand's blue penguin parade at Oamaru before trying out the amazing food at Rick Steins favourite resturant in Moeraki. Gaze upon New Zealand's largest castle and the most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere in Dunedin and the wonderous wildlife of the Otago Peninsula. Feel the spray on your face at Purakaunui falls as you head into the wild Catlins. Watch out for New Zealand’s rarest penguin, swim with tiny dolphins or just sit back, relax and soak in the true wonders of the south. This coastal route is full of scenic view points and walks around every corner including to hidden away waterfalls and beaches. This is the great ocean road – kiwi style.

Wondrous wildlife awaits you on this journey down the east coast to the bottom of the South. From little blue penguins to the massive royal albatross and ever present seals and sea lions, the iconic kiwi and our own alpine parrrot, this trip will introduce you to some of Aotearoa's feathered and furred friends. You can visit castles and heritage buildings before seeing the amazing coastline mother nature built, complete with towering waterfalls, sea caves and prehistoric beaches.

As you continue your journey, swap the coast for lakes and alps as you travel through the iconic adventure capital of New Zealand at Queenstown as you travel through the lakes district before stretching your legs at the amazing walks that Mt Cook has to offer. Your final night will be spent in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve around Mt Cook and Tekapo for some epic stargazing before this loop itinerary takes you back to Christchurch via the VERY best pie shop in New Zealand.



Day 1: Christchurch - Moeraki 

Travel time: 4hrs

Distance: 370km

Collect your motorhome from Apollo’s Christchurch branch located conveniently 10 minutes from the airport and near SH1 which you will follow all the way south until you reach the South Otago coast. Here you will find the blue penguin parade at Oamaru and your first chance, to see NZ fur seals, the amazing Moeraki boulders, historic lighthouses, coastal trails and of course arguably New Zealand's best sea food restaurant – Fleurs place, the restaurant Rick Stein picked as his favorite place in the world to be sent to!


  • Pick up Christchurch Apollo

  • Moeraki boulders

  • Shag Point

  • Katiki Point

  • Fleurs for dinner

  • Watch the world's smallest penguins come home at the Oamaru penguin parade

Where to stay: Katiki Beach North Reserve stop, a free camping reserve right on the beach or at the Trotters Gorge DoC campsite. It’s a long day that you won’t want to end!

Apollo hint: Book in at Fleurs place to avoid missing out as this is one place where reservations are essential!

Visit the blue penguins in Oamaru

Day 2: Otago Peninsula and Catlins

Travel time: 4hrs

Distance: 250km

Sleep in to the sounds of waves on the beach or wake up early and watch the sun climb out of the ocean. Today you will be heading to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula where you will find views fit for a castle (quite literally) at Larnach Castle and New Zealand's most photographed building - the stunning Dunedin Railway Station. You also have the chance to see the royal albatross, one of the largest sea birds in the world on its ONLY mainland colony. Enjoy all that Tairoa head has to offer before heading to roaring bay at nugget point. Make your way down the meandering track to the penguin hide where you may be lucky enough to see the yellow eyed penguins appear out of the water and make its way up the beach below to its nests.


Where to stay: Kaka Point campsite or 20 minutes away at the free camping site in Owaka, ready for an early start the next morning. You won’t want to sleep in for this one!

Apollo hint: If you want to see nugget point at its best, set your alarm before bed to get their 20-30 minutes before sun rise is scheduled to get the best of the colors as you watch the sun rise out of the ocean.

The stunning Larnach Castle, Dunedin

Day 3: Explore the Catlins

Travel time: 2hrs

Distance: 100km

Start the morning with a short drive back to Nugget Point where, torch in hand, you take the short walk to the lighthouse. As the sun rises, the view will simply take your breath away. Take 1000 photos on the trail, the lighthouse and of the “nuggets”, the awesome rock formations reaching out of the ocean around the peninsula. After, head south and enjoy some family friendly short walks through native forests and nature trails to some beautiful waterfalls before stopping for the night at one of the most beautiful ocean view campsites in New Zealand.


  • Nugget Point (sun rise at lighthouse)

  • Purakaunui falls

  • Cannibal Bay (Seal Lions)

  • Tunnel Hill walk (25 min)

  • Tea Pot Land • Purakanui Falls Walk (25 min)

  • Matai falls walk (25 min)

  • Tahakopa Bay

Where to stay: Purukanui Bay is an affordable DoC run campsite that is very affordable and offers amazing views of the coastline and a beautiful beach that often people have all to themselves!

Apollo hint: Don’t be in a rush to leave nugget point, take the short detour to the viewing platform on your right for your chance to see the amazing royal spoonbill colony below.

The amazing sunrise at Nugget Point

Day 4: Explore the Catlins

Travel time: 1hr 30mins

Distance: 80km

You are now in the real wilderness where reception and 4G coverage is hard to find. If you need to upload an amazing photo from the day before, you can do so on WIFI while you grab a coffee at the Lost Gypsy Gallery – a fantastic collection of ...everything! This day will be full of short walks before a small trek in and out to the Cathedral Caves. While steep in parts, it is a well-maintained track and fine for families. The walk is well worth the amazing opportunity to explore the phenomenal coastal cave systems of the Catlins coast and swim on a truly breathtaking beach. Finish the day with a picturesque drive to Curio bay where you can have a chance to swim with Hectors dolphins on one side of the bay and once again see the yellow eyed penguins on the other. All this on a prehistoric beach made up of a fossilized forest entombed in ash for eternity. Amazing.


  • The lost Gypsy Gallery

  • Florence Hill Look out

  • Lake Wilkie

  • Mclean Falls

  • Cathedral Caves (Arrive 2 hours before low tide). Allow at least 2-3 hours

  • Curio Bay for petrified forest walk and yellow eyes penguin spotting

  • Porpoise Bay in the late morning and late afternoon to swim with hectors dolphins. Next to Curio cliffs is often the best spot.

Where to stay: Curio Bay campsite overlooking to ocean and wake up right next to the dolphins and penguins or at the free camping area just down the road at the Waikawa Recreation Reserve.

Apollo hint: Hectors dolphins are most active in the morning and late afternoons. If present, give them space (stay 50 meters away from them) and let them swim to you. This is one of the few places in the world you can beach swim with dolphins – respect them and their home.

Mclean falls, one of 3 amazing waterfalls to view in the Catlins.

Day 5: Catlins and Lakes District

Travel time: 3hrs 30mins

Distance: 300km

Here is your chance to do a morning swim with the dolphins or view the penguins before checking out slope point, the southernmost point of mainland New Zealand and the historic Waipapa lighthouse before waving goodbye to the coastal route as you head inland for an overnighter in Queenstown. While there, take in any of the marvelous activities the adventure capital of New Zealand has to offer, or just relax to a lovely meal with the wonderful lakeside views of Lake Wakatipu and visit the kiwis at the wildlife refuge and leave them to entertain you.


  • Morning Swim with Dolphins

  • Slope Point

  • Waipapa Point Lighthouse

  • Explore Queenstown

  • Kiwi birdlife park

  • Take the scenic drive to Glenorchy

Where to stay: Queenstown Top 10 , or at the twenty-five-mile stream freedom camping site provide great base camps but with different feels for your stay in Queenstown

Apollo hint: Camping at twenty-five-mile stream puts you right on the road to Glenorchy, one of the most beautiful short drives anywhere in the world and a must do.

Curio bay is one of the few places you can beach swim with dolphins

Day 6: Lakes District and Mt Cook National Park

Travel time: 3hrs 15mins

Distance: 270kms

Stop off at the vineyards of the stunning Gibbston Valley for a gift for a friend (or yourself) before heading through the rest of the scenic lakes district to Canterbury where the amazing views continue. If air activities are more your thing, Twizel is home to some epic glacier flights and a ski dive that lets you take in Mt Cook and the glaciers along with the amazing glacial lakes of Pukaki, Ohau and Tekapo. Next, Mt Cook welcomes you with the family friendly hooker valley track, one of the best short walks anywhere in the world just around the corner. For the more experienced hikers, a day hike up the Mueller hut track is a must do. For a more relaxing end to your trip, why not try the soak and stars at Tekapo where you enjoy an astrology tour from the idyllic comfort of a thermal pool!


Where to stay: Whitehorse Hill DoC campsite or head back out to The Pines freedom Camping Area at Lake Pukaki where you can find your own little piece of secluded paradise on the lake shore to call home for the night.

Apollo hint: Don’t be too early to bed, you are in the dark sky reserve (1 of only 16 in the world) where some of the clearest views of the night sky and Milkyway exist anywhere in the world making it an ideal place for stargazing and astro-photography.

The scenic Mt Cook, the gateway to New Zealand's hiking capital.

Day 7: Tekapo and Christchurch

Travel time: 4hrs 30mins

Distance: 331km 

On your final day, you can relax in the hot springs of Tekapo and enjoy one of the most photogenic places in New Zealand. In summer, wild lupins will dazzle you while in winter, the snow-covered alps provide a perfect backdrop to your final day on the road. The church of the good shepherd and a glacier fed lake are just some of the magical scenes that await you. On your way back to Christchurch, no trip is complete without stopping for a bite to eat at the Fairlie bakehouse, one of New Zealand's best bakeries and home to arguably its best pie!


  • Explore Lake Tekapo

  • Soak in the hot pools

  • See the colorful Lupins (November – February)

  • Church of the good shepherd

  • Sheep dog monument

  • Late lunch at Fairlie bakehouse

  • Drop off Apollo Christchurch

Apollo hint: Get to the church of the good shepherd early to ensure you get it to yourself before the tour buses and 8am rental pickups from Christchurch arrive!

The stunning Church of the good shepherd at Lake Tekapo

Ready to explore?

You may also like

Terms Of UsePrivacy StatementCopyright 2024 by Apollo RV Holidays
Back To Top