Clutha: An introduction

The Clutha region – known for its friendly locals, enchanting waterfalls and gold-mining heritage – offers a quintessentially Kiwi experience.

Clutha lies on the lower east coast of the South Island and is home to deep, clear rivers and undisturbed beaches. This is the place where New Zealand's gold rush began and, with its spectacular unspoilt landscapes, the region delivers on both heritage and the great outdoors.

At the heart of the district is the town of Balclutha, reached by an historic arched bridge across New Zealand's largest river, the mighty Clutha. The river weaves an emerald ribbon through countryside dotted with relaxed farming communities.

One of the best ways to see the area is by driving the Southern Scenic Route. Originating in Dunedin and finishing in Queenstown, this coastal drive winds its way through the most fascinating parts of the region, from coastal rocky shores and sandy beaches, to wetlands, rolling green hills and mountains.

Nature

The breathtaking Catlins area is the entrance to a wild world of natural marvels, including a petrified forest that’s more than 160 million years old. There are numerous walking tracks for visitors to explore this pristine wonderland.

Not to be missed, the walk through towering beech forest to cascading Pūrākaunui Falls reveals one of the most-photographed waterfalls in New Zealand. Nugget Point is another gem, where visitors can spot fur seals, Hooker’s sea lions, sea elephants and rare penguins. Walk the track to the lighthouse for astonishing clifftop views by day and at night.

At the northern edge of the Catlins lies the charming coastal town of Kaka Point with its beautiful beaches and bushwalks, and further north are Taieri Mouth, Lake Waihola and the nearby Sinclair Wetlands.

Heritage

Head inland to Lawrence, a historical mining town and the birthplace of the New Zealand gold rush. Today, visitors can try their hand at gold panning at Gabriels Gully – named for prospector Gabriel Read – where there’s a pick and shovel monument paying homage to the pioneer miners.

The award-winning Owaka Museum, recommended by travel publisher Lonely Planet, captures the true essence of the Catlins. Exhibitions featuring early Māori and settlers, shipwrecks, farming and military history offer a window into the area’s formative years.

Adventure / outdoors

The Clutha Gold Trail is an easy two-day cycle trail, showcasing the region’s Māori and gold-mining heritage, following the Clutha river and traversing the awe-inspiring Beaumont Gorge before branching off onto a historic railway line.

Anglers are bound to find trout and salmon biting in the Clutha, Owaka, Waipahi, Pomahaka, Tuapeka and Catlins rivers. Kaitangata, a town with a long coal-mining history, is perfectly positioned for boating, whitebaiting and angling. Alternatively, try surf casting at one of the many beaches along the coast.

And by the way...

  • Cathedral Caves on Waipati Beach in the Catlins are two sea-formed passages that are 200 metres (656 feet) deep and an impressive 30 metres (98 feet) high. Visitors can explore the caves two hours either side of low tide between late October and May. 
  • Teapotland in Owaka is a quirky visitor attraction featuring hundreds of – you guessed it – teapots.
  • The music to New Zealand’s national anthem was composed at Anthem House in Lawrence.
  • Clutha has only two sets of traffic lights.

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