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Southern Scenic Road Trip: Wildlife Safari Road Trip, The Catlins

Cannibal Bay to Surat Bay Walk

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Cannibal Bay Cannibal Bay

New Zealand sea lions (Whakahao),  It is a 20 minute drive on a gravel road to the small car park. The beach is rugged, barren and a favourite haunt for New Zealand sea lions. Your treat is the sheer rough splendour of sea lions coated in sand making it easy to miss a close by sea lion. Cannibal Bay’s access is on a side gravel road.  The white sand and blue/green water is another picture perfect bay.

For walking enthusiasts at the far end of Cannibal Bay is the track leading to Surat Bay over the sand dunes. Cannibal Bay is a well known surfing beach.  Expect to see hardy wetsuit clad surfers at home in the elements. The wild weather, the relentless pounding ocean and the numerous seal tracks in the sand make this a very special place where the wildlife roar.


The narrow winding gravel road is not designed for wide vehicles and motor homes.

Surat Bay

Surat Bay is home to New Zealand sea lions (Whakahao).  This track through sand dunes is a great way to experience the world’s rarest sea lions. Stay out of sight and please don’t get too close to the sea lions. The short walk is through sand dunes and is the only access to Surat Beach when it is high tide. Surat Bay Beach Walk: Otago. The Department of Conservation guidelines have this walk commencing from Surat Bay. Cross the bridge over a small creek and follow the poles route to pass through the dunes. In most conditions you will find there’s a large colony of New Zealand sea lions interacting or sleeping on the beach. This species is the world’s rarest sea lion and is only now rebuilding its mainland population, after being hunted to virtual extinction over 200 years ago.

  • Grade: Easy


For a one way walk and pick up, you will need a willing driver to meet walkers at Surat Bay.

Allow up to 2 hours for the loop walk.


Remember to keep at least 20 metres from any wildlife and never get between a seal and the water. Sea Lions haul themselves in the sand dunes lazing and sleeping in the sand dunes so take care to observe wildlife while you are walking.

  • Length: Beach walk
  • Duration: 2- 3 hours (loop)
  • Grade: Flat easy walk
Cannibal Bay compostable Dept of Conservation toilet mural
Cannibal Bay, only your own footsteps + sealions, The Catlins


Instead of walking between Cannibal Bay to Surat Bay there is the option to drive to Surat Bay. You will not be following the coast, rather dipping inland past Owaka (town) then returning to Catlins River mouth via Duttons Rd, New Haven Road past the Catlins New Haven Holiday Camp to the river mouth and Surat Bay. You will pass holiday homes, baches and a wide open estuary where fishing and whitebaiting is a popular pastime for locals.


For drivers who wish to explore Pounawea Bush Reserve and have collected walkers from the Surat Bay, the Catlins River has only one bridge across to the other side of the road (Pounawea Rd), at the junction of Dutton Rd and New Haven Road. Pounawea Rd leads to the Pounawea Holiday Camp & Bush Reserve.

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