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Kiwi towns

What’s so great about Owaka — best things to do and see

  • 4 minutes

Park Lane, Owaka, New Zealand @patient0



  • Catlins Historical Museum where volunteers have painstakingly collected memorabilia and photographs documenting the history of the region
  • Waterfall circuit
  • Wildlife watching
  • Bird watching especially the adorable waddling yellow eyed penguins
  • Earthlore Wildlife Gardens

The town has a general store, medical centre, a library and visitor information centre. Owaka is a service hub for the district and a great place to stop and slow down. Check out eleven short family friendly walks and birding spots and Catlins waterfalls and caves and Catlins Travel guide.

The spectacular Puraukaunui Waterfalls in the Catlins


  • The Catlins, or if you have not heard of the place yet, you soon will
  • Another rugby player, honestly I think you can find a rugby player for every small town in Aotearoa NZ
  • Wildlife and they are very modest, just getting on with life and living


  • Whalers and sealers who also succeeded in almost wiping out the sea lions and seals
  • Badly behaved tourists
  • Criminal celebrity Amy Bock briefly lived at Nugget Point and even got married (masquerading as a male) in Owaka. He (the groom) was a persona invented by Amy Bock, the most prolific con-artist in New Zealand history.
Lighthouse on Nugget Point. It is located in the Catlins area on the Southern Coast of New Zealand, Otago region. The Lighthouse is surrounded by small rock islands, nuggets Nugget Point Lighthouse, The Catlins

Where to take the best selfie

  • Glorious waterfalls, take your pick
  • Quirky Owaka galleries
  • Teapots, the glorious town collectables
  • Waka sculpture a classic instagram favourite spot
Waka sculpture, Owaka, New Zealand @Mary Jane Waka sculpture, Owaka @Mary Jane

Quirkly facts

  • Want to know the history / meaning of place names in the area, check the amazing website of BALCLUTHA BRANCH, New Zealand Society of Genealogists.
  • A well known hot spot for hatches of the insect Kakahi Queen mayfly, Coloburiscus humeralis, looks for a bright yellow dot at its wing base and yellow edge on its wing. According to Aspiring fly fishing resource, “This chocolate brown coloured nymph which is also known as the “spiny gill” mayfly nymph is an easy one to tie and one that should be in every fly fisherman’s fly box if visiting New Zealand fly fishing”
  • Toilets are graced with decorative tiles designed by students of Catlins Area School
Owaka public toilet design created with paua shells @Gwen Edge


  • Short easy flat walks introducing kids to the natural world
  • Sea lions, the enormous size is mindblowing for kids (and the adults)
  • Owaka quirky galleries and one of kind gift objects, fascinating for kids how objects are manufactured from repurposed, recycled materials
  • Pounawea waterfront park with play equipment and the best views in town
  • Owaka playground with climbing frames and slides
Colony of sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) or Hooker's sea lion, bathing on the beach at Waipapa point, Catlins. Wildlife on the south island of New Zealand. Colony of sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) or Hooker’s sea lion, bathing on the beach at Waipapa point, Catlins

Who turned up and settled in Owaka?

Maori beached waka (canoes) for repairs and revictualling. Seasonal camps were located at Papatowai. Owaka, place of the waka has archeological sites of ovens, middens and other settled life dating from 1000 to 1700. Over eight species of extinct Moa, extinct native goose and swan have been identified. The earliest European interaction with the area was whalers and sealers. In the mid 1880’s European settlers arrived primarily to log the extensive forests. The name Catlins is from Edward Catlin, a ship’s captain who made a land claim in 1840.

Owaka, Late 1800s @eHive


  • Place of canoes, as represented by the stainless steel canoe sculpture. A celebration of 150 years Owaka has had a permanent settlement (2015). Artist Russell Beck.
  • Clutha District slogan is “Where Everyone Says Hello”


  • Bluegrass festival (February)
  • Catlins Got Talent Event
  • Annual market day in October fundraiser for local museum)
  • Catlins Boar Hunt
Bluegrass Festival @Southland NZ

What keeps the place going?

  • Owaka formerly had a rail line (closed 1971), timber mills, butter factory, hospital and a number of commercial enterprises. Where there were once at least 8 small cheese factories in the area, there is now one co-operative milk processing factory at Edendale and another at Stirling, near Balclutha. Dairy, farming and commercial timber plantations support the local economy. Tourism is an emerging industry with most visitors from overseas (2019).


  • A few hours will not be enough necessitating a return visit of several days.
Teapot Land at Owaka @Stuff


Best time to go

Social media

  • Owaka (The Catlins online visitor resource)


  • Less than 400

Be careful

  • Sea lions, seals and elephant seals, do not stand between them and the sea
  • Not having enough clothing layers
Owaka @Jimbo Tan

Unique journeys, personal adventures are worth it.

What do you think about “What’s so great about Owaka”?

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