This is the true heart of the Catlins where rainforest slides gracefully down to the sandy shore and verdant valleys are greener than green (that may sound mad but let your eyes be the judge).
It really does look like a slice of almost tropical paradise with the turquoise ocean framed by native trees which have been guardians of this coastline for more than a millennium.
With reflective rivers and an estuary which turns crimson when the rata flowers on the gnarly old trees which look like sinews of the forest fumbling their way waterward.
You may never have seen such kaleidoscopic greens and there are a number of walks which let you saunter through this ancient rainforest tickled by the beautiful birdsong before emerging onto gorgeous deserted beaches.
Papatowai is a sleepy surfing spot with a few holiday homes dotted around and just a handful of locals who love whey they live!
The organic mechanic who conjures up innovative treats and creates marvellously magical merriment at the Lost Gypsy is a sight to behold. So Kiwi and the true embodiment of "8 Wired" genius (Kiwi know how using bit n bobs to make things). It is also something of a social hub for locals where they get the cafe culture fix Catlins style! (there is a coffee shack and food caravan selling tasty Thai treats)
Across the road Mick & Deb rent out kayaks so you can venture down the stunning rivers and estuary to discover those secret spots. There is no other way to get to most of these hidden gems. So go on live like a local, like a proper Papatowain!
What else is there to do in Papatowai....well how long have you got?
There is the double delight of Matai and Horseshoe Falls which are only a short brisk stroll from the main road moments before you reach the village. Shrouded and swathed in rainforest you can also wander down the heritage trail following the old train tracks which ferried timber from the area back to Balclutha (no...there really was a railway in these far flung parts).
If you have a bit of penchant for seeing the source of life tumbling and cascading through beautiful bush then there's more! Mighty, majestic, magnificent (all adjectives completely justified just wait and see for yourself) McLean Falls are just a bit further south and are the Catlins highest waterfall. Enchanting and entrancing just stand and stare as your senses are hypnotised by its sheer splendour framed by the beautiful bush backdrop.
Still want more well Koropuku awaits. Signposted on the main drag a few kilometres south, you reach this hidden oasis along another wonderful walk which compliments and yet contrasts with the others. Most people miss this little beauty but for those in the know its a firm favourite albeit slightly smaller waterfall giving you a sense that you have stumbled across something special, because you have.
In between McLean and Koropuku are Cathedral Caves which are another absolute must do. These incredibly impressive naturally carved tunnels and passageways set into the cliffs are among the World's largest and finest such sea caves. They got their name thanks to their grandeur and amazing acoustics. There is only one catch you can only go at low tide, when it is possible to actually access them (they do close in the winter for safety reasons). Oh and Waipati beach and the bush walk down to it are rather lovely too. There is a small charge. All you need to do is check those tide times.
That's the lot right.....well no there are a number of other astounding attractions mother nature has to offer! Lake Wilkie is a mysterious hidden peat pool which oozes tranquility and serenity and like all these stunning spots is just an easy amble and signposted from the Papatowai highway.
Nearly next door is the Tautuku boardwalk which snakes its way into the estuary leaving you with an amazing sense of calm and wellbeing. This is "Tapu" a Maori sacred spot and you soon see why as this opening in the heart of the rainforest feels likes an eco amphithreatre in a place that time forgot (in a good way).
Across the road is the Lenz reserve where conservation charities are getting rid of any predators and making a haven for birdlife and the beautiful birdsong they bring. There are a number of tracks and trails you can even stay in quaint rustic cottages available at ridiculously reasonable rates.
Oh and talking of places to stop over there is the lovely little DOC (Department of Conservation) campground in Papatowai with grassy enclaves so you can stay and play. It backs onto the beach and estuary and is behind the shop and petrol pumps.
As you meander round and about you will see Florence Hill Lookout which gives superlative views of Tautuku Beach and Peninsula. Yes it's a cracking panoramic viewing platform but make sure you venture onto the sand to get the real feel of this beautiful beach.
Did we mention the enormity of some staggeringly spectacular star studded skies? They have to be seen to be believed. Florence Hill is also a rather fantastic spot to see the Aurora (Southern lights with Autumn to Spring the best time).
There's also fantastic fishing for trout in the rivers or you could try your luck with a bit of surf casting. Or if surfing is more your thing then we've got some of the country's most reliable waves and some brilliant breaks!
So go on become a Papatowain for a wee while.....