Owaka is the Catlins biggest town but still only has a population of 400 people. Lush rainforest tumbles down spectacular steep valleys, amazing sandy beaches and a large tidal lake surround the town.
Owaka means “the place of the canoe” in Maori and the stunning stainless steel sculpture put up to celebrate the town’s 150th anniversary has an estimated life span of 1200 years. The town does have a few shops, cafes, a small supermarket and 24 hour petrol pump. Oh and a rather lovely 9 hole golf course by the Owaka river.
The Owaka Museum (Wahi Kahuika – the Meeting Place) is a must! It is just like walking through a 3D storybook with tales of the area’s rich Maori and pioneering settler past ranging from moa hunting to shipwrecks.
The town is just a 30 minute drive from Balclutha and on the way you can explore the historic tunnel hill walkway, remember to take a torch! The last time a train travelled through the tunnel was 1971.
Neighbouring Surat and Cannibal bay are famous for their windswept beauty and as a great place to see seals and sea lions. Do take care on the gravel road to Cannibal bay though.
Pounawea is quaint seaside village with pretty and peaceful walks through tidal wetlands and native bush. While you might see yellow eyed penguins at Long Point (Irihuka) which is also just a lovely place for a leisurely stroll. Jack’s Bay is another nearby picture postcard cove with a few holiday homes. A quite challenging but most rewarding walk takes you to Jack's Blowhole which is 55 metres deep and just 200 metres from the ocean.
Further south the magnificent triple tiered Purakaunui falls could have been plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale. The nearby bay of the same name has the highest cliffs in the Catlins, a beautiful DOC campsite and some monster winter waves for intrepid surfers (some of the biggest ever ridden in New Zealand). The Department of Conservation also has a great campsite at Tawanui where you really do feel like you are getting away from it all.