Waipapa Point Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse in this far southwest corner of The Catlins. It’s a great spot for a walk along the scenic sand dunes and rugged coastline. You can go marine wildlife watching and might be able to spot sea mammals and several types of birds. Waipapa Point Lighthouse is definitely a photogenic place with the surrounding scrub and steps leading to the red door of the lighthouse. Although the lighthouse is not open for public access, there are enough things to explore which you will read in this blog post. All in all a great spot to add to your Catlins itinerary to soak up some history, have a walk along the coast and if you’re lucky spot some wildlife.
How to get to Waipapa Point Lighthouse
From Invercargill it’s a 45-minute drive to Waipapa Point along a sealed road. Along the Fortrose Otara road, you will see a sign pointing towards Waipapa Point lighthouse which is then only a 4km each way detour from the highway.
The road stays sealed all the way to the spacious car park which has toilet facilities and signboards which tell you where to go.
Watch this video from our visit to Waipapa Point Lighthouse!
Best time to visit Waipapa Point Lighthouse
Waipapa Point and actually the whole south coast of New Zealand is known for being super windy. In the colder months it can be even extra cold due to the wind, so be prepared for that with a warm wind jacket.
Overall the best time to visit to spot wildlife is with low tide. Only then the seals will come up the beach. So check the tides if you want to have more chance of spotting them. On the other hand, sunrise can be seen from Waipapa Point, and the golden light touching the white lighthouse is something magical. So it just depends on what you are aiming for!
About Waipapa Point Lighthouse
Waipapa Point Lighthouse has an interesting history. The reason it was built was because of the sunken S.S. Tararua ship in 1881. It was then first lit on 1 January 1884. The lighthouse is 13,4m (44ft) tall and completely built from clad in a double skin of wood from Kauri and Totara trees which was back in the 19th century a cheap option to build a lighthouse that could endure the difficult coastal conditions. The lantern room is made of Bronze and was manufactured in Scotland and assembled in place. Waipapa Point Lighthouse is along with Kaipara North Head the latest timber tower built in New Zealand which both make them unique lighthouses.
What to expect at Waipapa Point Lighthouse
Once you’ve arrived at the spacious car park you will see there are public toilets. The wheelchair-friendly path toward the lighthouse is easy to find and well-signposted.
Make sure to read the information boards along the way to learn more about the history of this place.
You’ll walk between the shrubs to the lighthouse where stairs are leading up to the red door of the lighthouse. Here you can overlook the ocean and beach.
If you spot seals you can walk down to the beach to get a bit closer. But make sure to keep about 10 meters distance to respect their natural habitat. Some people wrote in reviews they even saw a pod of dolphins passing by or a penguin! Of course, luck comes into the equation with this. With low tide, you can explore the rock pools and shells left on the beach.
The rugged coastline of New Zealand is stunning. You can see Stewart Island in the distance and the eastern side of the Foveaux Strait which has a reputation as being a very rough stretch of water. The different colors of the beach are interesting to notice as well. You will see an orange-colored beach and a yellow-colored beach.
The trees of Waipapa Point
Another point of interest to see at Waipapa Point is the windswept trees. These trees are formed over time in a 45-degree angle due to the harsh winds that sculpted them. You can walk underneath them to see them from up close. It only takes a little imagination to realize what they have to endure being formed like this! It’s fascinating to see.
S.S. Tararua wreck
Another point of interest is the shipwreck which is only partly visible with low tide. Waipapa Point Lighthouse was built in response to the worst sea disaster off the NZ coast. In 1881, the passenger steamer Tararua was traveling to Melbourne via Bluff with 151 people on board. The ship struck the reef and sank with a loss of 131 lives. Nowadays at low tide, you can spot part of the SS Tararua Wreck. From the information board, you can complete a 15-minute return walk to the Tararua Acre Cemetery where 64 of the people who died on the boat were buried.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are a few experiences that are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
A memorable experience to see the Franz Josef Glacier from the air during a helicopter flight above ice falls, snowfields, and crevasses. You will depart from a helipad in Franz Josef and then make your way along the glacier down to a snowfield to see the icy landscape up close. There you will take in the sweeping views across the maritime glacier. An unforgettable experience on the West Coast and a once-in-a-lifetime must-do! Because in 10 years from now, glaciers will be much smaller…
The lesser-known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. Your naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20-minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you book the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round-trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight, you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen in the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must-do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for this kind of roads.
We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car! The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pickup date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a road trip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will give you a true feeling of freedom and fully connects you with nature.
We recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, a 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!
Best places to stay in the Catlins
The Catlins are some of the most underrated destinations on New Zealand’s South Island but absolutely worth visiting. If your itinerary allows it, I would even recommend staying for a few nights around Catlins to explore not only the Catlins Conservation Park but everything in between from Invercargill to Kaka Point. You can either base yourself along the coast, in Invercargill or at some of the quiet camps. There are plenty of options, but here are the best accommodations to stay in our opinion.
Catlins Mohua Park
Located close-by Catlins Forest Park are these stunning self-contained chalets with free WiFi and private parking. Each chalet features a fully equipped kitchen, a dining setting and a lounge area with a sofa. Every unit comes with a private bathroom with bathrobes. Bed linen and bathrobes are provided. All chalets at Mohua Park do not include a TV so you can fully take in the stunning views from your terrace. Free use of bicycles is available to explore the area and many of the Catlins waterfalls and other points of interest are only a 20 – 30 minute drive away. Truly a stunning and comfortable stay with beautiful views.
The Langlands Hotel Invercargill
Located within 400 meters from the city center of Invercargill you will find the Langlands hotel. Featuring spacious rooms with a fitness center, private parking, a restaurant, and a bar, this 4-star hotel offers all the comfort you need. Invercargill is a great little town with plenty of restaurants. A great choice if you don’t want to be too far off the beaten path and far away from supermarkets and restaurants.
Kaka point accommodation
Kaka Point accommodation is a beautiful, luxurious, self-contained studio in the small seaside town of Kaka Point at 100 meters from the beach. Surrounded by an abundance of nature and wildlife, you can wake to views of the spectacular coastal scenery.
The studios have fully equipped kitchens with a refrigerator, freezer, microwave, stove top and tea/coffee making facilities. Guests can enjoy uninterrupted, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Nugget Point Lighthouse from the privacy of their unit or relax in their private, therapeutic, double spa bath.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about Waipapa Point Lighthouse in the Catlins. Make sure to put this beautiful lighthouse and viewpoint on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!