Papatowai is a small settlement in the Catlins, Clutha district of the southeastern South Island of New Zealand.
The settlement is situated half-way between the cities of Dunedin and Invercargill, on the Pacific coast, close to the mouth of the Tahakopa river. There is a permanent population of around 30 people but with most of the houses in the town being holiday homes (locally known as “cribs”) the population rises dramatically during the holiday seasons, particularly around Christmas, New Year and Easter.
Papatowai is surrounded by native podcast forest and there are numerous walks in the area to waterfalls, and sand beaches in addition to bush walks. There is also a walk to an archaeological site where it is possible to see middens left by early Maori inhabitants of the area. In the past, the bones of moa have also been found here.
There is a DOC (Department of Conservation) camp site behind the shop, it’s sheltered with plenty of room, water, toilets and a kitchen room although there are no cooking facilities there now. From the camp a track takes you to the estuary in a few minutes. There is also a shop, fuel, accommodation and a quirky Lost Gypsy Gallery, an amazing collection of interesting ‘stuff’ in and old bus. Papatowai is also known for its big wave surfing.
Looking towards the beach Looking across the Tahakopa river towards the Tahakopa beach.
You can get to the other side of the inlet and the Tahakopa beach from the Papatowai bridge along the old coach track which meanders through the bush before ending at the beach on the other side of the river. From there you can walk for miles along the beautiful Tahakopa beach.