Cathedral Caves Walk

Cathedral Caves Walk - Waipati Beach Scenic Reserve

Cathedral Caves Walk

Waipati Beach Scenic Reserve


43 Rankers Reviews

35 Face-to-Face

2 Papatowai

Your Nature Guide

Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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Peering out of the caves
Be prepared to wait for tides
The walk to the Cathedral Caves
Driftwood by Cathedral Caves
Entrance to Cathedral Caves


approx 2 km return | 45 minutes return

The Catlins is an undiscovered gem, although the sealing of the Southern Scenic Route and comprehensive signposting has done much to open up the region to tourists. Summed up, the Catlins is where forest meets beach. Throw in frequent encounters with wildlife, numerous waterfalls, a pioneering history and local charm that is sadly lost in many other parts of New Zealand.

Cathedral Caves is a shining example of these qualities.


The caves are open between late October and May. Sometimes spring tides can delay the opening by a few weeks.

If conditions are deemed unsafe or tidal conditions are unfavourable the gate will be closed.

Access is limited to 2 hours before low tide and one hour after low tide.
Access is also limited between 7.30 am and 8.30 pm.

Visit for tide times.

Access is through private land. We have been informed there is now a $5 Koha (Maori for donation or gift) requested.


Cathedral Caves are well signposted from the Southern Scenic Route between Chaslands and Papatowai. Signs are visible from both directions and show when the low tide is and what time the gate opens and closes. Follow the unsealed access road 2 km to the parking area with toilets at the start of the track


The well-constructed track descends steadily through the fern filled forest to the beach. Head left and round the first headland to the largest cave. The huge cavernous opening is framed by striking colours of the rock and vegetation and retreats to blackness at the rear. Closer inspection by entering the cave however, shows the initial cave also links up with a smaller, but equally impressive cave exiting at the far side of the headland.

When sea conditions are calm, it is also possible to explore a set of caves around the next headland. Although slightly smaller they retreat nearly 150 metres into the cliff and narrow to only a body width wide. Little blue penguins are known to inhabit the furthest recesses of the cave.

On the way back, the sweeping vistas of Waipati Beach are impressive, the sand almost luminescent in the muted light of the cloud-filled sky.


Caves such as this are formed by the erosive power of the waves exploiting and enlarging weaknesses in the rock. The immense pressure of the waves striking the rock is enough to steadily wear away and denude the rock structure. Over time the caves will eventually grow until the rock above becomes unstable and collapses, forming offshore stacks.

Honeycomb weathering is visible on the splash zone above the high tide mark. When sea spray soaks into the rocks, they become saturated with salt, which on drying, enlarges the salt crystals levering the sand grains apart. Wind then dislodges the grains and eddies to form the hollows. The honeycomb pattern is best exhibited on overhangs, where the face is protected from the rainfall.


Hebes and flax colonise the cliff faces.


The zonation of aquatic animals forms a striking strata on the rocks. Each animal is particularly evolved to its band in the sequence, limits determined by tolerance to exposure at the upper end and ability to compete with food lower down. Barnacles and mussels encrust the rocks and an algal film complements the rich hues of rock perfectly.


Feature Value Info


DOC Otago

Central government organisation


South IslandSouthlandPapatowai


  • Walking
  • Free


Showing 13 reviews of 41.

Ane Pujol's avatar

Ane Pujol


Ranking: 10/10

Access to the parking open 1.5 to 2 hours before low tide and closes 2 hours after low tide. We walked to the beautiful beach and walked inside the huge caves, impressive. Access $5.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in December 2016

Sharron's avatar



Ranking: 8/10

Beautiful shorter walk, gorgeous beach and the caves were very impressive.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in October 2016

Andy Howard's avatar

Andy Howard


Ranking: 9/10

$5 fee was awesome value for such a beautiful walk and stunning caves. A real highlight.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in October 2016

Dylan Smyth's avatar

Dylan Smyth

New Zealand

Ranking: 9/10

For such a beautiful place I thought it was poorly signposted to since there was a timing element (2 hours either side of low tide). I did not see any warnings about it in the local advertising.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in October 2016

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Hailey S's avatar

Hailey S

United States

Ranking: 10/10

Impressive sea caves you can walk through at extremely low tide. Easy 30 minute walk, plan 1 hour return. The tides change daily so check online for when you can visit, usually only a two hours gap each day.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Anna's avatar



Ranking: 8/10

Had a nice hour or so exploring these caves. After a quick walk down to the beach we paddled in the water and walked through the caves. Spectacular caves and beach.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Linda Stovelaar's avatar

Linda Stovelaar

Ranking: 6/10

The campsite told me to go and see the caves and bring $ for entrance. I don't know what they do with the $5 per person because the road to the carpark is full of big holes. When I arrived the lady told me to pay and that high tie was coming quickly but I can see the caves before the water was too high.
When I get to the caves the waves were very high because of the wind and it was too dangerous to go in the coves. Not worth the $5, didn't have the right advice and you have to pay to see the nature?!

Reviewed about 5 years ago

Floriane Desnoyer's avatar

Floriane Desnoyer


Ranking: 9/10

Beautiful landscape! Totally worth it!

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

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Stephen Timbu's avatar

Stephen Timbu

United States

Ranking: 10/10

Stunning, we arrived an hour before low tide and were able to wade up and into the caves. Explored the main caves as well as some smaller ones down the coast. A must see in the South!

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Lorenz Pfisterer's avatar

Lorenz Pfisterer


Ranking: 9/10

A steep walk down through the bush to a huge and beautiful beach. The caves were amazing. The only negative thing was the sandflies on the beach.

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Sarah Boettcher's avatar

Sarah Boettcher


Ranking: 7/10

You have to pay money to walk the track. But when the weather is good it is worth it. Look up the tide timetable (you can just go there when it is low tide). You are walking down through a forest about 30 minutes to a really beautiful beach. Walk along the beach for about 10 minutes to the caves, watch out for the ocean when you are walking through the caves, it can come abruptly. Worth the money and the walk - really amazing trip!

Reviewed almost 6 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Gae Saevane's avatar

Gae Saevane


Ranking: 7/10

A great short walk at low tide enables you to walk through this magnificent sea arch. A must visit.

Reviewed almost 6 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Lena Wesselink's avatar

Lena Wesselink


Ranking: 7/10

Nice big caves on the beach. Had to walk through kneehigh water to get to the end of the cave. Nice to see but stupid that we have to pay $5 per person to see some nature on the beach. Make sure to walk past the first one because there are like 4 more!

Reviewed over 6 years ago

DOC Managed

Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍

Cymen Crick's avatar

Cymen Crick