An attractive, forest-lined river walk of three sections that has several natural features and access to good fishing.

Track overview

Two 12 km routes loop

Walking and tramping

One long or two shorter days Advanced: Tramping track

Dog access

No dogs

About this track


The Catlins River-Wisp Loop Track includes two 12 km routes: the Catlins River Walk and Wisp Loop Walk. The routes can be walked in either direction and can be done as a 24 km two day tramp or one long day tramp.

Sections of the track can be walked independently of the others, as there are many entry/exit points along the way. The Wisp Loop returns along the forestry roads and could be mountain biked separately.

The Rocky Knoll extension track is a side route that runs off the Wisp Loop Walk, and is well worth the short climb to get the views and also see some nice sub-alpine vegetation not often accessible in the Catlins to the general tourist. 

Catlins River Walk

The 5-6 hour Catlins River Walk is a well formed tramping track following the Catlins River between The Wisp and the Tawanui camping ground. There are a few short steep grades and can be walked in sections, via connecting tracks from the forestry road.

Section walking times
  • Tawanui to Franks Creek – 2.5 hr
  • Franks Creek to Wallis Stream – 1.5 hr
  • Wallis Stream to The Wisp – 1 hr

The first part of the track is through exotic forest which soon gives way to silver beech. Over the length of the track four wire-rope suspension bridges cross the Catlins River with it many waterfalls and rapids. There are opportunities to see rare birds such as the rifleman and möhua/yellowhead. At the Tawanui end many of the silver beech trees host the native mistletoe Peraxilla colensoi. In December/January it is worth looking out for this hemi-parasite’s impressive scarlet flowers.

Wisp Loop Walk

The 4-5 hour higher-altitude Wisp Loop Walk forms a loop with the Catlins River Walk and is via forestry roads and the Rocky Knoll lookout tramping track extension.

Rocky Knoll - view to the head of the Catlins River. Photo: F Sutherland.
Rocky Knoll - view to the head of the Catlins River


Access to Rocky Knoll on the Rata Range gives extensive views to the coast and over the inland Catlins. The track has easy walking along foresty roads, where you will see plantation radiata pine, douglas fir, eucalyptus forest, silver beech forest and sub-alpine vegetation. At The Wisp end of the tracks, there is a picnic area with a toilet.

The Wisp Loop returns along the forestry roads and this could be mountain biked separately.

Rocky Knoll - view North over the Owaka Valley from Rocky Knoll. Photo: F Sutherland.
Rocky Knoll - view North over the Owaka Valley from Rocky Knoll

Getting there

South of Owaka on the Southern Scenic Route SH92, turn right onto Catlins Valley Road, right onto Morris Saddle Road, then left at cattle-stop.

  • Road access to The Wisp is via the Chloris Pass Road from the Owaka Valley.
  • Road access to the Tawanui Camping ground is via an extension of Catlins Valley Road or Morris Saddle Road from Owaka Valley.

Know before you go

  • Rocky Knoll Loop may occasionally close because of forestry operations - check before setting out.
  • Rocky Knoll Walk has exposed sections - check the weather before setting out.


Murihiku / Invercargill Office
Phone:   +64 3 211 2400
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   7th Floor
CUE on Don
33 Don Street
Invercargill 9810
Postal Address:   PO Box 743
Invercargill 9840
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