Nugget Point Lighthouse | An Unmissable Stop In The Catlins

Of all the coastal cliffs and walks we wandered in the Catlins, Nugget Point was the most dramatic and captivating – leaving us in a constant state of awe as we explored the wild, wind and wave-swept headland.

Nugget Point Lighthouse is one of the oldest working lighthouses on New Zealand’s South Island, standing tall above a mess of rocks scattered around Tokata Point. The easy walk along the narrow headland is a must for anyone venturing to the Catlins on the southeast coast, especially if you want to see seals, penguins and countless seabirds.

Sadly, we visited at the wrong time of day to see the penguins or to experience the headland at its best. So to help you avoid the same mistake we made, we’ve created the ultimate guide to visiting Nugget Point Lighthouse – including extra tips on the best photography spots and additional items to throw in your car!

Nugget Point Lighthouse on a crystal clear day

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What To Know About Visiting Nugget Point Lighthouse In The Catlins

Quick Statistics For The Nugget Point Lighthouse And Roaring Bay Walks

Entrance Fees
None

Facilities
Trailhead: Car park, toilet, information signs

Nugget Point Lighthouse Walk

Distance
1.8 km return

Time
20 – 30 minutes

Navigation Difficulty
Very Easy

Trail Difficulty
Very Easy

Physical Effort
Easy

Elevation Gain
94 m

Roaring Bay Walk

Distance
500 m return

Time
10 minutes

Navigation Difficulty
Very Easy

Trail Difficulty
Very Easy

Physical Effort
Very Easy

Elevation Gain
20 m

Where Does The Walk To Nugget Point Lighthouse Start?

Nugget Point Car Park
Nugget Point Car Park
Roaring Bay Car Park
Roaring Bay Car Park

Nugget Point lies to the south of Kaka Point, in the Catlins region on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The iconic headland requires you to stray from the Southern Scenic Route, but it’s a worthy detour that will only add roughly 20 minutes to your drive in either direction.

At the Nugget Point Car Park, you’ll find a toilet block, information signs, viewpoints and picnic tables nearby. There is a separate car park for the Roaring Bay Walk, which is located 500 m before the Nugget Point Car Park. You’ll also find a toilet in this car park and information signs about the yellow-eyed penguins.

How To Get To Nugget Point In The Catlins

Nugget Point is located 1 hour 30 minutes south of Dunedin and 2 hours 10 minutes east of Invercargill. The easiest way to visit Nugget Point Lighthouse is to self-drive, this allows you to spend as much time as you like at the headland and to choose the best time of day to see the penguins.

Direction from Dunedin to Nugget Point Lighthouse
Directions from Dunedin to Nugget Point Lighthouse

However, if you’d rather leave the planning up to someone else, there are several tour options you can choose from with Private Discovery Tours that include a stop at Nugget Point Lighthouse. But I should point out that as the lighthouse is still in use, no entry is allowed into the actual lighthouse.

By Car

Campervan parked at Nugget Point Beach

To reach Nugget Point Car Park, you’ll leave the Southern Scenic Route at either Otanomomo if you’re coming from the north or Ahuriri Flats if you’re travelling from the south.

If you’re driving from north to south on the Southern Scenic Route, you’ll turn left onto Kaka Point Rd at Otanomomo which will deliver you to Kaka Point. From Kaka Point, continue south on The Nuggets Rd until it ends at the Nugget Point Car Park.

If you’re driving from south to north via the Southern Scenic Route, turn right onto Ahuriri Flat Rd at Ahuriri Flat. This road will intercept The Nuggets Rd just below Kaka Point and after turning right once more, you’ll follow The Nuggets Rd to its end at the Nugget Point Car Park.

The final 5 km of The Nuggets Rd is windy and tight, with some sections only wide enough for one car. The road is sealed and in good condition, but you’ll need to keep aware of the pull-outs that are essential to use when passing oncoming traffic.

Click Here For Directions From Invercargill
Click Here For Directions From Dunedin

Who Is The Walk To Nugget Point Lighthouse And Roaring Bay For?

Nugget Point Lighthouse in The Catlins, New Zealand

Nugget Point Lighthouse is a must-visit destination for photographers, nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. The dramatic coastline is one of the most breathtaking scenes we witnessed on our Catlins road trip and we highly recommend the short walk to the lighthouse and the nearby Roaring Bay for every traveller!

Nugget Point and nearby Roaring Bay are both very easy walks that take roughly 30 – 50 minutes total walking time. With very little elevation and no stairs, these walks are also wheelchair accessible.

What Should I Bring For The Walk To Nugget Point Lighthouse?

Walking down the path to Roaring Bay at Nuggets Point
Walking down to Roaring Bay

The walking track to Nugget Point Lighthouse and Roaring Bay are both well-maintained pathways, meaning you can easily get away with wearing thongs or sandals for the walk. However, if you want to climb the steep hill to reach the best photography spot for the lighthouse, we recommend wearing runners with good grip.

The rocky shoreline beneath Nugget Point Lighthouse is a popular hang-out spot for fur seals, elephant seals and sea lions. But unfortunately, the towering sea cliffs that you’re wandering on are a little too high to properly see the seals. If you have a pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens, we highly recommend bringing them along for your visit to Nugget Point.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Nugget Point Lighthouse?

Rough coastline south of Nugget Point Lighthouse

For the ultimate experience, we highly recommend waking up early and walking to Nugget Point Lighthouse to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Nugget Point for sunrise but we sure wish we had! From the images we have seen online, sunrise at Nugget Point Lighthouse offers a dramatic show and illuminates the headland in a magical display of colours.

If you can’t make it for sunrise, late afternoon or close to sunset also offers beautiful lighting conditions on the grassy headland. Furthermore, visiting at sunset fits in perfectly if you want to see the penguins at the Roaring Bay Hide as the optimum time to see the yellow-eyed penguins is at dusk.

Where Are The Best Photography Spots On The Nugget Point Lighthouse Walk?

Photography location at Nuggets Point Lighthouse on a clear day

The best location to capture Nugget Point is roughly 50 – 100 m up the steep grassy ridgeline to the right of the walkway, just before you reach the lighthouse. As you walk along the track, you’ll find a red sign warning of unstable cliffs. Turn off the main path here and follow the worn dirt track up the hill until you reach a wider section that can accommodate a tripod.

Obviously, this location requires you to leave the main track and climb an exposed and rough hill. While we didn’t feel unsafe, we are experienced hikers and we only recommend this location if you’re confident leaving the designated trail.

If you’d rather stick to the walkway, the second best photography location for Nugget Point Lighthouse is just after the red warning sign. This spot allows you to use the path as a leading line to the lighthouse.

What To Expect On The Trail To Nugget Point Lighthouse And Roaring Bay

Nugget Point Lighthouse Walk

Lookout on the Nugget Point Track
Seals playing in the rock pools on Nugget Point

The walk to Nugget Point Lighthouse traverses the northern side of the steep headland on a well-maintained gravel pathway. Along the way, you’ll pass viewing platforms and lookout points that showcase the rugged coastline – home to fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals –  and the verdant vegetation that clings to the towering sea cliffs.

After 700 m, you’ll arrive at the narrow ridgeline that leads to the lighthouse. From this vantage point, you’re afforded sensational vistas of both the south and north sides of the headland – which can often be vastly contrasted when the weather is coming up from the south.

Nugget Point Lighthouse on a calm day

You’ll arrive at Nugget Point Lighthouse after 900 m and roughly 10 – 15 minutes. The path leads you around the lighthouse grounds, allowing you to watch the mass of seabirds that circle the monstrous sea cliffs and rocky outcrops scattered beyond the point.

Roaring Bay Walk

Roaring Bay on Nugget Point, New Zealand

On your way back down The Nuggets Rd, stop off at the Roaring Bay Car Park and wander down the short 250 m pathway to the viewing hide. At the right time of day and year, you can watch the yellow-eyed penguins in their natural habitat from the sheltered hide.

Inside the hide, you’ll discover signs showcasing the habits of penguins and the optimal times to observe them throughout the year. These times are at dusk or dawn during the summer months when they venture out to sea daily to catch fish for their chicks.

Penguin lookout in Roaring Bay at Nugget Point, new Zealand

Note: Access to the beach below the hide is off-limits in summer and restricted to the middle of the day during winter. This is to ensure that no harm comes to the yellow-eyed penguins, who are very shy and can become highly stressed if they come across humans.

Other Things To Know About The Nugget Point Lighthouse

FAQs About Nugget Point Lighthouse

Is Nugget Point Worth It?

Nugget Point is one of the most stunning headlands we have witnessed in New Zealand and is 100% worth the short detour from the Southern Scenic Route that weaves through the Catlins region in the southeast of the South Island.

While it’s best to visit Nugget Point for sunrise, any time of day will provide you with an incredible experience of the rugged coastline. If you can, arrive at dawn or stick around till dusk to watch the rare yellow-eyed penguins from the nearby Roaring Bay Viewing Hide.

How Do You See Penguins At Nugget Point?

You can witness the rare yellow-eyed penguins from the viewing hide at Roaring Bay, just 500 m before the Nugget Point Car Park. It’s a short 250 m walk to the hide and from there, you can watch the penguins in their natural habitat.

There is a chance you will witness the penguins before 7 am and after 3 pm – 4 pm, but the best time is usually at dusk. However, this does change throughout the year depending on their cycle.

How Long Is The Nugget Point Walk?

The walk to Nugget Point Lighthouse is 1.8 km return and usually takes 20 – 40 minutes to complete. However, we recommend allowing extra time to explore the headland and to include a stop at Roaring Bay to search for the yellow-eyed penguins and sea lions that frequent the beach.

Nuggets of the point of Nugget Point famously named by Captain Cook

Is The Road To Nugget Point Sealed?

Yes, the road to Nugget Point is sealed the entire way. However, the road becomes tight and winding for the final 5 km and is only wide enough for one car. Along this section, you’ll find pull-out’s that must be used to pass oncoming traffic.

Why Is It Called Nugget Point?

Nugget Point got its name from Captain Cook, who thought the rocky outcrops scattered off the headland looked like gold nuggets.

Does Nugget Point Lighthouse Work?

Yes, Nugget Point Lighthouse is still active today and uses an LED flashing beacon. It is powered by solar power and monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.

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Leave No Trace

Nugget Point is a special place to explore, but this can be ruined when visitors leave rubbish strewn across the path or disrespect the wildlife. Please be respectful when you’re travelling to Nugget Point – or anywhere for that matter – and follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

It’s as easy as taking your rubbish with you – including food scraps and tissues, using the toilets provided and keeping a respectful distance from the wildlife. It’s very detrimental to the health and behaviour of seabirds or land animals if you try to touch or feed them.

What Else Is There To Do Near Nugget Point?

Standing on mossy boulders under Waipohatu Falls in the Catlins
Waipohatu Waterfalls in The Catlins

Nugget Point is located in the Catlins region, which boasts countless alluring waterfalls, rugged coastal walks and epic surf breaks – if you can brave the frigid water temperatures!

There are plenty of things to do in the Catlins, all of which are only a short drive from Nugget Point.

Here is a list of some of our favourite places to visit near Nugget Point:

Where To Stay Near Nugget Point

The closest town to Nugget Point is Kaka Point, a quaint coastal village that offers a range of accommodation options to suit a range of travellers. This is our top pick of places to stay near Nugget Point, but another popular option – where you’ll find a petrol station and convenience store – is Owaka.

Alternatively, the short 1 hour 30 minute drive from Dunedin makes it an easy day trip from the city if you’d rather stay closer to the action.

Here is a list of our top 3 accommodation recommendations near Nugget Point. 

Camping Near Nugget Point

Paraukanui Campsite in the Catlins, New Zealand
Paraukanui Campsite

There are several campsites to choose from near Nugget Point, our favourite being the Purakaunui Bay Campsite. This DOC-managed campsite costs $10 per person, per night – or free if you pre-purchase the DOC Campsite Pass.

Other campsites near Nugget Point:

Final Thoughts

Beautiful blue ocean at Nuggets Point Lighthouse

We were blown away by the rugged landscape of Nugget Point, which can only be truly understood when you’re standing on the headland looking out across the rocky point. But the best part about it is that it’s easily accessible for all travellers.

We highly recommend including a stop at Nugget Point Lighthouse on your road trip through the Catlins. And if you can, plan to arrive before dawn so you can witness the magical sunrise from the headland and have a high chance of seeing yellow-eyed penguins from Roaring Bay.

We hope this guide has helped you plan your trip to Nugget Point. If you have any further questions about this destination – or any others in the Catlins, please feel free to reach out via Instagram.

Happy Adventuring 🙂