Matanaka Caves

Dunedin City District

Matanaka, the longest sea caves in the world!!

6 of the longest sea caves in the world are in the Matanaka cliffs. Including the Matanaka Cave which is the longest by far. It is 1504 meters long. There are a heap of caves here and note that this is for experience kayakers only. The only way in is by a kayak and best to be done with a tour guide. Also only at low tide and on a very calm day.


From Dunedin, drive over the northern motorway and turn off into Karitane or Waikouaiti. Find the beach and unload your boat. Good luck finding them, they are quite well hidden, like I said, take a tour.

Other adventures in close proximity

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The Dark Mile

Some years back, my dad told tales of wild caves, hidden by sandstone cliffs and crashing waves. After a short blast of Internet searches, I found what I was looking for. The Matanaka caves have been mapped out this year and have been found to hold 6 of the 10 longest sea caves in the world. A couple of beers later I had convinced 3 others to join me the next morning. They had all known of the caves but had never gone looking. I borrowed a waterproof case and threw my DSLR in, dug out some head torches and found my tripod. This was about to get fun. The morning was still. The tide had just passed low. Scattered cloud. Glassy water. Perfect conditions. I hadn't been in a kayak for 9 years or so, but really it's like riding a bike, you don't quite forget.

We launched off the beach from Waikouaiti and straight lined it for the point. After rounding the first jagged looking rocks we noticed lots of caves. They are everywhere. But which ones did we want?. We started with the obviously easier looking choices. The first cave went quite a way under the Matanaka cliffs and ended on an underground beach. The colors underground always impress me, Oranges, greens, reds, blues. I set up my camera and started snapping some shots. Crazy sand bugs everywhere, all over the walls. A nasty sulphur smell from I have no idea where. A few failed cave attempts and then we found a massive entrance way. Fighting though the rocks and sea weed, we ditched the kayaks and clambered in. Little to our surprise John was already inside with his kayak from coming through another portal. More pictures. More caves. Another entryway was staring us in the face. This time I had a good feeling we were going deep into the darkness.

The cave had waterways heading in all directions, the bubbling smashing echo could be heard on all sides. Without lights you would be in complete darkness. The water below was pure black and appeared really deep. We were in a massive cavern, the walls a perfect pink. We all turned out our lights. Ever gone swimming in the dark? you should try it sometime. Johann spotted a narrow tunnel heading further inland. It was an interesting feeling not being able to use the paddle anymore. Pushing off both walls we keep going deeper. The whole place was an nice bright orange. The kayaks were too wide to keep moving. A brief look from each other we jumped out into the blackness. My feet landed on rock. Waist deep we waded further. The other decided it was too much for them. I carried on alone. Every now and then with a wrong step I would sink under the water. My lights would flicker. Round some corners and finally sand. I had arrived at another beach. Scared that the tide was turning I high tailed it back to the others. Paddling backwards down the narrow tunnel, a small swell lifted me up into a ledge. I flipped over, into the black. Time to test how waterproof my gear was. Everything was floating away from me. My lights went out. There was no bottom to this cave. Just black. Without being able to get the water out of my kayak I had to push it while swimming. It was a while before I saw the entrance and the size of the waves coming in. When swimming in darkness, never think about what's below your feet. Just keep going. I managed to climb up some rocks and tip out the water while outside. The day was done, I couldn't handle any more caves today.

Sunken but still kickin' - Stu