Curio Bay is known for its petrified forest and endangered wildlife and is considered a ‘must-see’ on the Southern Scenic Route.

Venture Southland is involved with a number of projects that are being implemented to upgrade infrastructure for Curio Bay locals and visitors. These upgrades are aiming to meet the needs of an increasing number of visitors which has significant economic benefits for the area.

The South Catlins Development Trust, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Southland District Council (SDC) entered into a Memorandum of understanding in 2012 which outlined a shared vision for Curio Bay. This has resulted in the development of $5 million upgrade to enhance the area, with additional investment in sealing the “Penguin Highway” from the New Zealand Transport Agency.

As part of this upgrade the SDC and DOC are building essential infrastructure and amenities that address waste water, car parking, roading and toilet requirements. The Trust is responsible for upgrading the camping ground and Porpoise Bay beach area, developing the Living Forest walkway and the Curio Bay Tumu Toka Natural Heritage Centre.

The Curio Bay Tumu Toka Natural Heritage Centre is a $2.5 million project which the South Catlins Development Trust (on behalf of the local community) have been investigating and planning for the past 15 years. The facility will consist of a café, retail space, an interpretative area, an area for other businesses to operate out of and the adjoining camping ground will also be operated from within this building. This project is part of a collaborative approach to achieving a sustainable vision for Curio Bay alongside partners, the Southland District Council, local iwi and the Department of Conservation. The project aims to interpret the unique experience that is “Curio Bay”.

Venture Southland has been working with the South Catlins Charitable Trust to support the project from it's inception 15 years ago. This has included the preparation of funding applications, feasibility studies and the business case, with Venture Southland continuing to support the delivery of the build,the interpretation and project management.

The Trust aims to achieve:

  • a quality world class interpretation experience highlighting the Jurassic story unique to this area with international significance
  • a hub to from which other economic activity will stem from;
  • an indoors experience that will provide an all year round viable business opportunities that addresse the challenges of seasonality and appeals to an already captured market from Queenstown and Fiordland along the Southern Scenic Route (SSR)
  • support for economic development and employment in the facility and the area more widely

Interpreting the unique environment and experience of Curio Bay is the core objective of this project, with a view to then being able to preserve it for generations to come.

Progress to Date


  • Securing core funding, including Community Trust of Southland, Lotteries Grants and MBIE Tourism Growth Partnership Funding
  • Opening the Living Forest Walkway
  • Upgraded ablution block at the campground


  • New carpark and road alignment
  • New track to the petrified forest with penguin walkway
  • Sealing of the “Penguin Highway” connecting Waikawa and Fortrose, passing Curio Bay, Slope Point and Waipapa Point has commenced

The Heritage Centre is planning to open December 2017/January 2018

Why Curio Bay?

Curio Bay has significant value to many and remains a fragile eco system with endangered species including hectors dolphins, yellow-eyed penguins, sealions and an internationally significant geological specimen, the petrified forest which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The numbers have continued to increase each year as was predicted at the beginning of the project 15 years ago with between 100,000 and 150,000 people visiting every year.

Curio Bay is situated on the “Southern Scenic Route” and in “the Catlins” which are two brands that are growing in international significance. Recently the Australian Traveller magazine labelled the Southern Scenic Route as one of the best 10 travel routes in the world.

It is also important to note that the Southland Regional Development Strategy has recently acknowledged Curio Bay with the project listed as one of three key transformational projects which will help drive the value and benefit of tourism for Southland.

Visitors to the area need to managed appropriately to maximise the value of their visit for the local community and businesses. The Trust identified that visitors were going to come, so the approach has been to provide appropriate infrastructure and also ensure that the community benefits from them.

Complex Project requiring a Partnership Approach

The Trust identified the complexity associated with this project, including the construction of the heritage centre and the wider provision of infrastructure. In particular, for the Trust to build the heritage centre, they required connection to waste water infrastructure, appropriate parking and the project had to fit alongside the neighbouring yellow eyed penguin habitat. It has always remained important that local people can continue to enjoy the area recreationally.

What was also clear was that the Trust depended on others to prioritise and fund the infrastructure and that for the project to be sustainable time needed to be taken to ensure these elements were in place.

The Trust has focussed on promoting the significance of the area to key partners. A formalised partnership approach eventuated with a Memorandum of Understanding being signed in 2012 and this signified an important turning point in the project.

For further information contact
Rhiannon Suter - Venture Southland

Rhiannon Suter

Strategic Projects Manager