A Guide to the Best Waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

Last Updated: 24th August,2023 

The Catlins is a stunning region found right down the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, between the Otago and Southland regions. It is an amazing place to visit if you like getting out in nature and a little off the beaten track! One of the most notable attractions of the Catlins are the spectacular waterfalls that are found dotted around the region! There are loads to visit, and so I have compiled a list of my top 5 favourite waterfalls in the Catlins. Enjoy!

waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

5 Best Waterfalls in the Catlins!

In this post I will talk about the best (at least in my option) waterfalls in the Catlins, as well as giving you so information on how to see these waterfalls for yourselves! These waterfalls are:

  1. Purakaunui Falls
  2. Matai Falls (and Horseshoe Falls)
  3. McLean Falls
  4. Waipohatu Falls
  5. Koropuku Falls

1. Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Falls definitely the most famous (and most photographed!) waterfalls in the Catlins, and it’s easy to see why! This stunning waterfall is nestled amongst native forest and cascades over the tiered rocks, making for an incredible sight.

Purakaunui Falls, waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

The Purakaunui Falls are easily accessible, with a short walk to the base of the waterfall. The walk to the falls begins from a car park situated on Purakaunui Falls Road, and winds its way through an impressive podocarp and beech forest. At the end of the track there is a viewing platform, giving stunning views of the 20-metre waterfall as it cascades over the rocks! A fairly steep clamber downward takes you to a second viewing platform, showing the iconic view of the falls! 

We were lucky to arrive on a rainy day, and so got to enjoy the waterfall completely by ourselves. However, be aware that it can get pretty busy with tourists, as it is such an iconic spot!

Getting there:

The Purakaunui Falls are located just 15-minutes drive south of the small township of Owaka, along the Purakaunui Falls Road. Here, you will find a small car park, with toilets and a picnic area, where the start of the walk begins! The walk itself is quite short (around 20-minutes return from the carpark) and is easy, with the top viewing platform accessible by wheelchair. There is a second viewing platform that requires a fairly steep climb down to, however if you can, it’s definitely worth the view!

2. Matai Falls (and Horseshoe Falls) Walk

This stunning forest walk will give you bang-for-your-buck, with the short walk taking you to the stunning Matai Falls and the nearby Horseshoe Falls, as well as to the historic railway line!

  • Walking Time: 30-minutes return
  • Walk Distance: 1.2 km return
  • Trail Difficulty: Easy, along a well-maintained trail

This is a popular walking track through a regenerating podocarp and broadleaf forest, up to a wooden platform that gives you incredible views over the 10-meter tall Matai Falls! Further up, the stream divides and gives you the opportunity to see the Horseshoe Falls, which are well worth the steep 5-minute climb to view them. 

If you fancy walking a little further through this beautiful stretch of forest, the Matai Rail Trail is able to be accessed off the Matai Falls track. This walk takes you through forest and along the old railway line, with lovely views and lots of history. This walk should take just less than an hour to return to the carpark. 

Waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

Getting there:

The Matai Falls Walkway is found in between the towns of Owaka and Papatowai, along the Southern Scenic Route highway. If travelling from Owaka, the drive will take around 18-minutes, with a parking spot and good signage found on the right-hand side of the road. The walk is easy and enjoyable, and should take about 30 minutes return.

3. McLean Falls

McLean Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Catlins region, plummeting over 22 metres over dark green, mossy rocks into a deep gorge. There are several viewing platforms that allow you to see the waterfall up-close, so make sure to bring your camera!

McLean Falls, waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

There are also a few unofficial trails that lead up the side of the waterfall, so if you’re feeling more adventurous this is an awesome opportunity to experience the power of the falls. 

McLean Falls Walk

  • Walking Time: 40-minutes return
  • Walk Distance: 2.1 km return
  • Trail Difficulty: Easy, along a well-maintained trail

The walk to the spectacular McLean Falls takes you along a gentle trail through the lush Southland bush until you reach the base of the waterfalls. This walk is mostly easy going along a well-maintained track through the native forest. There are a few steps, and it can get a little muddy in some sections after rain!

Getting there:

The McLean Falls are located around 12 kms south of Papatowai. Turn off the Chaslands highway onto Rewcastle Rd, where there is lots of car parking on the bush side of the road, near the track entrance. The walk itself is mostly easy-going along a well-maintained track, with a few steep steps and occasionally muddy underfoot. It will take about 20 minutes to walk from the car park to the waterfall.

McLean Falls, waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

Waipohatu Falls

  • Walking Time: 3 hours
  • Walk Distance: 6.5 km loop
  • Trail Difficulty: Moderate tramping track

If you are keen to find a hidden waterfall deep within the Waikawa Forest, the Waipohatu Falls will give you the opportunity for a little more adventure! These two incredible waterfalls in the Catlins are some of the least visited, as it involves a bit more of a hike to reach them!

waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

This rugged tramping track through stunning rainforest to the falls is a little more challenging than most, and requires a good level of physical fitness. However, arriving at these incredible waterfalls is worth it!

The tramping track emerges at a fork in the road, taking you to the the Upper Waipohatu Falls (Pouriwai Falls) and the Lower Waipohatu Falls (Punehu Falls). There are no set viewpoints, and so it’s fun to explore around the base of the falls to see them in all their beauty! Just be wary of the slippery rocks near the base.

The joy of this walk is that it is off the beaten path, and so no crowds! You get to enjoy these falls with only the sounds of nature around you.

Getting there:

The Waipohatu loop track is located at the end of Waipohatu Road, about 15 minutes from Curio Bay. From Haldane-Curio Bay Road, take a right turn onto Waipohatu Road, where you drive for a couple of minutes along a narrow gravel road to the beginning of the track. This road can be easy to miss, so take it slow and keep your eyes peeled for a ‘walking track’ signpost! 

Once you have reached the car park, the walk begins! It is fairly easy, however it can get a little more challenging after a period of rain, making the track muddy and wet. It takes around 2-3 hours to complete the loop, although if you would like to shave a little time off, from the waterfalls you can head back down the trail the way you came, as the second part of the track is a little longer.

Koropuku Falls

The Koropuku Falls is one of the hidden gems of the Catlins, as it is off the beaten-track and so rarely visited by crowds of tourists! Although this waterfall is only about 10-metres high, it is incredibly charming, set in a backdrop of lush rainforest and mossy rocks. There is a good chance you will be the only person at the waterfall, and so you have a chance to explore, splash in the cold water, and relax without being surrounded by other travellers!

Koropuku Falls, Waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

Getting there:

These falls are located in the Catlins Conservation Park, about 25 minutes drive from the small township of Papatowai. Drive down the scenic Chaslands Highway, where, on your right, there will be an unofficial car park. It can be hard to miss, so make sure you have the location in your google maps, and keep your eyes peeled for a ‘Koropuku Falls’ sign! The walk to the waterfalls will take around 10-15 minutes, through dense bush, and it can be muddy going! Two incredible Catlins locals, Wayne Allen and Peter Hill, discovered this lost waterfall and keep the track maintained.

catlins forest conservation, waterfalls in the Catlins, New Zealand

Thank you for reading my post on the waterfalls in the Catlins! And I hope you love visiting these waterfalls as much as we did!

If you’re interested in reading about more awesome sights to see in the Catlins NZ, please see here! 🙂

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