The Catlins region in the far southeastern corner of the South Island of New Zealand is a place of remote, natural beauty. Often overlooked by tourists, the Catlins had a lot to offer for peace seekers and nature lovers. An abundance of rivers and waterfalls, wildlife, ancient forests, white sandy beaches and rolling green farmland. We have spend 4 days in the Catlins and explored all the beautiful hikes, waterfalls and vistas. In this complete guide you’ll find the 8 best Catlins waterfalls including all the information you need to know about how to get there.
8 Most Beautiful Catlins Waterfalls
The Koropuku falls is a very charming, fairytale like waterfall in the Catlins. Found in the western part of Catlins Conservation Park, along the scenic Chaslands Highway, you will almost pass the sign to Koropuku Falls if you don’t pay enough attention.
Although Koropuku Falls is only 10 meters high (about 33 ft), it might sound not too impressive. But the scenery, the walk towards the falls and the perfect silky curtain like waterfall with lush surroundings make Koropuku Falls a gem and definitely one of the most beautiful Catlins waterfalls. It’s not a popular spot, so you most likely have the waterfall for yourself which is so peaceful and special to experience.
How to get to Koropuku falls
The Koropuku falls are located in Catlins Conservation Park along Chaslands Highway and are roughly a 1.5 hours drive away from Invercargill or a 2 hour drive from Dunedin. The road is a well maintained sealed road. The GPS of the trailhead is S 46° 34.717′ E 169° 13.162’ or just put the location into Google Maps. Look out for a small wooden sign saying ‘Koropuku Falls’ (NOT a DOC sign) with a small pullover bay. Here you can park your car and start the walk. It is about a 10 – 15 minutes walk through mossy forest to the Koropuku falls.
Mc Lean Falls
The spectacular Mc Lean Falls in Catlins Forest Park is a 22 meter high multi level cascade surrounded by mossy rocks and native forest. The short but beautiful walk through the forest along a well maintained track is a great family friendly walk in the Catlins. The stunning forest with well maintained gravel and boarded walk is an easy walk with stunning bush and different trees to spot along the way.
You can admire the upper and lower level Mc Lean falls from a safe viewpoint. But if you want to you can see the main waterfall from up closer when you scramble up along the rocks. This 22 meter high Catlins waterfall is one of the beautiful ones in this region and definitely worth a visit!
How to get to Mc Lean Falls
The Mc Lean Falls car park is located along the Southern Scenic Route in the Catlins. There are plenty of signs along the Chaslands Highway that tell you to turn off to the Rewcastle road. Most of the road conditions are sealed, only the last 3 kilometres follows a gravel road until you get to the car park.
From the car park it is a 20 minute walk along the well maintained, flat path until you get to the impressive McLean Falls.
Waipohatu waterfall walk
The Waipohatu waterfall walk is a stunning 7 kilometre loop walk in the Catlins Forest Park taking you to two stunning Catlins waterfalls. It’s a great mix between a rainforest walk with bits of muddy uphill and downhill track with the Waipohatu waterfalls as points of interest. While the walk starts off as a gentle stroll through stunning rainforest, it will soon become more challenging with plenty of tree roots, muddy, slippery parts and some stairs.
Although the trail is quite easy to follow without much incline, only 330 meters elevation gain, there are some slippery parts where you have to take care. It’s a great family friendly forest walk, but be prepared with good hiking shoes. Otherwise it’s going to be a challenge to not slip.
No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen.
A slip during hiking is made before you realize it, and the consequences can be bigger than you want to think of.
We are very happy with SafetyWing and highly recommend getting an insurance with them!
The Pouriwai waterfall is a tall 10 meter high waterfall flanked by a moss covered cliff. When you arrive you won’t have the best view on the waterfall, you will have to cross a shallow stream to get right in front. But be careful when crossing the stream with slippery rocks. Eventually use a stick for balance. This is some of the lesser known Catlins waterfalls, but definitely worth a visit!
The Punehu waterfall is a small, wide waterfall surrounded by moss-covered trees. It’s a short but slippery descent down to the natural pool. Here you can sit down at one of the tree trunks and enjoy a little break from the hike. The natural pool is too shallow to take a dip in, and besides admiring the beauty of nature you might want to continue to the next one pretty quickly.
How to get to Waipohatu waterfall track
The Waipohatu falls walk trailhead is located at the end of Waipohatu Road which is on the way to Curio Bay. There’s a turnoff to a gravel road from the main road which could be easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled! You’ll get to the car park in about 10 minutes where also toilets and a picnic area is located. This is the start of Waikawa forest which takes you to the Waterfall loop track.
The Purakaunui Falls are a beautiful three tiered waterfall in the Catlins surrounded by native forest. After a short walk through the mature beech forest you will get to the viewing platform of Purakaunui Falls. This 15 minute return walk is easy to follow and only has some stairs down to the waterfall at the end. The Purakaunui Falls are some of the most famous Catlins waterfalls and even some of New Zealands most photographed waterfall! With 20 metres height over 3 tiers it isn’t the highest waterfall in New Zealand, but because of it’s different tiers and the way the water is falling down the rocks, it’s definitely one of the most beautiful!
How to get to Purakaunui Falls
Just 17kms south of Owaka is the Purakaunui Falls Scenic Reserve located. The Purakaunui Falls can be accessed from two roads off the Papatowai Highway. This road is part of the Southern Scenic Route which is a tourist highway linking Queenstown, Fiordland, Te Anau and the iconic Milford Road to Dunedin via, Riverton, Invercargill and The Catlins. In 2008 an Australian travel magazine labelled it “one of the world’s great undiscovered drives” and if you drive here yourself you will totally understand why!
So enjoy the drive to Purakaunui Falls and don’t forget to watch the signs! The falls are signposted at both turn offs coming from Owaka and Warnock Road. Once you reach the spacious car park you will see the trailhead clearly signposted. There are toilets and a picnic area at the parking lot and some information panels about the falls.
Matai Falls & Horseshoe Falls
The Matai Falls walk is a beautiful short walk in the Catlins through regenerating podocarp and broadleaf forest. You will get to see two Catlins Falls from a lookout point which are closely located to each other. The walk is only 15 minutes to Matai waterfall and another 4 minutes to Horseshoe Falls. It’s easy to do for every age which makes it a perfect family activity in the Catlins.
At Matai Falls is a small viewing platform, unfortunately there isn’t another way to access the waterfall and the natural pool is too shallow and small to take a dip in. The short hike through the forest towards the waterfalls is a nice little break from exploring Catlins coastal area.
How to get to Matai Falls walk
The Matai Falls are located along the Southern Scenic Route in the Catlins, about 18km south of Owaka. The trailhead is located along the Papatowai Highway and clearly signposted so you can’t miss it!
The Barrs Falls is one of the lesser known Catlins waterfalls and consists of a series of two waterfalls. This 7 meter high waterfall is much more impressive after rain and can be reached by a short 5 minute walk in the Catlins Forest Park. Located all the way to eastern side of the Catlins, you can combine a visit to the Barrs Falls with Nugget Point Lighthouse and Tunnel Rocks scenic reserve.
There one waterfall in the Catlins which is not even worth to stop your car for. It’s the Niagara Falls which is jokingly named like that as it’s nothing more than a rapid surrounded by trees and long grass. Don’t bother about visiting this one, it’s nothing special and the only one of the Catlins waterfalls you can skip.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
A memorable experience to see the Franz Josef Glacier from the air during a helicopter flight above ice falls, snowfields, and crevasses. You will depart from a helipad in Franz Josef and then make your way along the glacier down to a snowfield to see the icy landscape from up close. There you will take in the sweeping views across the maritime glacier. An unforgettable experience on the west coast and a once in a lifetime must do! Because in 10 years from now glacier will be much smaller…
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
Best places to stay in the Catlins
The Catlins are some of the most underrated destinations on New Zealand’s South Island but absolutely worth visiting. If your itinerary allows it, I would even recommend staying for a few nights around Catlins to explore not only the Catlins Conservation Park but everything in between from Invercargill to Kaka point. You can either base yourself along the coast, in Invercargill or at some of the quiet camps. There are plenty of options, but here are the best accommodations to stay in our opinion.
Located close-by Catlins Forest park are these stunning self-contained chalets with free WiFi and private parking. Each chalet features a fully equipped kitchen, a dining setting and a lounge area with a sofa. Every unit comes with a private bathroom with bathrobes. Bed linen and bathrobes are provided. All chalet’s at Mohua Park do not include a TV so you can fully take in the stunning views from your terrace. Free use of bicycles is available to explore the area and many of the Catlins waterfalls and other points of interest are only a 20 – 30 minute drive away. Truly a stunning and comfortable stay with beautiful views.
Located within 400 meters from the city centre of Invercargill you will find the Langlands hotel. Featuring spacious rooms with a fitness centre, private parking, a restaurant and a bar, this 4-star hotel offers all the comfort you need. Invercargill is a great little town with plenty of restaurants. A great choice if you don’t want to be too much off the beaten path and far away from supermarkets and restaurants.
Kaka point accommodation
Kaka Point accommodation is a beautiful, luxury, self-contained studio in the small sea-side town of Kaka Point at 100 meters from the beach. Surrounded by an abundance of nature and wildlife, you can awake to views of the spectacular coastal scenery.
The studios have fully equipped kitchens with a refrigerator, freezer, microwave, stove top and tea/coffee making facilities. Guests can enjoy uninterrupted, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Nugget Point Lighthouse from the privacy of their unit or relax in their private, therapeutic, double spa bath.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. You can also check Rental Cars to compare at which platform you can get the best deal. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a road trip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature. We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the best Catlins waterfalls. Make sure to put some of these awesome waterfalls on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!