Home » PURAKAUNUI FALLS, Catlins, New Zealand – Complete Guide
PURAKAUNUI FALLS, Catlins, New Zealand – Complete Guide
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 track 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! Find in this complete guide everything about Purakaunui Falls in The Catlins.
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.
Best time to visit Purakaunui Falls
Visiting the Purakaunui Falls is some of the best things you can do in the Catlins coastal area. However depending the seasons, there is definitely a best time to visit the falls. Generally the best time to visit the falls are from March through November when there is enough water to keep the fall running in great shape.
For photographers the best time would be late autumn which is April, May, when the waterfall is accompanied by colorful trees.
What to expect at Purakaunui Falls
ThePurakaunuifalls walk is a short 10 minute walk through beautiful native podocarp and beech forest. The trail is a well maintained flat gravel path and is only 0.4-mile out-and-back. You will follow the Purakaunui River and cross it with a bridge before making your way down to the viewing platform.
The track is wheelchair friendly until the first viewing platform. After that the steps continue down to the main viewing platform at the base of the 20 metres (66 ft) picturesque waterfall.
A fun thing to know about the Purakaunui Falls is that they were featured on the New Zealand postage stamp in 1976! Therefore it makes it some of the most photographed and popular waterfalls in New Zealand. So if you’re in the Catlins you can’t miss a visit to the Purakaunui Falls!
Unfortunately it is not possible to swim at the falls as the natural pool is too shallow. So leave your swimsuit in the car and just enjoy the beautiful nature surroundings!
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.
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.
Catlins Mohua Park
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 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.
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Purakaunui Falls in the Catlins. Make sure to put this beautiful waterfall 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!