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 Zealand’s most photographed waterfalls! With 20 meters in height over 3 tiers, it isn’t the highest waterfall in New Zealand, but because of its 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.
Where is Purakaunui Falls
Just 17 km 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 signposted. There are toilets, a picnic area at the parking lot and some information panels about the falls.
What is the best time to visit the Purakaunui Falls?
Visiting the Purakaunui Falls is one of the best things you can do in the Catlins coastal area. Generally, the best time to visit the Purakaunui Falls is 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 surrounded by colorful fall foliage.
What to expect at Purakaunui Falls
The Purakaunui Falls 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 miles 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 meters (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 one 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 natural surroundings!
More Amazing New Zealand waterfalls to explore
Are you a waterfall lover just like us? Then you’re at the right place in New Zealand! There’s an abundance of beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand, and we had the pleasure to visit many of them! Here is a short overview of some of the best waterfalls in New Zealand you must visit!
Rob Roy waterfalls
While you might not think about this series of beautiful waterfalls at first, they can’t be missed in my opinion on this list of the best New Zealand waterfalls. In fact, the Rob Roy waterfalls include everything that New Zealand is about for me. Hanging glaciers, lush forest, and river valleys with gushing waterfalls cascading down the sheer rock face of the glacier. It’s an incredibly spectacular sight and relatively easy to get to from Wanaka via the Rob Roy Glacier track in Mount Aspiring National Park.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is a stunning waterfall located near the town of Raglan in the Waikato region on the North Island. It is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the area with a height of 55 meters (180 feet) and absolutely worth a visit. Bridal Veil Falls cascades over a sheer cliff face and gets its name from the delicate and elegant way the water spreads out like a bridal veil as it falls, especially during times of high flow.
Some of the most beautiful New Zealand waterfalls is located on the western side of the North Island. The 35-meter-high Marokopa Falls flows down the rocks into a deep pool below, creating a powerful roar and misty atmosphere. Surrounded by lush greenery and native bush, the Marokopa Falls is a beautiful natural attraction to visit. The waterfall viewing platform is very easily accessible by a short walk from the car park.
Lady Bowen Falls
Lady Bowen Falls is one of the iconic waterfalls in Milford Sound plunging down a steep rock face directly into the sound’s dark, deep waters of Milford Sound. Located near the entrance of the Milford Sound fiords, you can easily spot Lady Bowen Falls either from the ground or when cruising into the fjord. Lady Bowen Falls has a vertical drop of approximately 162 meters (531 feet), making it one of the highest waterfalls in New Zealand.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. Few experiences 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 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, glaciers 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. Your 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 book 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.
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 this 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. 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 give you a true feeling of freedom and fully connects you with nature.
We recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 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, a 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!
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.
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 chalets 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.
The Langlands Hotel Invercargill
Located within 400 meters from the city center of Invercargill you will find the Langlands hotel. Featuring spacious rooms with a fitness center, 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 far 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.
More New Zealand travel guides
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!