WAIPOHATU WATERFALL WALK in The Catlins – Complete Guide

The Waipohatu waterfall walk is a stunning 7 kilometre loop walk in the Catlins Forest Park taking you to two stunning 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. Read in our complete guide everything you need to know about the Waipohatu waterfall loop walk in the Catlins. 

Be insured when you travel!

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!

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. 


Waipohatu falls walk key facts

Before we dive into the details about the Waipohatu falls walk, let’s first have a look at the key facts of the trail so you can decide if this is a hike for you! 

Hike distance and duration: The total Waipohatu waterfall loop track is 7.8 kilometres and will take about 2 up to 3 hours to complete. 

Hike difficulty and incline: 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. 


Best time for the Waipohatu waterfall walk

Because of it’s muddy sections I wouldn’t recommend to do this hike right after heavy rainfall. In that case you can expect the trail to be very, very muddy. Like ankle deep mud. There are parts where logs are being placed to cross the muddy sections, but they are not places everywhere along the hike. 

In terms of powerful waterfalls, anytime after rainy season is a good time to go. You can expect the Waipohatu falls to be less powerful in the summer season, but the walk is nevertheless beautiful. 

What to expect during the Waipohatu waterfall walk

The walking track starts off through stunning, dense rainforest with tall beech trees and lush ferns. You’ll cross a few bridges while making your way deeper into the forest and sometimes you might have to take a jump when the path gets too muddy. There are some logs placed along the trail to save your shoes from getting muddy and wet, but that doesn’t mean you have to find some walkable parts at some point. 


After you’ve climbed up the stairs you’ll reach a fork in the path with a sign pointing towards the two waterfalls you can explore. I highly recommend checking out both, as that’s the whole purpose of the Waipohatu walk isn’t it!?! 

The path towards the left leads to the lower Punehu Falls. This one involves a little bit of scrambling to get down. The right path leads to Pouriwai Falls. Here you’ll need to cross the river to see the waterfall from the front. 

Both waterfalls can be reached within 5 minutes walking from this junction. So there’s no reason to skip one of them!

Punehu Falls 

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.


Pouriwai Falls

The Pouriwai waterfall is a taller 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.


When making your way back to the car park you just follow the orange triangles indicating where the path goes back to the car park. Of course you can also walk the same way back, but if a trail is a loop, then why not hike it as a loop. You will see beautiful tall trees at this last section before the trail pops out from the rainforest onto a dirt road. Just follow this road for about 700 metres before you get back to the car park.


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.

Check here the best New Zealand South Island tours on GetYourGuide

Check here the best New Zealand South Island tours on Viator

Milford Sound Cruise and Kayak tour

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.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Cruise and Kayak tour


Franz Josef Glacier Helicopter Flight with Snow Landing

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…

→ Book here your Franz Josef Glacier Helicopter Flight with Snow Landing


Cruise to the hidden Doubtful Sound

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.  

→ Book here your cruise to the hidden Doubtful Sound


Take a scenic flight over Milford Sound

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.

→ Book here your scenic flight over Milford Sound

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.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Scenic Fly-Cruise-Fly departing Queenstown


How to get around in New Zealand 

To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a carcampervan 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 roadtrip 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!

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 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.

→ Book here your stay at Catlins Mohua Park


The Langlands Hotel Invercargill

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.

→ Book here your stay at The Langlands Hotel Invercargill

The Langlands hotel

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.

→ Book here your stay at Kaka point accommodation

Kaka point accommodation

More New Zealand travel guides

I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Waipohatu waterfall walk in the Catlins. Make sure to put this awesome hike 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!


8 best Catlins waterfalls – The Complete Guide

Matai Falls – The Complete Guide

Curio Bay & petrified forest the Catlins – The Complete Guide

Mc Lean Falls – The Complete Guide

Purakaunui Falls – The Complete Guide

Waipapa Point Lighthouse – The Complete Guide

Koropuku waterfall – The Complete Guide

Fiordland National Park

Best things to do in Milford Sound – The Complete Guide

Milford Sound Cruise – The Complete Guide

Lake Marian track – The Complete Guide

Mirror Lakes New Zealand – The Complete Guide

Key Summit track – The Complete Guide


Queenstown Hill walk – The Complete Guide

Ben Lomond track – The Complete Guide

Moke Lake loop track & viewpoint – The Complete Guide

Bobs Cove nature walk – The Complete Guide


Glenorchy walkway & lagoon track – The Complete Guide

Earnslaw Burn glacier valley and waterfalls – The Complete Guide

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