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Short walks

Top 10 short walks chasing waterfalls South Island

  • 4 minutes

The Catlins, New Zealand

10 falls, places to go

Waterfalls and dazzling displays of light filled spray. Nature’s show and tell performance is never boring for kids and adults alike. Ample rainfall in The Catlins and Fiordland National Park create perfect high water flow conditions for stunning waterfall displays. These walks are part of a series of Short Walks in New Zealand. Unmissable, unforgettable walks and that’s just the start…

Large Whisky Falls Waterfall in New Zealand`s south island
Large Whisky Falls
  1. Whisky waterfalls – Lake Rotoiti – Nelson National Park


  • Boat trip with its views of the forest from the lake, absolutely stunning
  • Misty atmospheric waterfall in a remote forest setting

Cascading waterfalls thunder in the dense forest of the Nelson National Park, nearby the small settlement, Murchison. Whiskey waterfall is accessed by either a 5 hour return hike or a short walk with boat transport. The short boat trip offers the joy of being on Lake Rotoiti and the bonus of a 15 minute walk to a spectacular 40 metre single drop waterfall. Contact Rotoiti Water Taxis for transport details. Whiskey Falls is a popular attraction with the water taxi heading toward Lakehead stopping at various places on the lake for photo opportunities before going for a short walk up to the spectacular waterfall. This can also be a good wet day tour due to the volume of water on the falls.

Manuka, kanuka and beech forest dips in and out of the lakeside setting, before emerging at a rocky viewpoint where you can admire the beauty of Whisky Falls from afar, as it thunders 40m down a rock face smothered in moss, ferns and sparkling water drops.

  • Length: 10.8 km (return)
  • Grade: easy
Mountains Reflected in Lake Rotoiti, New Zealand
Lake Rotoiti
New Zealand’s longest swingbridge at 110 metres (360 ft) in length spans the Buller River 14 kilometres west of Murchison in the Upper Buller Scenic Reserve
New Zealand’s longest swingbridge at 110 metres (360 ft) in length spans the Buller River 14 kilometres west of Murchison in the Upper Buller Scenic Reserve, NZ

What to do nearby Whiskey waterfalls, Nelson National Park?

Nearby is Murchison, one of New Zealand’s premier white water rafting destinations. Get up wild, wet and close to thundering water on the Buller River.

  1. Wainui waterfalls – Nelson


  • Bush and waterfalls are a great contrast to golden sandy bays of Abel Tasman National Park

Find the cascading Wainui Falls, a top attraction in the Nelson Tasman region. The walk mostly follows the bubbling Wainui River through native dense bush with nikau palms creating a tropical feel to the forest. As you cross the swing bridge the thundering sound of the waterfalls encourages you to keep going. The cascading 20 metre waterfall is viewed from platforms surrounding the falls. After heavy rainfall there is a misting spray enveloping the area. The Wainui Falls track begins at the Wainui Bay carpark, turning right off Abel Tasman Drive between Tata Beach and Totaranui.

Wainui Falls, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island, New Zealand in daylight and slow shutter speed during southern hemisphere summer in February
Wainui Falls
  • Length: 3.4 km return
  • Grade: Easy

This track has been closed due to large slips. Check beforehand to avoid disappointment.

Nelson is home to the Abel Tasman National Park with its stupendous scenery. Imagine golden white sandy beaches fringed by lush green forest.

Beautiful green and clear pelorus river, known from the movie hobit. South Island, New Zealand
Pelorus Bridge
  1. Elvy Waterfalls track – Pelorus Scenic Reserve, Marlborough


  • Pelorus Scenic Reserve a pocket sized beauty
  • Part of the Pelorus walking trails with plenty of options and places to go

The track offers two interesting waterfalls, along streams that feed into the Pelorus River. The track branches off the Tawa Path and wanders along the bank of the river for most of its length, before turning up the Elvy Stream. Access to the first waterfall requires a stream crossing so take care during wet weather. Return via the same track or continue on to Trig K.


  • Length: 1.5 km (one way)
  • Grade: Easy / Medium, uneven surface

Kayak the Pelorus River. The Pelorus River is kid friendly, give the river kayaking a go.

  1. Coal Creek Waterfalls – West Coast – swimming hole


  • One minute in small town residential street, the next in a reserve with the promise of a waterfall
  • Magnificent curtain of cascading water

Embark on a glorious lowland forest walk through mixed beech / podocarp forest. The dappled light filtering through the beech creates shady spots on hot summer days. Coal Creek waterfall is a wide tiered 7 metre drop. It is a curtain waterfall and flows throughout the year although at the end of summer flow can be diminished. The falls are approached from the top with an inviting bench to sit on and soak up the view of the waterfall. Steps to the base of the waterfall are slippery due to the misting spray, care is needed. This is a very accessible waterfall and is designated a short walk.

Coal Creek Falls end of summer, West Coast, New Zealand
Coal Creek Falls end of summer, West Coast
  • Length: 3.6 km (return)
  • Grade: Easy, some steps at the end of the walk, largely flat

Coal Creek waterfall carpark is in the small town of Runanga. Don’t forget to get a photo of the iconic Runanga Miner’s Hall – Best Bits. Miner’s right to strike, without the boot of police beating at strike lines and the right to a minimum wage were part and parcel of the organised labour movement in NZ. The historic hall as a heritage category I listing.

Maruia waterfall in New Zealand
Maruia waterfall
  1. Maruia falls – Murchison


  • Extraordinarily accessible within minutes from State Highway 6 Murchison to Westport route
  • Sheer width of the waterfall is spectacular

The Maruia Falls flows from a rock face created due to Maruia riverbed uplift from the Murchison earthquake of 1929. At the falls there are natural seating areas on sun warmed rocks however do not swim at the bottom of the waterfalls due to strong undercurrents.

  • Length: 500 metres from carpark (10 minute walk)
  • Grade: Easy, viewing platform
  1. Purakaunui Waterfalls – The Catlins


  • Stunning displays of waterfall magic
  • Easily accessible

At Catlins Lake, turn off the Southern Scenic Route and continue on Purakaunui Falls Road. This takes you directly to the waterfall car park. From the top viewing platform it is another 7 minutes to the wooden stairs and lower platform. The best views are from the lower platform. The best time to photograph is autumn with the deciduous tree fall. Purakaunui Falls are even on a postage stamp and definitely waterfall royalty. The rainforest track is suitable for wheelchair users to the top viewing point.

  • Length: 1.5 km (20 minutes)
  • Grade: Easy

#nzmustdo waterfall chasing experience. If you only visit one (or several waterfalls) in New Zealand Purakaunui Waterfalls is bucket list territory. The waterfall is part of the The Catlins road trip.

Purakaunui Falls waterfalls, The Catlins lower lookout, New Zealand
Purakaunui Falls waterfalls, The Catlins lower lookout
Couple embracing each other at McLean falls, located in Otago Region of New Zealand
McLean Falls
  1. McLean Falls – The Catlins


  • Stunning displays of waterfall magic
  • Easily accessible

Mclean Falls is a beautiful, cascading 22 metre waterfall. Catlins highest and perhaps most spectacular falls are just a twenty minute walk from the car park through native rainforest. A sheer cascade waterfall is the striking end to a magical walk through native forest listening to bird song. The falls are the highest in the Catlins. Easy to access using a 30-minute loop track to the Tautuku River, the falls is a favourite stop for photographers. It features a huge drop and multiple small terraces that have several vantage points for the special photo moment. The area is the Catlins Conservation Park.

  • Length: 2.1 km
  • Grade: Easy


Waterfall buffs must-go destinations in the South Island with over ten waterfalls of varying heights and sizes to visit.

Check out
The spectacular Puraukaunui Waterfalls
Matai Falls, Catlins, South Island, New Zealand
Waipohatu waterfall loop track, catlins, New Zealand
  1. Devils Punchbowl Waterfall –  Arthur’s Pass

A tourist favourite in the popular Arthurs Pass National Park. The walk has a number of steps with glimpses of the waterfalls throughout the walk tantilising walkers. The 131 metre high waterfalls are dramatic with the height of the drop. Follow the Bealey River through lush beech forest with friendly fantails/pīwakawaka and tomtits before climbing 150 m up a series of steps to a viewing platform at the base of this spectacular waterfall…

  • Length: 2 km (return)
  • Grade: easy (includes steps)
Devils Punchbowl falls in Arthurs pass National park, New Zealand
Devils Punchbowl falls in Arthurs pass National park
Humboldt Falls in Hollyford Valley, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Humboldt Falls in Hollyford Valley, Fiordland National Park
  1. Humboldt falls: Fiordland

The Humboldt Falls remind visitors of the beauty of remote pristineFiordland National Park.

The falls are a 275 metre multiple drop. The waterfall can only be viewed from the DOC viewing platform. The waterfall is not up close and personal. The striking feature is the massive fall of water surrounded by dense bush.


The gravel road to Humboldt falls (terminating at the start of the Hollyford Track has a solitary grave of Donald Keith. His body was found nearby and he was buried in 1886. The grave is beside a small forest path and is close to the river.

  • Length: 1.2 km
  • Grade: Easy


Not got time to hike to the Humboldt falls, Fiordland? Take a cruise and enjoy waterfalls from the comfort of a boat.

  1. Stirling Waimanu Falls in Milford Fiord

A waterfall best viewed from a boat with the possibility of the boat getting close enough for a natural shower. The constant high rainfall is a waterfall haven with waterfalls gushing from the sides of the fiord. The 155 metre drop is dramatic especially when you are very close to misting spray and sound of water thundering into the fiord. Stirling Falls is famous for the waterfall scene in Wolverine when actor Hugh Jackman jumped off the top of the waterfall. The sheer drop of the cliff face allows boats and kayakers to position themselves beneath the glacial torrents cascading into the deep waters of the fiord.

Stirling Falls cascading into Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand
Stirling Falls cascading into Milford Sound


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