The Catlins are not on the tourist circuit. Waterfalls with easy family friendly tracks plus glorious displays of sheets of water cascading over segmented rocks, curtains of water and water veils invoking a sense of magic. Visitors could drive through the Catlins in a number of hours. Rather indulge in a slow leisurely exploration of New Zealand’s spectacular waterfalls. The Catlins is a treasure worth a detour at the bottom of Aotearoa New Zealand.
WHAT TO SEE AND WHERE TO GO FOR DEDICATED WATERFALL FANS
- Waipori Falls (Sinclair Wetlands)
- Matai Falls
- Jacks BlowHole (detour until mid 2022) check HinaHina bridge access)
- Purakaunui Falls
- Florence Hill Lookout
- Cathedral Caves walk
- McLean Falls Walk
- Koropuka Falls
- Slope Point
- Waipohatu walk, Nigeria
- Waipapa Lighthouse & Cemetery
- Wild natural coastal scenery
- Natural spaces where slowing down is a given
- Lighthouses and waterfalls to tempt dedicated fans
- Waterfalls off the beaten track
- Waterfalls family friendly access
Best time to visit
Waterfalls buffs get out the waterproof raincoat, Winter through to early summer guarantees excellent water flows.
The route mapped out is from North (Balclutha / Milton) southwards. There is one self service petrol station in the Catlins so ensure you have a full tank of fuel before departing. While there are a number of motels and camping grounds check before departing if accommodation providers are open.
From Balclutha to the Catlins there is one waterfall to visit. The Waipori Falls is embedded at the end of a rainforest clad gorge. Your adventure begins with the road, a narrow gravel access from Sinclair Wetlands with glimpses of the Waipori River. Several original waterfalls sacrificed their flow for the hydroelectric dam at Waipori Village.
The waterfalls are signposted next to the hydroelectric powerstation. There is a 300m narrow walkway to the viewing platform. This is a journey for waterfall devotees only. Visitors entranced by the magic of wetlands are approximately 45 minutes drive (one way).
Sinclair Wetlands to Waipori Waterfalls
A great family walks to relatively unknown waterfalls in the Catlins. In summer the waterflow is greatly diminished making these falls a perfect winter odyssey. There is a pretty scenic reserve making the very short easy walk magical. In full flood you witness two waterfalls merging making for a spectacular sight. The cliff faces have water flowing down either side with a smaller waterfall downstream. There is a viewing platform and no streams have to be forded. The waterfalls are a 7 metre segmented waterfalls. The reserve is managed by DOC Barrs Falls: Catlins Coast.
Listen to the might of the ocean forcing the power of the sea through a large hole 55 metres deep and an extraordinary 200 metres from the sea. The blowhole is in the Tunnel Rocks Scenic Reserve. For fans of water displays it is exhilarating with the whoosh of water. Be sure to schedule a visit around high tide for a magnificent fountain of seawater. The tidal surge is rhythmic and visitors linger waiting for the next crashing wave and the spray of the sea. The viewing platform’s views sweep around Jack’s Bay and beyond. The area is named after Tukawaiki (Ngai Tahu), a wily warrior who played a prominent role in the defeat of Te Rauparaha near Cape Campbell in 1831. Signed the Treaty of Waitangi in full military regalia as the King of Bluff, travelling later to Wellington in his own vessel the Perseverance to meet the Governor. One of New Zealand’s personalities whose name is scattered throughout the region.
- Picnic tables, no toilet facilities
Jacks Blowhole is about 10 km from Owaka. Turn off the main road into Pounawea Road and follow this for 850 m to the turn into Hinahina Road. Follow Hinahina Road for 6 km then turn into Jacks Bay Road.
Tourist hot spot with the iconic waterfalls featuring in advertisements, tourist posters and fridge magnets. Do not let this put you off. The waterfalls are justiabilty waterfalls cascading magic. The best bit is that every member of the family can enjoy the spectacle and join the waterfall fan club. 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.
- Duration: 10 minute (one way)
- Grade: very easy
- Carpark: Plenty of space
- Toilets: Yes
- Picnic area: Yes
The easy 30 minute return walk is through a heritage trail using old train tracks used until 1971. The sheltered bush trail means a natural umbrella from the elements with mossy trunks setting the scene for a picturesque stream (Matai) whetting the appetite for two waterfalls.
Matai Falls. There used to be a sizable township (Caberfeidh), today little remains, just nature regenerating and the falls, which resemble a bridal veil. If you look carefully you might spot the remains of the Catlins Branch railway as you travel south, much of the track formation remains today. Look for regular grooved indented grassy tracks. The walking trail continues following the old railway tracks. The railway opened in 1915. The waterfall sign indicates to follow the main track. The last 3km of road to the falls is a narrow gravel road.
This is a manmade waterfall. The 10 metre fall was formed when rocks were mined for the foundations of the railway. Today the waterfall is nestled in regenerating podocarp forest surrounded by mossy trees.
- Length: 1.2km (return)
- Duration: 40 minutes
- Grade: Easy, good family friendly walk
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 striking end to a magical walk through native forest listening to bird song. The falls are 22 metres high, the McLean Falls is the tallest 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.
- Duration: 20 minutes
- Steps: Yes
- Grade: medium (steps)
- Toilets: non-flush onsite
The thrill of juggling the walk with the tides adds a sense of adventure. Visitors can’t help but clock watch. Catlins | Tides | Tide times and visiting times. Only at low tide are these gigantic caves on the beach accessible. With their impressive height, they are reminiscent of a cathedral on the inside with the sense of majesty. It is thought provoking to enter these caves knowing that just a few hours later, they will be completely flooded again. You cannot help but monitor any tidal movement to ensure you are not trapped. The Caves are well signposted from the main road. From the car park there is a 1 km easy walking track through lush coastal forest to the beach. Visitors cross Maori freehold land, which is managed by a trust. There is a fee to visit the caves.
Getting to the Cathedral Caves
The car park to the Cathedral Caves is just a short detour from the Southern Scenic Route. From the car park, you’ll encounter a 15-minute path that leads you downhill through the forest and to the beach. Once you get to the beach, make a left and you will reach the cave in about another 5 minutes.
These exquisite falls are a secret. The location is easy to miss and the signpost is hidden behind lush vegetation. Look for a tiny car park off the Chaselands Highway. Visitors cross stepping stones (slippery with the damp bush even in summer) crossing streams on the track. The track leads to the base of the waterfalls. These waterfalls are recommended for waterfall buffs for the photography alone.
- Duration: 40 minute return walk
- Grade: moderate, not a well formed track, fording streams
Expect no waterflow late summer or perhaps a trickle. The waterfall is signposted a short distance from the settlement of Niagara.
For dogged waterfall hunters the Waipohatu Track has two waterfalls, Punehu and Pouriwai as a reward for a 3 hour loop walk. The waterfalls are within 200 metres of each other. The waterfalls are 7 metre cascade drops.
TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION
- Hina Hina Bridge closure requires a detour with a need to circumvent Catlins Lake. Check road conditions before departing