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The Catlins region in the very south of New Zealand’s South Island is filled with beautiful waterfalls that everyone should visit. However, many people have limited time so this post outlines the ones you should and shouldn’t miss. Here are the best (and worst) Catlins waterfalls!
The Catlins is one of the most beautiful places on New Zealand’s South Island. This small area in the very south of the South Island is visited by people in search of wildlife, amazing coastal views, and of course, waterfalls!
The Catlins are filled with amazing waterfalls that are scattered around its coastal rainforest.
During my last visit to the Catlins, I made an effort to stop at every waterfall along the way. I had a few days to spend in this rather small area (most people only have a day or maybe two.) So, this post is about the best and worst Catlins waterfalls – helping you plan all of your waterfall stops without missing out on the best ones!
Here are all of the best Catlins waterfalls in order of best to worst!
Getting Around the Catlins Region
In order to explore the Catlins and see all the waterfalls, you’re going to need a car because public transportation and shuttles are not prevalent in this region.
If you’ve yet to book any transportation for your New Zealand trip yet the best way to go is a motorhome rental, they will act as not only your transport but accommodations for each night (be sure to take advantage of freedom camping) which is super convenient and cost-efficient in the long run. We personally have loved and used Motorhome Republic so I would highly recommend checking them out!
If however, you prefer to rent a car and book hotels for more space and amenities then DiscoverCars are the cheapest we have found to book through.
The Catlins are quite far south on the South Island so if you REALLY don’t want to drive yourself and don’t plan on doing much else in the area I get it, it’s a long drive! There is a private tour that leaves from Dunedin, it doesn’t prioritize waterfalls but it will include a 30-minute stop at McLean Falls.
On top of that, you will get the chance to see fur seals at one of the largest breeding areas in NZ, explore a museum and heritage center, learn about the early settlers and indigenous people, and makes stops at coastal villages and look out points.
Related Read: Everything you NEED to know about
renting a campervan in New Zealand!
Best (and worst) Waterfalls in the Catlins
1. Koropuku Falls
Koropuku Falls was by far my favorite Catlins waterfall. This small 10 m (33 ft) waterfall sits at the end of a beautiful nature walk on an unofficial trail.
During our visit, we had the falls to ourselves the entire time and felt like we were well off the beaten path. It was without a doubt the most beautiful, but it’s also the least heard of. In fact, you won’t find Koropuku Falls on the official Catlins tourist map handed out at the visitor centers.
I actually found this waterfall by chance as I was driving through the Catlins Coastal Rainforest! However, it’s a must-visit so be sure to add it to your road trip!
Getting to Koropuku Falls
The easiest and really only way to find Koropuku Falls is on Google Maps. If you don’t have Google Maps then it is exactly 26 km (16.2 mi) from the town of Tokanui (Invercargill side) and 24 km (15 mi) from the town of Papatowai (Dunedin side).
You must be looking out for a small sign on the side of the road – on your left from Tokanui and right from Papatowai. At the sign is a small pullover bay. Park here and walk for around 10 minutes to the falls. I would recommend waterproof shoes as some parts of the trail cross small streams.
2. Mclean Falls
Mclean Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Catlins. This spectacular waterfall is truly magnificent in both size and beauty. There are also a few unofficial trails that lead higher up the falls and you will find these to the right of the falls.
Although this waterfall attracts some very high numbers it is still well worth a visit. Only because of the hordes of tourists does this fall at number two for me!
Getting to Mclean Falls
You really can’t miss McLean Falls on your way through the Catlins. It is on every map and is very well signposted along the road. From the parking lot, the falls are around a 15-minute easy walk.
Related Read: On a budget or just like saving money? Well here are some great free and cheap things to do in Queenstown!
3. Waipohatu Falls
Waipohatu Falls has earned a very easy 3rd spot on my list. Waipohatu is actually two falls about 2 minutes apart deep in the coastal rainforest. Both falls are impressive but I’d say the falls to the right (you will know what I mean when you go) are my favorite!
These falls had no other tourists at them while we were there and we saw no one even in the parking lot. The walk to the waterfalls is also beautiful and the surrounding forest is just a nice place to be surrounded by.
Waipohatu Falls is a little off-the-beaten-path waterfall and if you have a campervan you can freedom camp here too!
Related Read: Did you know you can camp in a motohome or campervan all across New Zealand for free? Learn more about freedom camping here!
Getting to Waipohatu Falls
You can find Waipohatu Waterfalls on Google Maps or Maps.me and they are clearly signposted. These falls have a longer walk than the others, and if you have had recent rain as we had, they can be a little tricky to get to.
The sign from the start of the trail says 3.5 hours return, however, it isn’t quite that long. I’d still allow 2 hours though. You can park further up the road from the first sign and cut 30 minutes off your walk.
Also, if you complete the loop it’s actually longer than walking back the same way you came. If you’re short on time, park at the furthermost point in the parking lot and walk up and back from here.
4. Purakaunui Falls
Purakaunui Falls is a rather wide waterfall that is around 10 m (33 ft) high. The waterfall has a viewing platform right in front of the falls which is perfect for taking photos and enjoying the view.
This was my 4th favorite but only because of the large crowds of people at the falls. The waterfall itself is stunning and if you have your camera you can really snap some great shots of the falls.
Getting to Purakaunui Falls
Purakaunui Falls is located just outside the town of Owaka. The turnoff is very clearly signposted and the road is a horseshoe, meaning it loops back to the main road further up. The trail is around a 10-minute easy walk to the falls.
Related Read: A visit to Mount Cook means you’ll be taking out your camera a lot but here’s how to take the famous Mount Cook road photo!
5. Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls
I was a little disappointed with Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls, however, the heavy rain we had was the main reason. For one, I couldn’t get a decent photo and the waterfall was bursting from the seams with muddy water.
For that reason go! I can only imagine how nice this place would be if it wasn’t raining so much.
Both Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls are located along the same trail. This makes them both very convenient to visit.
Getting to Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls
Matai Falls is located between the towns of Owaka and Papatowai almost in the middle. The falls are clearly signposted. The walk to the falls takes around 10 minutes.
6. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is by far the worst Catlins waterfall and is not even worth a visit even if you have several years to explore the Catlins. The “falls” is actually a rapid set in an area surrounded by long grass.
Maybe, if you would like to have a laugh, you could visit but if you’re short on time then don’t even give them a wave, keep driving and never come back!
Related Read: The Kepler Track is one of the most popular hikes in the world, here’s how to hike Kepler Track for cheap!
Where to Stay in the Catlins
The accommodations in the Catlins regions are rather spread out and limited so here are some of your best options that will still provide you with easy access to explore the waterfalls in the Catlins!
Lawfield – A cozy little B&B along the Owaka scenic highway. Each unit has a kitchenette, a balcony, and a BBQ grill. For under $100 NZD they are priced super affordably for a double room!
Pounawea Waterfront Motels – Two-bedroom apartments with a kitchen and living room that sleep between 2-4 people. They are located just 6 minutes from the town of Owaka on the Catlins River, so the location is great for being close to restaurants while still being only 15 minutes to Purakaunui Falls.
Medium Budget ($$-$$$)
Hilltop Accommodation Catlins – Relax on this farmland property in Papatowai which sets up to be a 20-minute drive to McClean Falls. Since you’re on a hilltop you’ll enjoy views of the coast in a boutique 2 bedroom cottage or 4 bedroom home, perfect for larger groups and families!
The Whistling Frog Resort – This resort in the Chaslands is pretty much in the center of all the Catlins waterfalls (5 mins from McClean Falls). There are different room sizes to choose from that will work for just about anyone. Enjoy from the onsite restaurant and bar when you are not out exploring.
Thanks for reading!
The Catlins is one of my favorite places in New Zealand to road trip around and also the best place to view waterfalls. Although this area is filled with many very beautiful stops, it’s safe to say that not all are equal.
This guide is intended to help you plan and pick the best places so you have the most amazing time possible in New Zealand and is simply our personal opinion on the waterfalls in the Catlins!
Please let us know if this blog helped you plan your trip and if you think I got the order right!?
Also, if you found this blog helpful even the slightest, be sure to jump over and check out all our New Zealand travel guides. It’s filled with amazing guides separated by regions and popular cities in New Zealand.
If not, that’s ok 🙂 below are some articles I know you’ll love!