Purakaunui Falls | An Unmissable Waterfall In The Catlins For All Travellers

Purakaunui Falls is, without a doubt, the most iconic waterfall in the Catlins – and for good reason! The easy 20-minute walk through the native beech forest will keep you captivated from the moment you step onto the winding path until you reach the stunning triple-tiered waterfall.

The only downside to Purakaunui Falls is that you’ll likely be sharing the view with many other visitors – especially during summer. However, we truly believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives and that visiting Purakaunui Falls is a must on your Catlins road trip.

In this helpful guide, we’ll provide everything you need to know about visiting Purakaunui Falls. Included, you’ll find tips on the best time to visit to avoid the crowds, where the most alluring photography spots are located and where to stay nearby.

Purakaunui Falls glowing with light filtering through the trees

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What To Know About Visiting The Iconic Purakaunui Falls In The Catlins

Quick Statistics For The Purakaunui Falls Walk

600 m return

20 minutes

Navigation Difficulty
Very Easy

Trail Difficulty
Very Easy (Wheelchair accessible to the upper lookout)

Physical Effort
Very Easy

Elevation Gain
17 m

Highest Elevation
100 m 

Entrance Fees

Trailhead: Car park, toilets

Where Does The Purakaunui Falls Walk Start?

Purakaunui Falls Carpark

Purakaunui Falls flows along the Purakaunui River, which meanders through the Catlins Region in the southeast of New Zealand’s South Island. The trailhead for the waterfall can be found on Purakaunui Falls Rd, just south of the Southern Scenic Route.

Located across the road from the trailhead, you’ll find the Purakaunui Falls Car Park. It offers ample space and amenities such as toilets and picnic benches nestled under the shady trees. There is no phone service at the car park or along the trail, the nearest reliable location is Papatowai.

How To Get To Purakaunui Falls Trailhead

Purakaunui Falls is located 1 hour 40 minutes southwest of Dunedin and 1 hour 45 minutes east of Invercargill. Being the most popular waterfall in the Catlins, Purakaunui Falls features in most of the tour options available for the region. 

Purakaunui Falls Map

However, we highly recommend curating your own self-drive adventure of the Catlins. This allows you to spend as much time (or as little) at each destination – and include some of the lesser-visited destinations such as the Waipohatu Waterfalls and Long Point.

If you’re in need of a hire car, we suggest comparing prices on Rental Cars to find the best deals. But our top recommendation for visiting the Catlins is to rent a campervan. This allows you to stay at some of the most picturesque campsites in the Catlins and ultimately, save money on your travels!

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By Car

To reach Purakaunui Falls from Dunedin, follow the Southern Scenic Route southwest to Owaka. Passing through Owaka, you’ll turn onto Purakaunui Falls Rd at the Catlins Bridge after 6 km.

Click Here For Directions From Dunedin

If you’re travelling from Invercargill, again you’ll follow the Southern Scenic Route but this time heading east. 5 km past the car park for Matai Falls, you’ll turn right onto Waikoato Rd which will merge into Purakaunui Falls Rd just before you arrive at the car park.

Click Here For Directions From Invercargill

Who Is The Purakaunui Falls Walk For?

Walking along the flat trail of Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Falls is a must-visit destination for all travellers, offering an easy 20-minute walk through native beech forest that’s suitable for wheelchairs to the upper lookout. From there, a short set of steps will take you down to the base of Purakaunui Falls, where you can admire the three-tiered waterfall that cascades over dark grey rock slabs from a wide platform.

While the walk doesn’t invoke much adventure, it’s a worthy detour that allows you to stretch your legs and wander through beautiful native beech forests. However, if you’d rather avoid the crowds and the perfectly manicured pathways, then we highly recommend Koropuku Falls instead.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Purakaunui Falls?

Beautiful forest on the Purakaunui Falls Track

Like all of the Catlins Region, Purakaunui Falls receives a consistent amount of rainfall throughout the year. This means that the waterfall flows at its fullest year-round, making every season a great time to visit.

However, the Catlins is a very seasonal destination, with many restaurants and cafes closing over the winter months. But if this doesn’t phase you, you’ll be gifted with a much quieter scene from May to September. Just don’t forget to pack your winter woollies!

Best Time Of Day To Visit Purakaunui Falls

The ultimate time of day to visit Purakaunui Falls is for sunrise – or just after. Your early morning start is rewarded with the best lighting conditions and a forest full of singing as the birds begin their day. 

Where Are The Best Photography Spots For Purakaunui Falls?

Mist floating from Purakaunui Falls as the suns rays filter through the trees

Purakaunui Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Catlins. If you’ve researched anything about this region, there’s a high chance you’ve come across a beautiful image of Purakaunui Falls.

But if you’re looking for a unique perspective for the popular Purakaunui Falls, we recommend leaving the platform and carefully stepping across the dark grey rock slabs to the left of the waterfall.

Furthermore, the forest offers some magical scenes before you even reach the waterfall. Follow the worn dirt track to the water’s edge for a different view of Purakaunui River and the beech trees that create a gnarled canopy above.

Purakaunui Falls Track Notes

The Trailhead To The Upper Purakaunui Falls Viewing Platform

Purakaunui Falls trailhead across the road from the carpark

To begin your walk to Purakaunui Falls, cross the road from the car park towards the green DOC sign. Immediately, you’ll enter a little green oasis filled with tall tree ferns and towering beech trees. The wide gravel path follows the contours of the bubbling stream beside you.

Walking through the beautiful forest on the Purakaunui Falls walk

Soon after, you’ll cross the Purakaunui River via a small wooden bridge and continue deeper into the tangled beech forest. The weaving branches of the Matai and Totara trees make a dense canopy for the countless fern species to flourish on the forest floor. 

Walking across the footbridge on the Purakaunui Falls walk

As you continue along the easy gravel path, moss begins to creep up the ancient tree trunks and cover the exposed roots. You’ll pass a tiny little waterfall on your way to the main event, which is worth a quick detour to the water’s edge for a closer look. 

Small waterfall on the Purakaunui Fall Track

The Upper Viewing Platform To Purakaunui Falls

After 300 m, you’ll arrive at a little viewing platform that overlooks the top of Purakaunui Falls and over the tops of the tall tree ferns. You’ll begin to notice some of the tangled branches of the beech trees nearest the water adorned with light green hanging moss.

Mossy Boulders on the Purakaunui Falls Track
Walking down from the upper viewing platform for Purakaunui Falls

A small descent zigzags down to the base of the waterfall, hugging the edge of a fern-laden rock wall. After that, a short set of steps will take you down to a viewing platform hovering over Purakaunui River with unobstructed views of the triple-tiered waterfall. 

Exploring The Base Of Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Falls from the bottom viewing platform

Purakaunui Falls tumbles over black rocks onto a shallow rock slab before continuing its journey downstream. Moss of every shade of green thrives by the waterfall, growing thick on the sheer rock walls encompassing the left side of the waterfall, and draping over the tree roots and boulders at the water’s edge.

For the best photo opportunity, drop down onto the rock slabs to the left of the viewing platform. This allows you to use the overhanging tree branches to frame your image.

Returning To The Trailhead

hiking on the Purakaunui Falls Track

Once you’ve finished exploring the base of Purakaunui Falls, retrace your steps back to the car park. You’ll encounter a very small amount of elevation on the return up the zigzagging path to the top of the waterfall, but overall, the trail is very easy.

We completed the enjoyable walk to Purakaunui Falls within 30 minutes, including spending a while photographing the forest, the waterfall and the river.

Other Important Information For Visiting Purakaunui Falls

Leave No Trace

Purakaunui Falls is a very popular destination within the Catlins. Unfortunately, it’s easy to notice that the more accessible and popular the attraction, the more rubbish we see on the trails. Please be respectful of the magical natural setting you’re wandering through and follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

It’s as easy as taking your rubbish with you – you’ll find rubbish bins in Owaka – and using the toilet at the car park. If you must leave the trail, ensure you’re sticking to durable surfaces such as rocks slabs or other worn tracks to avoid damaging the vegetation.

Other Things To Do Near Purakaunui Falls

Pouriwai Falls on the Waipohatu Falls Track
Pouriwai Falls

The Catlins is overflowing with wonderful short walks that the whole family can enjoy – as well as those adventurers looking for a little ‘active rest’. Below we’ve listed several of our favourite destinations to visit in the Catlins, which are all within an hour of Purakaunui Falls.

Where To Stay Near Purakaunui Falls In the Catlins

Purakaunui Falls is located roughly 1 hour 45 minutes from both Invercargill and Dunedin, making it an easy destination to visit for a day trip from the city. However, to truly make the most of the Catlins, we highly recommend staying in the region.

Within the Catlins, Owaka is the largest town with several cafes and restaurants and a small grocery store. But our favourite place to stay is Kaka Point, which is a little further north but easily the most beautiful coastal village with the best range of accommodation options.

Below you’ll find our top 3 recommendations for places to stay in The Catlins.

Camping Near Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Bay Campsite
Purakaunui Bay Campsite

Camping in the Catlins is the best way to experience the region – in our opinion! There are several free or cheap campsites to choose from, our favourite being Purakaunui Bay. Purakaunui Bay is not only the closest campsite to the waterfall, but it’s also free if you pre-purchase a DOC Campsite Pass.

Below you’ll find a list of our favourite 3 campsites in the Catlins:

Final Thoughts

While Purakaunui Falls is a very popular waterfall – and certainly not one that’s ‘off-the-beaten-path’ – we highly recommend a quick stop at the stunning triple-tiered waterfall. The pretty walk only takes 20 minutes or so out of your day and if you get up early, you’ll beat the majority of the crowds!

We hope this post has helped you plan your trip to Purakaunui Falls and the Catlins. If you have any additional questions about the region, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or reach out on Instagram.

Happy Adventuring 🙂