Waipohatu Waterfalls Track | The Catlins Best Kept Secret

The Catlins, found in the southeastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island, is famous for its lush temperate rainforests that are teeming with enchanting waterfalls and scenic walks through the ancient moss-covered forests. But one waterfall walk that often gets missed is the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track.

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track was our absolute favourite walk in The Catlins. The lesser-visited circuit offers the chance to step off the groomed path and wander through a rough and rugged forest to two of the most impressive waterfalls in the region.

If, like us, you enjoy your trails a little wilder and less crowded, then we have no doubt you’ll love the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track as much as we did. Continue reading this post to gain all the information you need to complete the stunning Waipohatu Waterfalls Track on your visit to The Catlins.

Standing on a large mossy boulder next to Pouriwai Falls on the Waipohatu Falls Track

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase of a product we recommend through one of our links, we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you! This helps to support our blog and enables us to continue providing you with helpful tips and exciting adventures, so thank you 🙂

What You Need To Know About The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track In The Catlins

Quick Statistics For The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track

Distance
6 km circuit

Time
2.5 – 3 hrs

Navigation Difficulty
Easy

Trail Difficulty
Moderate

Physical Effort
Easy-Moderate

Elevation Gain
246 m

Highest Elevation
181 m 

Entrance Fees
None

Facilities
Trailhead: Car park, toilet, picnic tables

Where Does The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track Start?

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track is tucked away in a band of temperate rainforest above Slope Point, the southernmost point of New Zealand’s South Island. The trailhead leaves from the Waipohatu Picnic Area, sharing a starting point with the family-friendly Forest Walk.

Two campervans parked at the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track carpark

At the Waipohatu Picnic Area, you’ll find a large gravel car park, a toilet block and several picnic tables scattered across a grassy clearing. 

There is another possible starting point for the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track at a car park roughly 5 minutes further along Waipohatu Rd. This cuts out the 15-minute Forest Walk, but we recommend starting at the picnic area as it’s a nicer car park with more facilities and the Forest Walk is worth the short addition.

How To Get To The Waipohatu Waterfalls Trailhead

As you may have guessed, there is no public transport or tour options for the lesser-known Waipohatu Waterfalls Track. The only way to reach the trailhead is to drive yourself. 

Luckily, The Catlins offers a beautiful scenic drive full of walks, waterfalls and dramatic coastlines. While there are tour options for The Catlins, we highly recommend doing the drive yourself so you can pick and choose where you go.

Road Trip in New Zealand driving in Mt Cook Nation Park

New Zealand, The Road Tripping Capital Of The South!

The absolute best place to road trip in the Southern Hemisphere is New Zealand, the land of giant glaciers and vibrant lakes. And for the best deals on campervans, you can’t beat Jucy!

By Car

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track is located 1 hr southeast of Invercargill and 2 hrs 40 minutes southwest of Dunedin. To reach the Waipohatu Picnic Area, you’ll follow the well-marked scenic road through The Catlins towards Slope Point. The turn-off to Waipohatu Rd is 350 m east of the turn-off to Slope Point Rd.

Click Here For Directions From Dunedin To The Waipohatu Picnic Area

Click Here For Directions From Invercargill To The Waipohatu Picnic Area

Who Is The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track For?

Hiking along the rough Waipohatu Falls Walk in the Catlins, New Zealand

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track offers a rough and rugged beauty that is hard to find on well-formed forest trails. The waterfalls themselves, especially Pouriwai Falls, will leave you breathless as you wander through the moss-stained basin – with a slim chance of anybody else around.

The track does require a little more effort compared to the more popular waterfalls such as McLean Falls and Matai Falls, and takes roughly 2.5 – 3 hours to complete. But if you want to avoid the majority of the crowds and feel as if you’ve earned the enchanting vistas of the waterfalls you’re visiting, then the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track is the perfect choice for you.

What To Pack For The Waipohatu Waterfalls Walk

Walking along the Waipohatu Falls Nature Walk wearing a hiking daypack, down vest and long tights

The walk to the Waipohatu Waterfalls takes less than half a day and requires little else other than a small daypack with the basic essentials. Due to the wet nature of the track, we recommend wearing waterproof hiking shoes or trail runners for this walk.

Here is a list of items we recommend packing for the Waipohatu Waterfalls Walk:

  • Rain Jacket
  • At least 1 litre of water in a reusable water bottle or water bladder
  • High-energy snacks such as the Campers Pantry trail mix
  • Swimmers and a towel if you’re visiting in summer
  • A basic first aid kit
  • A camera or your phone to snap the waterfalls

Best Time To Walk The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track

Walking in the beautiful green forest on the Waipohatu Falls Nature Walk

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track is accessible all year round, with a very minimal chance of snow in winter. The Catlins receives reliable rainfall throughout the entire year, which means that there isn’t any real benefit of visiting in winter as opposed to summer.

With that said, we recommend waiting a day or two after a big rainfall to visit the Waipohatu Waterfalls. The track becomes quite muddy after heavy rain and the small streams can swell.

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track Notes

The Forest Walk To The Official Start Of The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track

You’ll begin the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track via the wheelchair-accessible Forest Walk, located just north of the car park on the right.

Waipohatu Waterfall Track Nature Walk Trailhead Sign
Waliking over the first bridge on the Waipohatu Falls Nature Walk

From the moment you step off the road, you’re immediately engulfed in an enchanting forest full of enormous gnarled trees and towering tree ferns. The wide gravel path effortlessly weaves through the rainforest, crossing a small suspension bridge roughly halfway through.

Crossing the wooden foot bridge on the nature walk at Waipohatu Falls

After roughly 800 m, you’ll finish the Forest Walk and pop out another car park. It is possible to start the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track from this car park, but we recommend parking at the nicer Waipohatu Picnic Area where there are toilets. Plus, the magical Forest Walk is well worth the additional 15 minutes.

Note: The car park marks the end of the Forest Walk. If that’s all you have time for today, you can walk along the road for 500 m back to the Waipohatu Picnic Area, or return the way you came – which is the prettier choice.

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Trailhead To The Wooden Bridge

Walking to the Waipohatu Falls trailhead on a field of grass
Waipohatu Waterfalls Track Trailhead signs

To continue onto the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track, you’ll walk through a grassy clearing for 200 m before arriving at an opening in the forest and a sign informing of unbridged streams and a rugged trail to come. Pass these signs and wander back into the vibrant rainforest.

It’s quite obvious from the moment you step back into the dense forest that this trail is going to be increasingly more unkept compared to that of Matai Falls or Purakaunui Falls. But if you’re anything like us, this just adds to its allure.

Crossing wooden planks over a muddy creek on the Waipohatu Falls Walk in the Catlins
Stading on a pallet used as a bridge over a muddy creek on the Waipohatu Falls Trail

As you move deeper into the forest, rocks and roots begin to infiltrate the narrow trail as it once again follows the path of the creek. Wooden planks, pallets and strategically placed logs assist in helping you across small streams and the muddiest sections of the track.

Ascending To The Track Junction

Ascending the stairs on the Waipohatu Falls Track

After 600 m along the Waipohatu Waterfall Track and 1.6 km since you began, you’ll come to a pretty wooden bridge that crosses the creek. Once on the other side, you’ll begin to climb away from the water’s edge – with the aid of rough wooden steps in the steepest sections.

Finally, after climbing 100 m in elevation over just 500 m, you’ll find reprieve as the gradient briefly descends before levelling out. Continue along the undulating trail, following the multitude of orange markers as the forest consistently becomes more overgrown.

Crossing another makeshift bridge out of fallen trees on the Waipohatu Falls hike

Soon after, the trail dips down to a creek where skinny moss-stained tree trunks act as a bridge to help you cross. From the creek, you’ll briefly climb to a rise before descending to the Waipohatu Falls track junction.

The Track Junction To The Waipohatu Waterfalls

A sign beside the trail informs you that the left track will take you to the Waipohatu Waterfalls, while the right track will lead you back to the car park. 

Pouriwai Falls and Punehu Falls Trail Junction on the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track

Taking the left trail, you’ll descend a short distance before arriving at another track junction and a giant tree with two arrows nailed to its trunk. These arrows point in opposite directions and indicate that the two trails branching from this tree lead to two separate waterfalls.

Pouriwai Falls and Punehu Falls Trail Junction

We highly recommend going left and taking the short 200 m return track to the Punehu Falls first, leaving the best for last!

Exploring Punehu Falls

Stepping onto the left track, you’ll make your way down a short and steep descent to the base of Punehu Falls. As you near the base of the waterfall, the trail becomes increasingly muddy and rugged. Carefully navigate over the deep muddy ruts and onto the banks of the creek, weaving through fallen trees to arrive at Punehu Falls.

Punehu Falls flowing calmly into the tangled trees surrounding

Punehu Falls is a single-tiered waterfall that flows over stepped boulders into a stream below. The dark rock walls flanking the cascading waterfall are filled with draping ferns that gently sway in the water’s spray.

The wildness of the messy banks and the stream choked with fallen trees, provide a rugged feel for this lesser-visited waterfall. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can clamber over the forest debris to admire different viewpoints of the waterfall.

Once you’re finished exploring the wild banks of the Punehu Falls, return along the same path to the track junction above.

Exploring Pouriwai Falls

Arriving back at the giant tree, follow the remaining trail north for 100 m. This path is more mellow compared to the Punehu Falls Track and before you know it, you’ll have descended into a deep green basin.

Pouriwai Falls flowing magnificently on the Waipohatu Falls Track in the Catlins

Pouriwai Falls plummets from the top of the basin into a shallow pool littered with dark grey rocks. Enormous moss-stained boulders flank the waterfall, some blocking its path. The water syphons through the boulders, creating multiple bubbling streams that gently continue their journey through the magical oasis.

No words can truly describe the incredible Pouriwai Falls, its sheer size is only realised once you’re standing beside the thundering waterfall. The cool damp basin provides the perfect place to escape the summer heat and laze in solitude beside the peaceful stream.

Once you’ve torn yourself away from the wonder of Pouriwai Falls, retrace your steps to the sign for the car park.

Returning To The Waipohatu Picnic Area

Final foot bridge on the Waipohatu Waterfalls Hike in the Catlins

The trail that leads you home begins to descend to a creek, where a small wooden bridge helps you across, before climbing out of the gully. After a short ascent to higher ground, you’ll continue to follow the undulating trail as it winds around the slopes of the dense woodland.

The final few kilometres continue on in the same messy and muddy fashion, winding through the ever-changing forest. You’ll know when you’re close to the end of the forest trail when the towering tree ferns engulf your surroundings and sunlight begins to spill across the undulating trail. 

Walking over a tangled mess of roots and fallen branches through a muddy creek at the end of the Waipohatu Falls Track

After a total of 4.6 km, you’ll pop out onto a gravel road which will take you the final 1.4 km back to the car park. With 500 m to go, you’ll arrive at an intersection with the main gravel road you drove in on. A sign will indicate to turn right and you’ll walk the final 5 minutes to the car park along Waipohatu Rd.

Descending back down the Road to the Waipohatu Falls Carpark
Final Trail Sign stating 5 minutes to the Waipohatu Falls Carpark

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track took us roughly 3 hours to complete, including spending a lengthy amount of time at each waterfall. The trail is much more unkept compared to the main waterfalls along The Catlins’ Tourist Route, but we can confidently say it’s our absolute favourite of the waterfalls in the Catlins and well worth the effort.

Other Important Information For Visiting The Waipohatu Waterfalls

Leave No Trace

The Catlins is a magical region of New Zealand that provides a natural home for many endangered and endemic animals. We were saddened by the amount of rubbish we found on the trails throughout The Catlins. So let’s all do our part and follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles while we’re visiting these wonderful destinations.

It’s as easy as taking all of your rubbish with you – including tissues and food scraps, keeping your distance from animals, and using the toilets provided at most of the car parks.

Where To Stay Near The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track

The Whistling Frog Cafe restaraunt and accommodation in the Catlins
The Whistling Frog Cafe

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track is quite centrally located within The Catlins. It is possible to visit the waterfalls on a day trip from Invercargill but to truly immerse yourself in the beautiful south coast landscape, we recommend staying in The Catlins for a few days.

Here are our top recommendations for places to stay in The Catlins:

Camping Near The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track

Campervans parked at Purakaunui Campsite in the Catlins, New Zealand
Purakaunui Campsite in the Catlins

There are plenty of places to camp near Waipohatu Falls, ranging from freedom campsites for self-contained vehicles to DOC campgrounds with breathtaking ocean vistas. Our favourite campsite in the Catlins is Purakaunui Bay, which is a DOC campsite located right on the water’s edge.

Here is a list of the campsites in The Catlins:

Final Thoughts

The Waipohatu Waterfalls Track easily slid into the number 1 spot for our favourite waterfalls in The Catlins due to its lesser-known status, the rugged trail and the incredible Pouriwai Falls. While this track demands a little more attention than the shorter walks, the waterfalls are well worth the effort.

Have you visited the Waipohatu Waterfalls Track? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. And as always, if you have any questions about the waterfalls or The Catlins in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Happy Exploring 🙂