The Waipohatu Waterfall loop hike is a quick but worthwhile hike leading to two waterfalls in the Waikawa Forest (Catlins Conservation Park).
If you’re looking to get off the regular New Zealand South Island tourist trail, then the Waipohatu Waterfall Loop in the Catlins is a great start to your itinerary. Unlike the popular Fjordlands, the Catlins are quiet and less tourist-tramped, while still offering epic day-hikes and beautiful rainforest waterfalls.
In this guide, I’ll share my experience and also help you find your way to the Waipohatu trail and the two epic waterfalls; Punehu and Pouriwai Falls.
READ THE FULL LIST OF THINGS TO DO IN THE CATLINS
How to get to the Waipohatu Waterfall Track
The Waipohatu loop track is located at the end of Waipohatu Road. Getting here involves a 15-minute drive down the well-maintained Haldane-Curio Bay Road. This road is mostly sealed, with some sections of gravel, which is easy to get through with any vehicle.
Waipohatu Road is a narrow gravel road between two fields that is easy to miss. Keep an eye out for a small sign pointing to a “Walking Track”. I’ve pinned the exact location of the junction below on Google Maps to help you find it.
Once you’re on Waipohatu Road, continue on until you see the carpark with a toilet and small picnic bench. The signpost for the trailhead can be found here.
Note that Google Maps doesn’t have the accurate information for the gravel road. Instead, you could also use Maps.me to help you find the trailhead.
What to Expect on the Waipohatu Waterfall Hike
This short hike through the Waikawa Forest (Catlins Conservation Park) was surprisingly wild! As soon as we hit the trail we were immersed in a dense forest that felt like stepping into a scene straight out of the Lord of the Rings.
The Waipohatu waterfall trail was very easy to navigate, with orange triangles indicating the obvious way to the two falls. However, the track was muddy, which meant we had to skip over rocks and strategically placed punga, which is the thick trunk of tree ferns.
Not knowing that the hike would take a few hours, we started a little late. To ensure we’d make it to Curio Bay to see the rare Yellow-Eyed Penguins, we ran most of the track through the mud and over the scattered sections of easily traversable wind-fallen trees.
Waipohatu Loop GPX Map
Below I’ve included our GPX track which I recorded on my Garmin watch.
If you want, you can also download the file below and upload it to your watch or phone.
The Two Waipohatu Waterfalls
The Waipohatu Waterfall loop offers not one, but two awesome waterfalls to reward you for your efforts.
After about 3 KM, you’ll reach a fork in the road with a worn and unintelligible sign. The left path leads to the lower Punehu Falls, while the right path leads to Pouriwai Falls. Both waterfalls can be reached within 5 minutes of this junction, so I’d recommend making the trip to both!
Punehu Falls is the smaller, but prettier waterfall on the trail. After a short descent, you’ll find yourself staring at a wide rainforest waterfall plunging into a waist-deep pool.
What Punehu waterfall lacks in height, it certainly makes up for in its beauty. The scene is complete by moss-covered trees and the calls of wild birds which makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
The larger and more famous waterfall on the Waipohatu waterfall loop is Pouriwai Falls. Soon after turning right at the fork, you’ll hear its roar just before making sight of it tucked behind the moss-covered cliffside.
For the best views of this waterfall, you will need to cross a shallow and gentle stream. There are some rocks that you can hop over, just try not to slip like I did.
Pouriwai Waterfall is also a plunging waterfall, which flows heavily down a steep 10-metre drop onto a shallow, rocky pool.
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Completing the Loop and Returning to the Carpark
After snapping some pictures and getting wet, it was time to head back to the carpark on the loop track.
Just near the junction to the two waterfalls, there’s another sign that indicates the loop track back. Here, you can either walk back the way you came, or follow this new track around.
We decided to take the loop, which adds maybe 1-kilometre to the hike. This trail pops out from the rainforest onto a dirt road at the end, which you’ll have to follow for about 700 metres before returning to the carpark.
I hope that this quick guide to the Waipohatu waterfall loop track has convinced you to leave the tourist buses of Milford behind and to explore the lesser-visited regions of New Zealand.
For more hiking and travel guides, make sure you check out some of the other articles on this blog below.
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