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How to Hike the Waipohatu Waterfall Loop in The Catlins

How to Hike the Waipohatu Waterfall Loop in The Catlins

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Explore the waterfall loop, 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 trail and the two epic waterfalls known as Punehu and Pouriwai Falls.

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".

Once you're on Waipohatu Road, continue on until you see the car park with a toilet and a small picnic bench.

The signpost for the trailhead can be found here.

Map showing the location of waipohatu fall track, new zealand
Map Source: DOC
Puriwai waterfall
Puriwai Waterfall
Punehu waterfall
Punehu Waterfall

What to Expect on the Waipohatu Waterfall Hike

  • Hike Length and Duration: 7.8 km return loop; 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy trail but can get muddy in wet weather
  • Total Elevation Gain: 330 m
  • Full Route: My Strava | GPX download (.gpx 652 KB)

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.

Strava loop map for the falls circuit
My Stava Map

The Two Waipohatu Waterfalls

This 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!

Waipohatu waterfall hike catlins south island new zealand
Beech forest on the Waipohatu Trail

Punehu Falls

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.

Punehu falls on the waipohatu waterfall loop
Punehu Falls

Pouriwai Falls

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.

Puriwai falls, waipohatu waterfall hike

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 of 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 km 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 m before returning to the car park.

Don't Miss The Secret Saddle Viewpoint at Lake Alta on the Remarkable Range

Punehu waterfall
Punehu Waterfall

I hope that this quick guide to the Waipohatu waterfall loop track has convinced you to leave the tourist buses of Milford behind and explore the lesser-visited regions of New Zealand.

For more South Island hiking guides, make sure you check out some of the other articles on this blog below.

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.