South Island’s prettiest waterfalls

There’s something about a waterfall which makes it the icing on the cake of a good walk. There’s no shortage of these watery wonders on the South – here’s our pick of the best South Island New Zealand waterfalls.

South Island New Zealand Waterfalls

Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls, Milford Sound

A boat cruise out on Milford Sound would be awesome even without these two South Island New Zealand waterfalls, but the sight of the water puddling onto the fjord and the spray drenching the boat deck makes these two a shoe-in for our list. Bowen’s the taller of the pair, its 162m drop just pipping Stirling’s 151m.

South Island New Zealand Waterfalls: The falls form part of the spectacular scenery on a Milford Sound cruise
The falls form part of the spectacular scenery on a Milford Sound cruise

Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, Arthur’s Pass

You can see this waterfall from the highway but to get a proper look it’s well worth the hour-long hike. From the car park you’ll cross the Bealey River and walk a pleasant forest trail to cross the bridge over Devil’s Punchbowl Creek. From there, you’ll have a splendid panorama of the cascade but we’d suggest you continue up the steps to get a close-up view.

Devil's Punchbowl Falls
Devil’s Punchbowl Falls

Sutherland Falls, Fiordland

At 580m, this is one of South Island’s highest waterfalls. Unfortunately, its location makes getting to it a little tricky. One option is to walk the Milford Track; the falls will be a highlight of the third day’s trek. Alternatively, cheat and take a scenic flight from Milford Sound, Queenstown or Te Anau from which you’ll also be able to view Lake Quill, the waterfall’s source.

Sutherland Falls with some people on the Milford Track New Zealand
Sutherland Falls with some people on the Milford Track: Photo on Flickr by Or Hiltch / CC BY-NC 2.0

Purakaunui Falls, Catlins

Purakaunui Falls is a strong contender for New Zealand’s most photographed waterfall. Located in the heart of the Catlins Forest Park, it’s an easy drive from either Invercargill or Dunedin. Hike the track which leads through native forest and across the Purakaunui River, and then climb the steps to a lookout with a stunning view of the falls. It’s walkable all year but autumn foliage makes this a particular favourite as summer fades to a distant memory.

South Island New Zealand Waterfalls: Purakaunui Falls
Purakaunui Falls by Oren Rozen / CC BY-SA 3.0

Carew Falls, Lake Brunner

You’ll find the 30m high Carew Creek Falls in the Lake Brunner/Mitchells Scenic Reserve. It’s reached by walking through the forest for about 25 minutes and then climbing a few slippery steps to the waterfall. The granite boulders at the base make this a photogenic spot.

Carew Falls Lake Brunner New Zealand
Carew Falls, Lake Brunner: Photo on Flickr by alisonmc / CC BY-ND 2.0

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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  1. Top 6 Day-Long Hikes in New Zealand | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] amazing view of the Fiordland National Park and the opportunity to bond with flora and fauna like stunning waterfalls, the beach forest, and New Zealand bellbirds. Start at the Divide Carpark on the Routeburn Track, […]


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