Discovering Purakaunui Falls: A Hidden Gem in The Catlins

Purakaunui Falls

blog authorBy Johanna Hansen shield verification Verified Expert

    New Zealand is a land of unparalleled beauty, and nestled within its southern reaches lies a cascading wonder known as the Purakaunui Falls. A trip to this natural marvel promises an experience that will remain etched in your memory for years to come.

    If you're planning a journey to this part of the world, here's everything you need to know about this iconic destination.

    What is Purakaunui Falls?

    The Purakaunui Falls are a natural spectacle that have captured the hearts of many. These falls are a cascading three-tiered waterfall, gracefully flowing down the Purakaunui River. Located in The Catlins, a region known for its pristine landscapes in the southern South Island of New Zealand, the falls stand as a testament to the untouched beauty of the area. 

    As one of the very few South Island waterfalls away from the alpine region, it has long been a favorite destination for nature enthusiasts and photographers. Its mesmerizing flow, combined with the serene surroundings of native bush consisting of podocarp and silver beech, make it a must-visit spot for both locals and tourists.

    Parakaunui Falls in New Zealand

    How tall are Purakaunui Falls?

    Majestically dropping over three cascading tiers, the Purakaunui Falls reach a total height of 20 metres (66 feet). Each tier of the waterfall adds its own unique charm, with the water gushing down with a force that's both powerful and soothing to watch. 

    The sight of the water cascading down, especially after a heavy rainfall, is truly a sight to behold, making the entire waterfall an iconic representation of New Zealand's natural beauty.

    Where is Purakaunui Falls?

    Situated in the heart of The Catlins, the Purakaunui Falls are an iconic representation of this region's natural beauty. Specifically, they are located 17 km southwest of the quaint town of Owaka. 

    The falls are also just 5 kilometres from the river's outflow into the vast Pacific Ocean, offering a picturesque setting where the river meets the sea. The falls have even been featured on a New Zealand postage stamp in 1976, further cementing their significance in the country's natural heritage.

    Woman in Parakuinui Falls

    How do I get to Purakaunui Falls?

    Reaching the Purakaunui Falls is a journey as enchanting as the destination itself. To get to the falls, travelers can take the Purakaunui Falls Road, a gravel side-road that branches off from the main Owaka-Invercargill road. As you drive down this road, you'll be treated to scenic views that set the tone for the beauty that awaits. 

    Once you arrive, a short 10-minute bush walk, aptly named the Purakaunui Falls walk, will lead you straight to the falls. This path is well-signposted, ensuring that even first-time visitors can easily find their way. Along the way, the sounds of nature and the anticipation of seeing the falls up close add to the overall experience.

    Is there a parking lot at Purakaunui Falls?

    Absolutely! The Purakaunui Falls area is well-equipped for visitors. Once you arrive at the destination, you'll find a convenient car park. From this parking area, a short and scenic bush walk will lead you directly to the falls. 

    The path is well-signposted, ensuring that even those unfamiliar with the area can navigate with ease. The walk itself is an experience, as it takes you through the lush native bush of The Catlins, setting the stage for the magnificent view of the falls that awaits.

    Parakuinui Waterfalls

    Things to do in Purakaunui Falls

    Hike to the Viewing Platform

    The hike to the viewing platform at Purakaunui Falls is a delightful experience. This well-signposted trail takes you on a brief yet enchanting journey through native bush. 

    As you tread along, the distant roar of the waterfall grows louder, building anticipation. Once you reach the platform, you're rewarded with a breathtaking view of the three-tiered cascade, making the short hike well worth the effort.

    Swim in the Pool at the Bottom of the Falls

    While the sight of the Purakaunui Falls is captivating, the pool at its base offers another allure. If conditions permit and it's safe to do so, visitors can take a refreshing dip in the pool. 

    The cool, clear waters, surrounded by lush greenery, provide a serene setting for a swim. However, always exercise caution, check for any safety advisories, and be mindful of the slippery rocks.

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    Explore the Native Bush Surrounding the Falls

    The area around Purakaunui Falls is a haven of native bush, teeming with diverse flora and fauna. As you explore, you'll encounter towering trees, vibrant ferns, and the melodic calls of native birds. 

    This pristine environment offers a glimpse into New Zealand's rich biodiversity and is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.

    Visit the Purakaunui Scenic Reserve

    Adjacent to the falls is the Purakaunui Scenic Reserve, a protected area that showcases the natural beauty of The Catlins. Spanning several square kilometers, this reserve is home to a variety of native species, both plant and animal. 

    Well-maintained trails weave through the reserve, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility and beauty of the New Zealand wilderness.

    How long is the walk to Purakaunui Falls?

    The Purakaunui Falls walk is a brief journey, taking approximately 20 minutes in total. This walk is categorized as an "Easy access short walk," making it suitable for visitors of all ages and fitness levels. 

    As you tread along this path, you'll be enveloped by the sounds of nature, from the rustling leaves to the distant roar of the waterfall, all of which enhance the overall experience.

    Walk to Parakuinui Falls

    Is it safe to swim in Purakaunui Falls?

    While the Purakaunui Falls are undeniably captivating, it's crucial to prioritize safety. The area around the waterfall can be slippery due to the mist and moisture. 

    Additionally, the force of the cascading water can be strong, especially after a heavy rainfall. Therefore, it's recommended to enjoy the view from a safe distance and capture the beauty of the falls with your camera rather than attempting to swim.

    What is the best time of year to visit Purakaunui Falls?

    The Purakaunui Falls are a year-round attraction, welcoming visitors in every season. However, if you wish to see the falls in their full glory, visiting after a heavy rainfall is ideal. During this time, the falls are in full flow, offering a mesmerizing spectacle. 

    Additionally, the surrounding Catlins waterfalls, which are equally enchanting, add to the overall allure of the area. Whether you visit during the lush greenery of spring, the warm days of summer, the colorful foliage of autumn, or the serene calm of winter, the Purakaunui Falls promise a memorable experience.

    Best time to visit Parakuinui Falls

    Māori Legends and Stories about Purakaunui Falls

    The Purakaunui Falls, like many natural wonders in New Zealand, are steeped in Māori lore. While specific legends about the falls vary, many stories speak of the spirits of the water and the land, intertwined in a dance that has persisted for millennia. 

    These tales often emphasize the sacredness of the falls and the surrounding area, reminding visitors of the deep cultural and spiritual significance the site holds for the indigenous Māori people.


    The Purakaunui Falls and the surrounding Catlins waterfalls stand as a testament to New Zealand's untouched beauty. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, a photographer, or someone looking to escape the hustle and bustle, this destination promises an experience like no other. 

    So pack your bags, rent a caravan, and set off on an adventure to remember. Safe travels!

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