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Chasing NZ Waterfalls: The 7 Best South Island Waterfalls

When it comes to untouched beauty, few places in the world can rival the captivating landscapes of New Zealand. Among its many wonders, the cascading waterfalls in New Zealand South Island stand out as some of the most awe-inspiring attractions. We are constantly chasing waterfalls and are on a mission to discover these hidden South Island attractions and share them with you. Read this article to find out the seven best South Island waterfalls and how to get there.

Emerald green water and towering bush clad moutains with a majestic waterfall in Milford Sound
Our trip to see the Milford Sound waterfalls was one of our top South Island experiences.

The 7 Best South Island Waterfalls

Imagine standing amidst lush greenery, rushing water filling your ears, and witnessing cascading falls. 

South Island New Zealand waterfalls are grand and worth the effort to reach. They offer an exciting adventure. 

Additionally, getting to them is a fun way to get fit and enjoy nature.

This article highlights our seven favourite waterfalls South Island NZ has to offer. We have chosen the best South Island waterfalls for their splendour and also for their ease of access. 

Milford Sound Waterfalls

Bowen Falls waterfall surrounded by green water and lush bush as seen from the boat cruise in Milford Sound
Bowen Falls waterfall as seen from the boat cruise we did in Milford Sound.

Our favourite, and New Zealand’s most famous waterfalls circuit are Milford Sound waterfalls. 

Located in the heart of Fiordland National Park, these New Zealand waterfalls within the stunning fiords offer a breathtaking visual display. 

Many travellers add a Milford Sound boat cruise to their South Island bucket list to see these accessible falls.

Within this pristine wilderness lies the breathtaking Bowen Falls, the most prominent, which descends from a staggering height of 162 meters. Witnessing the falls is an unforgettable experience. 

Depending on the weather, the region is known as New Zealand’s rainiest; your Milford Sound boat cruise could include hundreds of cascading falls. 

The other permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound is Stirling Falls. 

Both Milford Sounds falls are Instagram-worthy.

How to get to Milford Sound Waterfalls (from Te Anau)

To reach Milford Sound, you’ll start from the town of Te Anau. (Te Anau is 2 hours drive from Queenstown.)

From Te Anau, you drive along the scenic Milford Road, which takes you through the heart of Fiordland National Park. On this drive alone, you can see some of the best waterfalls in South Island New Zealand.

After approximately 2.5 hours of driving, you’ll arrive at the famous Milford Sound. 

You can view the Milford Sound waterfalls up close from the comfort of a boat cruise within the majestic fiords.

Te Miko Waterfall, West Coast

We’ve listed this waterfall as one of the best South Island waterfalls purely because of the dramatic scenery surrounding it. It is at the end of the Truman Track in Punakaiki.

The Truman Track is a 15-minute walk that takes you through spectacular rainforest groves to the sea.

At the end of the track, the stunning sea view panoramas from the viewing platform showcase New Zealand’s famous Pancake Rocks to the south and a gorgeous bay and beach surrounded by limestone cliffs to the north.

Continuing along the boardwalk, you can step down to the beach to explore the caves and see Te Miko Waterfall.

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide Tip: To witness the splendid beauty of this waterfall, visit after heavy rainfall. Additionally, access to the beach is treacherous at high tide, so it is best to visit during low tide.

How to get to Te Miko Waterfall (from Christchurch)

To get to Te Miko Falls, start your trip from Christchurch across the Southern Alps to Greymouth.

Head 40 minutes north on The Great Coast Road to Punakaiki.

After arriving in Punakaiki village, you will find the car park for Truman Track just a few minutes drive further north.

Wainui Falls, Golden Bay 

Wainui Falls waterfall and pool

Venturing to the northern tip of the South Island, we discovered Wainui Falls in Abel Tasman National Park during our visit to Golden Bay. 

We’ve awarded it the “Best South Island waterfalls – No.1” award.   

Wainui Falls stands out as our top waterfall in New Zealand for various reasons. Namely, we love the Golden Bay area, and Wainui Falls has an inviting swimming hole, which is the best part about waterfalls – swimming in them!

The tranquil forest surrounds lead you to this cascading wonder, where the Wainui River gracefully plunges from a height of 20 meters. 

The easy Golden Bay walk to reach the falls makes it an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts, offering a serene retreat in the heart of the national park.

How to get to Wainui Falls (from Nelson)

To get to Wainui Falls, start your journey from the city of Nelson in the northern part of the South Island. 

Take State Highway 60 west to Golden Bay. From Takaka, travel 20 kilometres on Abel Tasman Drive to Wainui Falls in Abel Tasman National Park. 

After approximately 2 hours of driving, you’ll reach the park, where a pleasant hike through the forest will lead you to the serene Wainui Falls.

Purakaunui Falls, The Catlins

Waterfall falling into pool surrounded by lush bush in The Catlins, New Zealand
Purakaunui Falls, one of the best South Island waterfalls is just a short walk from the carpark

Purakaunui Falls is a hidden gem in the Catlins region that promises an authentic nature experience. 

Surrounded by lush rainforest, the 20-meter cascade offers a postcard-worthy sight, making it a favourite spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts.

Even if you’re not a fan of bushwalking, the stroll to this Catlins’ waterfall is accessible to most.

How to get to Purakaunui Falls (from Dunedin)

To visit Purakaunui Falls, head to Dunedin on the southeastern coast of the South Island. (Dunedin is 3.5 hours from Queenstown and 4.5 hours from Christchurch) 

From Dunedin, take State Highway 1 south towards Balclutha. Then, travel south along Owaka Highway and the Southern Scenic Route to the Catlins region. 

After a scenic drive of about 1.5 hours, you’ll reach Purakaunui Falls, nestled amidst the lush Catlins forest.

The falls are easily accessible by a ten-minute walk from the parking area.

McLean Falls, The Catlins

Waterfalls in the Catlins offer the same grandeur and magnitude as Milford Sound and the West Coast. You could easily spend a week alone exploring the Catlins waterfalls.

McLean Falls is another gem in the heart of the Catlins Forest Park.

This stunning multi-tiered waterfall tumbles down over 22 meters, showcasing the incredible power and beauty of nature.

The tranquil surroundings and easy walking track make it an excellent spot for a serene escape.

Sheep on the road, New Zealand

Unfortunately, we could not photograph the breathtaking waterfall as we had left our camera in the car. However, on our way there, we encountered some adorable sheep on the road.

How to get to McLean Falls 

To get to McLean Falls, drive west on the Southern Scenic Route for approximately 30 minutes from Purakaunui Falls.

If you’re coming from Invercargill, it’s a 1.5-hour drive eastward along the Southern Scenic Route.

A short 2 km return walk through lush greenery will lead you to the compelling McLean Falls.

Thunder Creek Falls, West Coast

Tall slim waterfall surrounded by West Coast New Zealand native bush

Nestled amidst the beautiful landscapes of Haast Pass, Thunder Creek Falls is a spectacle that showcases nature’s raw power. 

The glacial blue waters thunder down a 28-meter drop, creating a breathtaking sight that leaves you in awe.

Accessible through a short walk from the Haast Highway, this West Coast waterfall offers a delightful stop for travellers driving from the West Coast to Queenstown.

The 145 km drive from Haast to Wanaka is abundant in cascades, swimming holes, rivers, lakes and magnificent mountain views.

Thunder Creek Falls is only a few kilometres (a few minute’s drive) from Fantail Falls. So, if you’re a waterfall enthusiast like us, you can see two of the best South Island waterfalls for the price of one!

How to get to Thunder Creek Falls (from Wanaka)

To reach Thunder Creek Falls, go to Wanaka on the South Island. (Wanaka is approximately 1 hour from Queenstown.)

From Wanaka, take State Highway 6 towards Haast Pass. 

After approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes of driving, you’ll come across the impressive Thunder Creek Falls, easily accessible by a short walk from the Haast Highway.

READ NEXT – Best Attractions on the West Coast South Island New Zealand

Fantail Falls, Mount Aspiring National Park, Westland District

a handful of people on the river edge viewing Fantails Falls waterfall and bush surrounds

Continuing our journey through the best South Island waterfalls, another West Coast waterfall we adore is the captivating Fantail Falls. 

Located near the famous Haast Pass, this picturesque waterfall takes its name from the native fantails that often flit around the area. The waterfall cascades down in a fan-like shape at its base, which is similar in appearance to a fantail’s tail.

The falls cascade gracefully down a series of moss-covered rocks, creating a compelling scene for nature enthusiasts and photographers alike.

What sets Fantail Falls apart is its accessibility and proximity to the Haast Highway. Travellers can easily pull off the road and walk to witness the falls’ natural beauty up close. 

The enchanting combination of crystal-clear waters, lush green surroundings, and playful fantails make this waterfall a hidden gem worth exploring during your South Island adventure.

How to get to Fantail Falls (from Haast)

To explore Fantail Falls, begin your trip from the town of Haast on the west coast of the South Island. (Haast is 4 hours from Greymouth on the West Coast.)

From Haast, take State Highway 6 (Haast Pass Highway) toward Wanaka. After approximately 45 minutes of driving, you’ll find Fantail Falls, easily accessible from the Haast Pass Highway.

Notable Mentions: More of the Best South Island Waterfalls To Visit

Man and car stopped on an empty highway taking a  photo of the wild bush and mist, with a waterfall in foreground.
We were driving along the scenic stretch from Franz Josef to Wanaka one rainy day. Just after Haast, we stumbled upon a magnificent waterfall without a name right off the side of the road.

Sutherland Falls: Sutherland Falls is New Zealand’s tallest fall. The outstanding New Zealand waterfall reaches 580 meters in height.

The majestic waterfall didn’t make it on this list as we have yet to visit. However, for those who love multi-day hikes, this NZ waterfall is a bonus attraction on the famous Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

Devil’s Punchbowl: This towering waterfall in Arthurs Pass National Park is on our to-do list. It is a 20-minute walk, which includes climbing stairs.

Dorothy Falls: Dorothy Falls is one of the most easily accessible falls on the West Coast. 

These West Coast waterfalls are a hidden gem at Lake Kaniere, near Hokitika, and the great news is you can see them from the road.

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Tips

Our exploration of the best New Zealand South Island waterfalls features an impressive range of stunning natural wonders, each providing a unique and unforgettable experience. 

However, favourable weather conditions play a crucial role in enhancing your waterfall viewing experience. 

Waterfalls are a natural creation. Therefore, during summers with prolonged droughts, the falls may not be as forceful as we have indicated. 

Additionally, the accessibility factor is equally important when seeing waterfalls. Some waterfalls are more majestic than the ones we’ve mentioned earlier, but they require a multi-day hike to reach.

Don’t just take our word for it; go out there and start exploring and finding the best waterfalls in South Island New Zealand.

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One Comment

  1. You know that New Zealand is on our travel wish list for a long visit. I know we will be chasing many of these waterfalls when we finally get there. Looking forward to your new site to help build a great itinerary.

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