We’ve been chasing waterfalls around our home country for a couple of years now and one of our ultimate dreams would be to witness every single one in New Zealand. Of the 249 named waterfalls, we’ve only managed to visit 32! Narrowing these down to our favourites wasn’t an easy feat, but we’ve come up with ten that are definitely worth your time. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are our top 10 waterfalls to visit in New Zealand.
1. Milford Sound
Now, obviously Milford Sound isn’t a waterfall itself, but we feel we need to mention this place as a whole – and I know we said in no particular order, but this is the number one waterfall spot by far!
On a rainy day (and it rains a lot in Milford Sound) you can find yourself driving in amongst towering walls of water. Not to mention the amount of incredibly powerful ones, such as Sutherland Falls, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls, you can see if you decide to take a boat cruise. This place is truly magical and such an epic sight to see after heavy rain.
2. The Catlins
Just like Milford Sound, the Catlins itself isn’t a waterfall, but we’ve lovingly named this quiet little forest park tucked away at the bottom of the South Island ‘the waterfall haven of New Zealand’.
Going south from Balclutha on the Southern Scenic Route, you’ll come across multiple epic falls just off the road. There’s Purakaunui, Matai and Horeshoe, McLean, and our personal favourite Koropuku Falls, to name a few. Take the time to cruise through here and stop off at all the amazing falls on the way!
3. Devils Punchbowl Falls
Located just on the edge of the small village in the beautifully scenic Arthur’s Pass, the Devils Punchbowl is a sight to see even in the drier months.
At 131m tall, these falls throw out a lot of wind and mist so prepare to be soaked if you venture to the base. Well worth the stop off to stretch the legs during a road trip, although prepare yourself for a few staircases to climb.
4. Tarawera Falls
While we always find it hard to 100% say what our absolute all-time favourite waterfall is, we always seem to come back to this one for a few good reasons. The top reason has to be the fact it’s possible (read: bearable) to swim here, unlike the rest of NZ’s freezing waterholes. The water comes from a natural hot spring and is the perfect temperature for chilling in and enjoying the native forest.
This leads to reason number two; the beautiful and easy stroll through the forest and along the bluest river to reach the falls. And the third reason is that this magical place is on native Maori-owned land. You need to purchase a permit to visit (see the info centre in the nearest town Kawerau) and with money going towards protecting and preserving this place, everyone wins!
5. Marokopa Falls
At the end of a long road, just out of small town Waitomo you’ll find the Marokopa Falls. An easy five minute walk off the side of the road brings you to these great thundering falls. We were quite surprised to find that it was in drought when we were there (see photo below) and can’t even imagine how epic this place would be during full flood!
Talk to the locals and you might even find yourself abseiling down it with one of the guides in the town.
6. Wakefield Falls
Wakefield slightly lesser known waterfall found in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. When driving to the Tasman Lake, you’ll be able to spot it on your left on the side of the road. Don’t be deceived by how close it looks though, give yourself a good hour and a half to rock jump your way to the bottom of the falls and back. Turning back when you’re at the base of the falls will reward you with views of the icebergs floating in the Tasman Lake.
7. Taranaki Falls
Unlike the name suggests the Taranaki Falls aren’t in the Taranaki Region. You’ll find these in the Tongariro National Park as a walk on their own, or as a part of the Tama Lakes track. The colour of the water is an incredible aqua and is absolutely ice cold as it comes straight from melted snow from the surrounding volcanoes. That’s right, you’ll be walking towards the falls in amongst some otherworldly active volcanoes.
Standing at the top of the falls on a clear day gives views to the very west of the country where, funnily enough, you can see another volcano in the distance, Mount Taranaki. The whole atmosphere and experience is why this waterfall was always going to make this list!
8. Owharoa Falls
Owharoa is a super accessible waterfall, right on the side of the road nestled in the heart of the Karangahake Gorge. On a sunny summer’s day this place fills up with local families coming for a picnic and a wee dip – the perfect place for your typical kiwi vibes.
To witness the waterfall at it’s best, visit after rain during a sunrise or sunset. There’s even the odd opportunity to capture the arch of the Milky Way directly above the falls at night for all you keen astro photographers.
9. Ryde Falls
Choose to visit these falls has a half-day on it’s own or as a part of the Mount Oxford track which will take you the full day. A 4.5 hour return journey, this is the perfect Sunday adventure for the family. Located in a remote part of Canterbury, the walk to the falls provides epic mountain views (especially in winter) and zigzags through peaceful native bushland.
10. Kaiate Falls
This one’s an all-round good place to chill out for a couple of hot summer days as you can free camp in the carpark (as long as you’re self-contained). You have the option of a couple of different waterfalls and swimming holes all in the one spot. One of the falls is even set up to be perfectly for safe cliff jumping (always check the water first though).
Honorary mention: Ohau Stream Waterfall
We’ve added this just as a cheeky bonus and didn’t put it in the top 10 purely because it is currently closed due to earthquake damage. It’s an extremely special place and definitely worth a mention. The pool at the bottom of the falls is where seal pups learn to swim before making the journey back down stream and into the ocean. If you’ve been lucky enough to witness these inquisitive creatures, then you’ll know how precious this place truly is.
With each waterfall being so different from the next and the areas so diverse, you’ll have no shortage of fun when chasing waterfalls in New Zealand. Wherever you are in New Zealand there’s bound to be a waterfall close by, so get out there and check ’em out!