Hiking the Waipohatu Waterfall Track, The Catlins
There are several waterfalls in the Catlins, and most are just a short walk from the main road. The Waipohatu Waterfall Track is a little more challenging than the rest, but the waterfalls (there are two) are beautiful and it’s a lot quieter and more off the beaten path than the others. Thinking of hiking the Waipohatu Waterfall Track? Keep reading for more information!
This track is located in the Catlins Forest Park and is a short drive from both Curio Bay and Slope Point. This is the southern end of the Catlins – it’ll take you 2.5 hours from Dunedin and 1 hour from Invercargill. There’s a turnoff from the main road which could be easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled!
Waipohatu Waterfall Track
The start of the track sits towards the end of a gravel road. You’ll notice a carpark, and from there it’s a 10-minute walk through the bush to get to the actual trailhead. You can skip that section and park closer to the start, but we enjoyed it. I’ll also show you a bit of a short cut towards the end of this post.
From the trailhead the sign says it should take two hours to do the loop track. This was accurate for us – we could have done it quicker, but it was pretty muddy. There isn’t much to see as you’re just hiking through the forest, but it’s nice enough. There’s a fair bit of uphill hiking involved but it’s not too difficult.
Eventually you’ll reach a fork in the road. Heading down towards the left will bring you to the smaller falls, while right will take you to the bigger one. We went right first and soon came to a powerful waterfall surrounded by native bush. This is a basic track and there’s no set “viewpoint” or anything, so you’ll have to explore a bit.
It’s hard to see it properly as there’s a big rock in the way, but you can climb up close to it and get some decent photos. You could also cross the river, but we didn’t want to get our feet wet. Obviously use caution when climbing around waterfalls – it gets slippery and there are no safety fences on the Waipohatu Waterfall Track!
The smaller waterfall was a little easier to appreciate. You’ll still have to look around a bit to get the best views, but at least you’ll likely see the whole thing. It’s a nice little waterfall – a bit like a smaller version of Purakaunui Falls, without the crowds of course.
The Walk Back
Back at the junction, you have a choice to make. You can head back the way you came or complete the loop track back to the car park. We continued the loop track (it’s always nice to avoid backtracking) and it was similar in both looks and difficulty to the first part of the track. Apparently, it’s a little quicker to go back the way you came, so maybe do that if you’re in a rush.
A Potential Short Cut
If you walk the whole loop, you’ll notice that you come out at another car park, a kilometre or so up the road from the other one. If you were to drive to that car park first, and then walk to the waterfalls and back out, you’d save some time. There’s a gate there though, and it looked hard to open. It’s one of the those gates you’ll see all over New Zealand (especially when driving near farms) but someone really tangled it up, almost like they don’t want it opened. Check it out if you want to save some time, and let me know if you got the gate open (I tried for about 20 seconds and gave up).
Waipohatu Waterfall Track: The Details
- What’s the track like? Pretty muddy, but decent enough. There are orange markers guiding the way as well.
- How long does it take? It took us just over 2.5 hours, which included the first little bush walk and around 35 minutes at the two waterfalls.
- How do they compare to the other waterfalls in the Catlins? These waterfalls are just as nice as the others (Purakanui Falls, McLean Falls, Matai Falls) and a lot quieter. The track is lacking in the viewpoint department though – they could do a lot better with creating specific viewing areas at the falls. There was one above the smaller falls, which would have made for a perfect photo spot, but there was a tree in the way. Clean up a few little things like that and this walk could become a lot more popular.
Are you planning a road trip around New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island itinerary!
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