Devils Punchbowl Falls

Arthur's Pass National Park, Canterbury Region (South Island), New Zealand

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 2.5
Devils Punchbowl Falls
Devils Punchbowl Falls was certainly a waterfall that Julie and I anticipated visiting ever since we came across it during our pre-trip research. We knew it was a prime feature of Arthur's Pass National Park, but when we saw it in person, I didn't think we were prepared for its stunning beauty given its size and its mountainous surroundings. We managed to experience this waterfall in two different ways - from a lookout near its base and from across the valley on Scott's Track. The latter way of experiencing the falls seemed to be the less known way since the signs directed us towards the first option, but as you can see from the photo at the top of this page, I thought it was the second option that yielded the best views and photos.

Devils Punchbowl Falls was said to be 131m tall though compared to other waterfalls we encountered (such as Wairere Falls said to be 153m tall) I wondered if this waterfall was being shortchanged or if the taller waterfalls were overestimated. Numbers aside, this waterfall was really our main reason for coming to Arthur's Pass National Park though I understand that the Avalanche Peak hike was also a primary draw of the area. The track was even said to rival the Tongariro Crossing as the most popular day tramp in New Zealand.

As for its waterflow, it appeared that this was mostly a snowmelt-fed waterfall. Given the rainy nature of the Southern Alps, it wouldn't surprise me if it would flow reliable year-round, but it would probably have its greatest volume during the late Spring or early Summer. We showed up in November 2004, and I'd imagine the volume of water you see on these pictures represented close to above average flow for the year.

Directions: The two ways we experienced Devils Punchbowl Falls are described below. I've decided to describe each method (and its specific trailhead locations) separately so we can paint a clearer picture for you about the experience and the logistics of a visit here.

As for getting to at least the Arthur's Pass Village (the town from which the trailheads are located), we started from Greymouth, then drove about 15km south on the SH6 to the Kumara Junction. We turned left onto SH73 and followed this highway for about 77km into Arthur's Pass Village. Note that we passed through the Otira Viaduct as well as the modifications to Reid Falls en route.


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The Base of the Falls
Devils Punchbowl Falls seen from the lookout at its base
This was the most obvious way to experience the falls since the signs pretty much advocated doing it this way. From the Arthur's Pass Village's north end, we followed the signs onto a wide track and shortly reached a bridge traversing the gushing Bealey River. Even as we were approaching the bridge, we could already see the impressive waterfall showing its uppermost sections of its main drop, which essentially beckoned us to come closer.

After the bridge, we then faced a three-pronged fork in the track, where we ignored the left two forks (for the Bridal Veil and Cons Tracks, respectively) and kept right for the Mt Aicken / Devils Punchbowl Track. After briefly following Devils Punchbowl Creek, we then had to climb a moderate series of steps and slopes as we rose above the floor of the valley. After a handful of switchbacks, we then reached a junction where the Devils Punchbowl Track branched off the Mt Aicken Track to our left. After taking this spur track, we then descended towards the misty platform lookout.

It was also possible to go around the platform lookout to get a slightly different view of the falls, but we were cognizant of the rockfall and erosion hazards so we didn't push our luck too much. In either case, the morning that we showed up happened to be at a time when the morning sun was directly against us and photographing the falls was difficult. The swirling mist also conspired to make our photo experience here even more difficult so the best we could do at the time was to produce the sub-par photos you see on this page.

Overall, it took us nearly an hour to make this hike round trip. When we returned to the car park, we were greeted by keas (native New Zealand mountain parrots) that seemed mischievous enough to try to rip out the weather strippings on the windshield and the wipers of our rental car!


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Scott's Track
Devils Punchbowl Falls seen from Scott's Track
The Scott's Track method of seeing Devils Punchbowl Falls was probably the more photogenic and satisfying way, in my mind. The reason why was that not only was I able to get a nice contextual perspective of the waterfall, but I also got nice views of Arthur's Pass Valley, and I was able to see Bridal Veil Falls as well. I also could have merged this hike with the famed Avalanche Peak Track if I had the time and the cooperative weather to do it.

Starting to get a nice perspective of Devil's Punchbowl Falls from Scott's Track In any case, this option was less well-known probably because it took a little time for me to figure out where the Scott's Track started. It wasn't until a fews of going back and forth between the northern end of Arthur's Pass Village and the vicinity of Twin Creek Falls, did I finally realize that the relatively hidden and obscure Scott's Track trailhead was about 700m north of Arthur's Pass Village without any room for parking. Once I realized that, I parked the car back at the village, then walked the 700m along SH73 before I finally followed the easy-to-miss sign that took me onto the track as it quickly rose above the floor of the valley.

The climb was pretty relentless as it was pretty much climbing non-stop, and with each bit of elevation gain I was getting, I could see that the views of Devils Punchbowl Falls was improving. Eventually after over 20 minutes of doing this uphill hike, I got to a point where I was able to take the kind of photos that you see at the top of this page. I certainly could have kept going to get even higher perspectives of the falls as well as get me that much closer to Avalanche Peak (which was said to be three or hour hours of rough tramping in each direction).

There was no official lookout declaring the best viewing spot as it really wasn't needed. The views along Scott's Track were mostly open. When I had my fill of the falls and headed back down to the valley floor, I also got to see the dramatic views of Arthur's Pass Valley in addition to reliving the views of the waterfall once again. Overall, this informal out-and-back excursion took me around an hour.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
View of Arthur's Pass Valley from Scott's Track on the way back down to the trailhead
On the day before our visit to Arthur's Pass, we went half-way between Greymouth and Westport to check out the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki just in time for sunset
On the wide track leading us towards Devils Punchbowl FallsOn the wide track leading us towards Devils Punchbowl Falls

Approaching the bridge traversing the Bealey River with Devils Punchbowl Falls looming large over the sceneApproaching the bridge traversing the Bealey River with the falls looming large over the scene

Looking along the Bealey River from the bridge traversing itLooking along the Bealey River from the bridge traversing it

Following Devils Punchbowl Creek on the final leg of the hike leading us towards the lookout near the waterfall's baseFollowing Devils Punchbowl Creek on the final leg of the hike leading us towards the lookout near the waterfall's base

Devils Punchbowl Falls viewed from its baseLooking up at Devils Punchbowl Falls from the lookout platform near its base

Finally found the elusive trailhead to Scott's TrackFinally found the elusive trailhead to Scott's Track

For a sense of why Scott's Track was so elusive, here's a picture of its context against SH73For a sense of why Scott's Track was so elusive, here's a picture of its context against SH73

Looking over some power pylons towards Bridal Veil FallsLooking over some power pylons towards Bridal Veil Falls

Contextual look towards Bridal Veil Falls from Scott's TrackContextual look towards Bridal Veil Falls from Scott's Track

Looking directly towards Devils Punchbowl Falls even though I still wasn't that high up Scott's TrackLooking directly towards Devils Punchbowl Falls even though I still wasn't that high up Scott's Track

As I was climbing higher up Scott's Track, I took a look back towards the Arthur's Pass VillageAs I was climbing higher up Scott's Track, I took a look back towards Arthur's Pass Village

Direct look across Arthur's Pass Valley towards Devils Punchbowl FallsDirect look across the valley towards Devils Punchbowl Falls

Contextual look across the valley towards Devils Punchbowl Falls and the delta at the mouth of its gorgeContextual look across the valley across the falls and the delta at the mouth of its gorge

View of Devils Punchbowl Falls and some stringier companion waterfallsView of the falls and some stringier companion waterfalls

Last look across the valley at Scott's Track and the bridge over the Bealey River belowLast look across the valley at Scott's Track and the bridge over the Bealey River below


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS



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MAP OF THE FALLS

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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES



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