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.
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.
The Base Of The Falls
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!
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.
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.
For further context, Arthur’s Pass Village was over 2 hours drive (146km) northwest of Christchurch.
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