Ohau Falls was a thin but pretty waterfall that turned out to be quite the popular spot when we made a visit here in early January 2010. We had been told that New Zealand fur seals would sometimes swim their way up to the falls (said to be in the Winter), which would make this waterfall very unique in that aspect. That said, Julie and I didn’t spot any fur seals during our visit since we came in the Summer and there were probably way too many people around the falls anyways. That said, we had seen other trip reports in the literature as well as a visitor submission that confirmed that they do indeed come here from time to time.
In addition to the fur seals, Ohau Falls was also our waterfalling excuse to explore the area around Kaikoura, which was well known for coastal scenery, sperm whales, acrobatic dusky dolphins, and crayfish (similar to rock lobsters). In fact, in the early morning hours on the day of our visit to the falls, we did a whale watching tour where we got to see at least three sperm whales (one of which did a tail splash before diving) as well as a whole school of dusky dolphins doing backflips among other wildlife. It had to have been one of the most memorable tours we had ever done.
In any case, our visit to Ohau Falls began from a roadside pullout (see directions below) where we then followed a trail that went upstream along the Ohau Stream. Given the warm sunny day during our visit, the shadiness of the narrow gorge cut by the Ohau Stream provided some welcome relief from the heat. The walk was pretty developed as it was a mix of boardwalk and bridges along with conventional dirt trail. And after a little over five minutes of walking (the sign estimated 10 minutes in each direction), we arrived at the very busy plunge pool and base of the falls (a big reason why we thought this place was very popular).
Ohau Falls seemed to have a height of around 25-30m or so. Given the high contrast between the shady confines of its cove and the bright sun shining right on the plunge of the water, the falls appeared to be very bright and washed out in our photos. So it didn’t take long before we left the falls and headed back to the trailhead. Our adventure didn’t end there, however. Instead, we crossed the state highway and continued onto the rocky coastline where we got to see the famed New Zealand fur seals from a respectful distance. Indeed, we probably spent more time seeing them do what they do than we did around the waterfall itself.
From Kaikoura (about 200km north of Christchurch), we drove roughly 27km north on SH1 towards a large signposted pullout saying “Ohau Stream” on the inland side of the highway right at a large bend in the road. The pullout acting as car park was quite full, but we were fortunate to have found one of the remaining few spaces when we showed up at midday on New Year’s Day.
Coming from the other direction, the falls was about 102km (roughly 90 minutes) south of Blenheim along SH1.
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