Purakaunui Falls

Catlins Coastal Area, South Island, New Zealand

About Purakaunui Falls

Hiking Distance: 1.2km round trip
Suggested Time: 20 minutes

Date first visited: 2004-12-02
Date last visited: 2009-12-24

Waterfall Latitude: -46.52014
Waterfall Longitude: 169.56428

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Purakaunui Falls was probably the one waterfall in the Catlins area that received the most attention because it seemed to have fronted postcards and calendars more so than the others in the area that we had seen.

The falls itself had “character” as Julie liked to say largely because its three-tiered 15m drop fell in steps that was really friendly for long exposure photos that would better display its texture.

Plus, this waterfall was pretty easy to visit once we got to its car park.

Purakaunui_Falls_013_12232009 - Purakaunui Falls
Purakaunui Falls

Accessing Matai Falls and Horseshoe Falls

Indeed, our visit was pretty straightforward. Once we got past the trailhead sign (saying it was a 10-minute walk to get there) onto the well-developed walk, we were in a lush bush setting.

Along the way were a handful of interpretive signs talking about some of the flora that was growing in the area like tawhai (“TAW-fai”) and matai among others.

Shortly thereafter, we followed along the Purakaunui Stream where we got a look over the top of Purakaunui Falls at an upper overlook.

Then, we descended elongated steps leading to a wooden viewing deck with the frontal view of the falls you see in the picture above.

With the viewing deck, we didn’t necessarily need to have a tripod and could have used the sturdy wooden railings to take the long exposure photos, but I brought my tripod anyways just in case.

The view of the falls was partially obstructed by foliage flanking our line-of-sight so it was never really completely open.

Purakaunui_Falls_025_12012004 - Purakaunui Falls in a more swollen state when we first saw it back in December 2004
Purakaunui Falls in a more swollen state when we first saw it back in December 2004

However, I did notice some scrambling tracks (I doubt the Department of Conservation would approve of this) that led closer to the waterfall shortly before the start of the wooden lookout deck.

I’d imagine those alternate shots of Purakaunui Falls that we saw in the literature were probably a result of photographers bending the wilderness ethics a bit.

That was probably why we saw the informal tracks to get that “unusual” or “non-cliche” shot.

Julie and I had been to this waterfall in December 2004 and December 2009, and in each time, we spent roughly 20 minutes round trip, which made the sign’s estimated walk time pretty spot on.


Purakaunui Falls resides in the Catlins Coastal Area in the Otago region. It is administered under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Purakaunui_Falls_001_12012004 - Julie going past the signposted trailhead for Purakaunui Falls
Purakaunui_Falls_002_12012004 - Julie on the pleasant bush walk for Purakaunui Falls
Purakaunui_Falls_028_12012004 - Looking over the top of Purakaunui Falls from the upper viewing deck
Purakaunui_Falls_013_12012004 - Our first look at Purakaunui Falls from the main viewing deck in December 2004
Purakaunui_Falls_019_12012004 - The state of Purakaunui Falls during our early December 2004 visit was actually a little rain swollen
Purakaunui_Falls_003_12232009 - Julie and I returned to Purakaunui Falls in December 2009 when it had a bit less water than five years ago
Purakaunui_Falls_012_12232009 - A more angled look at Purakaunui Falls in December 2009


There were several routes to get to Purakaunui Falls, but we’ll describe only the routes that we took starting with perhaps the most straightforward one.

From Balclutha (about 81km southwest of Dunedin along SH1), we turned left on High St (about 1km west of the bridge over the Clutha River) and took this street as it soon became the Owaka Hwy. We followed this road, which coincided with the signposted Southern Scenic Route, for about 36km (becoming Papatowai Hwy along the way) until we made a left onto Purakaunui Falls Rd. We then followed this road for roughly 9km to the signposted car park and trailhead.

From Invercargill, follow the directions shown in the Matai Falls page, then continue on the Papatowai Hwy for about 12km before turning right onto Purakaunui Falls Rd.

On our visit in 2004, we actually drove roughly 4.5km east of Matai Falls to the Waikoato Valley Rd (unsealed and a little rough), then took it for 4km to the Purakaunui Falls Rd where we turned left and reached the car park shortly thereafter.

Bottom up sweep of the multi-tiered falls from the end of the walk

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Tagged with: catlins, southern scenic route, invercargill, papatowai, balclutha, dunedin, otago, south island, new zealand, waterfall, owaka

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