The Catlins: Waterfalls

Dates of Adventure: 8-12 April 2021

The Catlins Forst Park, nestled in the southeast corner of Te Waipounamu (the south island), is far from the mountains of Fiordland or the heavy rain and glaciers of the West Coast. The eastern plains are generally in a rain shadow of the Southern Alps, since the prevailing weather drops it’s ocean-collected moisture atop the mountains as the air rises and cools.

And yet, inexplicably, this small corner of the island is FULL of waterfalls. It seems that every turn is accompanied by a yellow sign, pointing towards a “falls”.

Because of this it’s basically a landscape photographer’s paradise. As such, this post is going to be a bit more photography-focused. Let’s ‘dive in’!

McLean Falls is the tallest of the bunch, and the first one we hit when driving in from the East. I had been here before in 2015, and even flown my homemade drone above the waterfall (before drone laws were implemented).

This waterfall is a great one to photograph, since the path takes you to a really great spot to shoot it. There’s plenty of foreground interest to find (I chose the smaller cascades in front), and it was dark enough that I could shoot it with a longer shutter speed (around 2 seconds) without needing any ND filters.

We stayed until the sun set and the stars came out, playing around with painting the waterfall with flashlghts.

The hike in is about 2km one way, and it is a nice wide path that’s been nicely graded. Not all of the trails were like this, however; our next ‘falls didn’t even have an official DOC sign, we just spotted a wooden sign by the side of the road!

Didn’t take a photo; Google maps to the rescue!

The path to Koropuku Falls was slippepry, muddy, and wild. We loved it! It seemed like it was maintained by someone who thought a trail should be there, rather than the ‘official’ gravel-lined paths funded by the DOC.

The relatively difficult trail had a huge payout, though! The waterfall at the end was a beautiful, dripping veil, 20 feet tall and probably 8 feet wide! I had to climb up the adjacent slippery forested hill to get a good shot. I made a vertical panorama with my Nikon Z7 in this case–basically, I have the resolution to print this image on the side of a building if I wanted to!

Mid April is the middle of Fall on this side of the Equator, so the water flow through these waterfalls was about as low as it gets. Though I was a little bummed at first, I realized there were silver linings to it:

First, most people try to come during peak flow, so we were seeing it at a time when many don’t. Second, the leaves on the trees had started to change and fall! Though many of the trees here don’t go through a seasonal shedding of leaves, enough of them do to provide some lovely yellow contrast to the greens and blues of waterfall photography!

Matai Falls. The nearby Horseshoe Falls wasn’t running enough for a good photo at the time.
My lens was also a little foggy, which actually gives this shot an ethereal vibe that I like!

The next stop for us is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Catlins, if not New Zealand. It oft adorns waterfall calendars and postcards alike, as it is a wide, multi-tiered flow of beauty. However, Purukanui Falls was very low for us, so I had to get creative to make a photo I was happy with!

The swirling eddies of foam and leaves, hidden during high flows, provided for an amazing foreground! I experimented with different shutter speeds, and found that I really liked the swirling movement afforded with about 1/15th of a second.

As it turns out, the areas that have wet, rocky cliffs necessary for waterfalls are also the perfect location for something else photogenic: glow worms! Any of these waterfalls, when hiked to at night, are surrounded by the tiny spots of light. The small larvae normally like to hang out in caves, but the dark, dank underhangs of cliffs and roots are also favorites for them.

This next set of waterfalls isn’t actually in the Catlins, but to the west of it. We stopped by on our way back to Invercargill.

We had read about the two-tiered Waipohatu Falls, but we were on a tight schedule to get back to town before the bank closed. As such, we decided to trail run the 6km loop to save time!

‘The bride and groom’

As seen in the above instagram post, I had to get creative to find the angle I wanted for this shot. I was probably 15 feet off the ground! Also, did I mention that I was trailrunning with a full-frame camera??

That was the end of our waterfall adventures, but we did plenty more in the Catlins! I figured the waterfalls deserved their own post, so keep an eye out for our other adventures aroun the Catlins next (hint: Cathedral Cave). Thanks for reading!


P.S. I almost forgot, the greatest waterfall of them all: behold, the MIGHTY NIAGARA FALLS!

ironically named ‘Niagara Falls’. That’s all!

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