• Rach Stewart

THE 10 BEST NEW ZEALAND WATERFALLS YOU MUST VISIT: SOUTH ISLAND EDITION



In follow up to my 10 Best New Zealand Waters Falls You Must Visit in the North Island blog, I've been thinking long and hard about the waterfalls I love and have visited in the South Island, trawled through the hard drives looking at images, and finally come up with my favourites to share with you.


As mentioned in the North Island blog, I have been chasing New Zealand's waterfalls ever since I picked up my camera and began my landscape photography journey almost a decade ago. The enchanting scenes that waterfalls create have a dreamy and ethereal feel that just can't be ignored. That is why many landscape photographers have an immense portfolio of waterfall photographs!

Stirling Falls Fiordland
Stirling Falls Fiordland

The South Island of New Zealand is incredibly diverse, ranging from sheer granite faced mountains rising from the ocean, to vast valleys and plains stretching as far as the eye can see, and of course the many incredible waterfalls that are scattered throughout the landscape.


Most of these New Zealand waterfalls are usually quite easy to access, with the effort / reward ratio being some of the best you can find anywhere in the world!


Although I have a lot more to explore when it comes to South Island waterfalls, these are the ones that really resonated with me and I thought created beautiful landscape photos. This is by no means all the waterfalls you can explore in New Zealand, but it's a good little start to creating an itinerary.


I've grouped the waterfalls into areas so let's begin and work our way down!


 

HAAST PASS

The Haast Pass begins approximately an hour out of Wanaka heading to the West Coast


THUNDER CREEK FALLS


Thunder Creek Falls is an absolutely beautiful 28 metre horse tail fall located just off the State Highway in the Haast Pass.

Thunder Creek Falls Haast Pass
Thunder Creek Falls, Haast Pass

The falls can be accessed easily via a well formed track where it only takes around 5 minutes to arrive at the viewing platform.


The water from Thunder Creek Falls crashes into incredibly blue coloured water from the Haast River and is surrounded by native Beech tree forest.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

This shot was taken just off the track down by the river. There are a lot of compositions to choose from with rocks in the foreground but just a note of caution as the Haast River runs fast, I kept to the shoreline only.


I used a 10 stop filter to slow the water down and create that smooth effect on the water.

 

HAAST PASS

FANTAIL FALLS


Fantail Falls in another easily accessible waterfall in the Haast Pass located just off the State Highway.

Fantail Falls Haast Pass
Fantail Falls, Haast Pass

These 23 metre fan shaped falls sit just across the Haast River at the foot of Fantail Creek. It is quite easy to cross the river as it runs quite shallow just in front of the falls. Beware the water is freezing!


Again the beautiful blue water from the Haast River makes for a stunning foreground, and the surrounding Beech forest creates an incredibly green frame around the falls.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

This shot was taken from the opposite side of the Haast River, just off the track on the rocky foreshore. There is plenty of space along the rocks to create a composition.


I used a 10 stop filter to slow the water down and create that smooth effect on the water.

 

HAAST PASS

BLUE POOLS


Blue Pools Haast Pass
Blue Pools, Haast Pass

Not so much a waterfall, but I wanted to add this spectacular location into the blog as I do think they should be mentioned as a must do place to visit! The pure glacial water that flows through this gorge and ends in the gorgeous Blue Pools comes from the surrounding mountains flowing into the Makorora River.


This water runs crystal blue most of the time and the gorge is surrounded by mature Beech and Podocarp Forest, creating an incredible landscape of blues and greens.


Access to the blue pools is via a well formed track that takes around 30 minutes each way. The carpark for the track is located off the State Highway and well signposted.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

This shot was taken on the second swing bridge which is where you can view the Blue Pools from above.


I used a Graduated Filter and Polariser to break through the glare on the water.

 

WISHBONE FALLS WANAKA


Wishbone Falls just out of Wanaka is one of the more difficult New Zealand waterfalls to get to, not because of hiking or fitness ability, but because of the road to get there. The falls are at the entrance to Mount Aspiring National Park and require a lengthy 33km drive along a gravel road which isn't maintained by the Council, only by DOC.

Wishbone Falls Wanaka
Wishbone Falls, Wanaka

It takes just over a hour and a half to travel to Wishbone Falls from Wanaka, and I would highly suggest hiring a 4wd or similar to undertake the drive on the gravel road. There are multiple fords and river crossings, and I feel a 4wd would make the trip a lot more comfortable.


The rough drive is absolutely worth it when the 80 metre Wishbone Falls comes into view! Take the 20 minute walk over private land to stand right under the rush of water and get a real sense of the might of these falls!


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

This shot was taken from just under the falls after walking the short track.


I used a 10 stop filter to slow the water down and create that smooth effect on the water.

 

PURAKAUNUI FALLS

Purakaunui Falls
Purakaunui Falls, Southland

Purakaunui Falls is a stunning cascading waterfall in The Catlins Region of New Zealand. Surrounded by native podocarp forest, these three tiered falls are on of the most photographed falls in New Zealand and there's no questioning why.


Purakaunui Falls not far from the town of Okawa in the Purakaunui Scenic Reserve. It takes around 10 minutes along a well formed track through the forest to reach the falls. There is a good amount of room for compositions and exploring around the falls.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

I took this shot from the left hand side of the falls down by the rocks and used a 6 stop filter to slow down and smooth the water.

 

FIORDLAND


STIRLING FALLS MILFORD SOUND

(WAIMANU FALLS)

Stirling Falls Milford Sound
Stirling Falls, Milford Sound

Stirling Falls is one of the most majestic waterfalls you will find in New Zealand especially with its location being in the heart of what has been named the 'Eighth Wonder of the World', Milford Sound.


Standing 151 metres tall and one of Milford Sound's permanent waterfalls, this one truly is a sight to behold and is an absolute must do if you're in the South Island and visiting Milford Sound.

Stirling Falls Milford Sound
Stirling Falls, Milford Sound

Access is by boat on one of the Milford Sound Cruises, kayak or Scenic/ Heli Flight. When you take a cruise you will see Stirling Falls closely on the right-hand side once you have gone past Lady Bowen Falls. On your way back in from the cruise you will get to see them right up close .. beware .. you will get wet!


There is a large carpark located at the end of Milford Sound where you can park your car and take a cruise.

Stirling Falls Milford Sound
Stirling Falls, Milford Sound
WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

Milford Sound is famous for its moody and rainy weather, and if you happen to take a cruise during this weather, then it's your lucky day! Hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls form during the rain, and Stirling Falls looks incredible in full flow.


I took these shots from the Milford Sound Boat Cruise.

 

FIORDLAND

LADY BOWEN FALLS MILFORD SOUND


Lady Bowen Falls is Milford Sound's tallest waterfall at 162 metres and also another of the permanent waterfalls in the Sound. The falls were named after Diamantina Bowen who was the wife of George Bowen, Governor of New Zealand.

Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Sound
Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Sound

When taking the Milford Sound Scenic Cruise, this is the first waterfall you will pass before you enter the Sound. You can also view the falls by walking out past the foreshore and onto the sand from the Milford Sound foreshore track by the carpark.


There is also a track which includes a boat ride, taking around 30 minutes in total. At the time of writing this the track was closed. Visit the DOC website for updates.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

As with Stirling Falls, Lady Bowen Falls looks incredible in full flow and moody weather.

Lady Bowen Falls Milford Sound
Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Sound

I took these shots from the Milford Sound Boat Cruise and the Milford Foreshore. For the sunrise image I used a 6stop filter to smooth out the water.

 

FIORDLAND

SUTHERLAND FALLS FIORDLAND


Sutherland Falls in Fiordland is the highest of all the New Zealand waterfalls at a staggering 580m. It is however one of the more difficult waterfalls to access, with the only option being a 4 day hike (Milford Track) or by scenic flight or helicopter.

Sutherland Falls Fiordland
Sutherland Falls viewed from the air

The water from Sutherland Falls drops from Lake Quill above, and falls down three tiers before reaching the bottom.


For more information on hiking the Milford Track visit the DOC website , and there are many operators offering scenic flights on Google.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

I took this shot from a scenic flight with Glenorchy Air out of Queenstown.

 

FIORDLAND

LAKE MARIAN FALLS FIORDLAND


Lake Marian Falls is an easy 30 minute return track from the Lake Marian carpark off Lower Hollyford Road, Milford Sound, where you can view the water that has tracked its way from Lake Marian above. This series of falls is one of my absolute favourites, the glacial blue water and surrounding forest make for such a beautiful scene.

Lake Marian Falls Fiordland
Lake Marian Falls, Fiordland

The walk to Marian falls is on a well graded path and boardwalk where you can then set up your camera in a range of different compositions along the track/boardwalk.


If you're keen on seeing Lake Marian, you can carry on the track for another 3km where you will be greeted with one of the best views in New Zealand in my opinion. This is more of an advanced tramping track as it becomes steep and there are tree roots and boulders to navigate through. Absolutely worth it if you can do it however.

Lake Marian Fiordland
Lake Marian, Fiordland
WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

I took the waterfall shot from the boardwalk and used a 6stop filter combined with a graduated filter to smooth out the water.

 

FIORDLAND

EARLAND FALLS FIORDLAND


Earland Falls is one of most impressive falls in Fiordland standing at 174 metres tall, however it requires a little more effort to get to. Earland Falls forms part of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's multi day Great Walks in Fiordland, however you can visit the falls as a day walk also and I highly recommend doing so.

Earland Falls Fiordland
Earland Falls, Fiordland

After parking your car at The Divide carpark, follow the Routeburn Track to Lake Howden, then take the Lake Mackenzie track and the falls will be half way to the Mackenzie Hut, approximately 3 hours from where you started.

Earland Falls Fiordland
Earland Falls, Fiordland
WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?

I took these shots from the rocks around the waterfalls. There are a lot of compositions available and plenty of space to move around with your camera.

 

And there you have my 10 Best New Zealand Waterfalls in the South Island!


Thanks for taking to time to read this blog and I hope it inspires you to visit some of these beautiful waterfalls sometime soon.



If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.