Let it rain. Winter rains and spring showers make for primetime waterfall watching when the waterways feeding these natural spectacles flowing well.
The West Coast wilderness is home to hundreds of waterfalls, many accessible via a short walk through beautiful native bush. Consider them a silver lining to rain on your holiday. Our favourites? Here’s a few (listed in alphabetical order) of the best and most accessible.
NOTE: Pack your wet weather gear and footwear; before setting out, always check conditions on the DOC website or ask at a local isite visitor centre.
Beautiful Carew Falls tumbling down into Lake Brunner are also working to power nearby Lake Brunner Eco Lodge.
When the family have had their fill of fishing or cruising around lovely Lake Brunner, there are plenty of trails to explore in the lush forest that creeps right up to the edges of the still water. A short but sharp climb takes you through the trees to Carew Falls, which tumble down from the Hohonu Peaks. Huge granite boulders shaped by centuries of water make ideal seats from which to enjoy the view over of the western end of Lake Brunner, and if you stand close enough to the falls, the mist acts like a refreshing facial.
Getting there: The 2-km track starts on Kumara-Inchbonnie Road, about 300 metres east of Lake Brunner Eco Lodge.
Charming Creek North Walkway follows an historic bush tramway through the lower Ngakawau Gorge and the Charming Creek Valley.
Starting near Seddonville, once a busy mining settlement now known for the nearby Old Ghost Road, Charming Creek Walkway follows an abandoned railway line alongside the Ngakawau River through a forested gorge to spectacular views of the 25-metre-high Mangatini Falls. You’ll pass through old railway tunnels, over bridges, and past rusty mining relics that tell the story of the days when timber and coal was hauled out of the valley. As you near the powerful waterfall, look out for the rare native powelliphanta, a giant worm-slurping snail that thrives in wet West Coast forests.
Getting there: From the car park you can see the historic Charming Creek mine site, complete with the original bathhouse shell, and sealed entrances to the historic underground coal mining operation. The walk to the Mangatini falls is about 4 hours return.
Coal Creek Falls is an easy 3.6-km walk through West Coast rainforest close to Greymouth.
Just a 10-minute drive from Greymouth, you’ll find Coal Creek Falls, an easy 3.6-km walk through West Coast rainforest. The cascade waterfall is easily accessible for all levels of fitness, and there are a couple of benches overlooking the falls, perfect for admiring the view. Steps lead down to the river — if you come on a hot day, bring your swimming gear, as the pool at the base of the waterfall is a great place to cool off.
Getting there: From Greymouth follow SH6 northeast for 8 km to Runanga. Turn right down Seddon Street and right into Ballance Street. There is a carpark at the end of Ballance Street.
Thunder Creek Falls — on the Haast Pass Road — crash 28-metres down a sheer rock face into a deep pool below.
A must-do waterfall-wander for road trippers en route from Wānaka to the glaciers. Thunder Creek Falls live up to their name as they crash down a 28-metre rock face into a deep pool beneath, under the forested peaks of the Mount Aspiring National Park. In terms of effort versus reward, the 200-metre stroll through kāmahi and silver beech forest to a viewing platform above the turquoise Haast River is well worth it.
Getting there: The car park for Thunder Creek Falls is located on the Haast Highway (SH6), 50 km south of Haast township.
Rainbows over Trident Falls — a pretty triple cascade in the Franz Josef Glacier Valley.
Without downplaying the giant river of ice that’s Franz Josef glacier – the awe-inspiring main attraction of this track – Trident Creek Falls offers a spectacular bonus. The gentle walk to the glacier viewing point is enhanced by lush green forest and the shapely form of Trident Creek Falls — an exquisite trifecta of cascades descending the sheer cliff face onto the glacier-rolled rocks of the valley floor.
Getting there: The 1.7-km return track leads you on a short climb to a view of the glacier valley, including the Waiho River winding its way towards the coast. The river has cut off access up the valley, so it is not possible to go further on foot. To truly get a sense of the mighty glacier, take a scenic flight, or land and walk on the clear blue ice.
Wilson’s Creek Chasm is a narrow rocky chasm on the West Coast side of the Haast Pass Road.
Last but not least this one’s a breathtaking hidden gem – a dramatic, narrow rocky chasm with shafts of light, mossy sides and a lofty cascade tumbling into the chilly blue water below. Pure Jurassic in a hidden corner of Te Wāhipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. Be respectful to nature here as while it’s just off a main highway and fairly accessible – so long as the water level allows – it's a rocky, slippery environment and conditions can change quickly. The chasm’s upper levels are reserved for experienced canyonners.
Getting there: The car park for Wilson's Creek Chasm is located on the Haast Highway (SH6), about 3 km after Haast Pass when travelling towards the West Coast. From the car park, the entrance to the chasm is across the road near the Wilson Creek bridge and a short 5-10 minutes’ walk along the river bank.
Check track conditions:
Be prepared to get your feet wet and for some scrambling across big rocks. When the river is high, the canyon is not accessible.