McLean Falls, on the Tautuku River in the Catlins Conservation Park spanning Otago and Southland, is a 72-foot (22 meter cascade waterfall surrounded by damp New Zealand bush. The path to the falls passes through an attractive podocarp forest with flowering fuchsia trees. While the short walk there is categorized as easy, there is some uphill.
In a country with many epic long-distance hikes, the walk to McLean Falls is an easy 40-minute round trip, but still gives visitors a taste of a native New Zealand forest full of birds. The highlight at the end is McLean Falls itself, a multi-tiered flow that’s surrounded by mossy rocks, ferns, and forest. Most travelers visit independently while road-tripping around New Zealand, as this is somewhere that requires your own vehicle to get to.
Things to know before you go
- The trail to the falls is well-maintained but steep in parts, and has some steps, so it’s not suitable for strollers or wheelchairs.
- This is a family-friendly walk that should be manageable even for younger kids.
- Parts of the trail can be pretty wet, so make sure to wear sturdy walking shoes or boots, rather than sandals.
- There’s a small waterfall on the trail before you reach McLean Falls. Don’t stop here—it’s not the end.
How to get there
McLean Falls are about a 1.5-hour drive east of Invercargill. Take State Highway 1 until Edendale. Turn off Chaslands Highway onto Rewcastle Road and through the nearest town of Papatowai, then drive a couple of miles further to the parking lot for McLean Falls. The last few miles of the road are unpaved. From the parking lot, you’ll need to walk the final way to the falls.
When to get there
Southern Otago/Southland gets a lot of rain and has a cool climate. The falls can be visited at any time of year, but most travelers prefer to travel to this part of the country in the warmer summer months (December-February).
While traveling in the Catlins region, don’t miss Purakaunui Falls, either. It’s even larger and more spectacular than McLean Falls in many respects, and sees a few more visitors. The walk from the parking lot to the falls is through a mature beech forest, and is an easy 20-minute round trip that’s suitable for wheelchair users.