The Catlins Day #4: McLean Falls and Tautuku Estuary

Why should you actually stop for a few days in The Catlins? Sure, you could bash out as many activities as possible along this coast with a wonder every 10 minutes, but as we are about to find out today, leisurely strolling through the forest at 6am to one of the most-visited waterfalls in The Catlins feels so much better!

Our original plan today was to see Tautuku Estuary at sunrise – we’ve heard its pretty epic. However, with such an overcast sky, we are not seeing a single glimpse of sunlight today. So instead we thought: “Why don’t we just visit McLean Falls while no one is around?”

McLean Falls is only 2km down a gravel road from our powersite accommodation, The Whistling Frog Cafe, Bar and Resort, so hitting the road this early is definitely not too painful. As expected, we arrive to an empty car park and a forest walk all to ourselves. Nice!

Somebody to McLean on

The only noise we hear are our own footsteps and the increasingly louder sound of rushing water as we walk through a forest of huge trees, which all appear to “McLean” on each other. Wheyyyy, pun of the day!

Red berries cling to the bushes lining the walking track, among other plants calling every surface they can find home.

Did we get to McLean Falls already? In no time, we see a small wide waterfall cascading. Then just behind is a long thin waterfall wanting to join the party. However, these are not the main attraction of the McLean Falls walk… It just so happens that the river here is extremely uneven so we are graced with waterfall after waterfall. But, how can we not take photos?! Surrounded by huge boulders covered in moss that probably used to be part of these waterfalls and layers upon layers of forest, this is an amazing snippet of nature right here!

Another pretty waterfall... Another pretty waterfall...
... And another one... ... And another one...
Robin climbs to the best views of a pretty waterfall Robin climbs to the best views of a pretty waterfall
And there's even a pretty leaf in front of a pretty waterfall And there's even a pretty leaf in front of a pretty waterfall

Mclean Falls

Following the track further up the river, climbing stairs as we go, we finally reach the grand finale. We are now faced with tiers and tiers of cascading falls leading up to one long drop waterfall. Even the water of the long drop waterfall catches more tiny tiers along the way, creating a smooth array of veils on the rock face. Simply stunning! No wonder this place is usually pretty busy.

In the dark of the cloudy early morning and the light rainfall making the vegetation super vivid, we feel pretty good about our decision to get here so early.

Tier climbing EXTRAORDINAIREs

We gingerly climb, trying to not slip on the wet moss, up the tiers alongside the lower cascades to get a better look at the long-drop waterfall. Robin makes it dry, while Laura now has her very own waterfall plunge pool in each shoe…

It’s worth the wet feet though to see the final section of McLean Falls tumbling into its own plunge pool. We get a closer look, better photos, and can call this a morning well spent!

Again, we gingerly climb back down the tiers and walk back to the McLean Falls car park, passing a few people along the way. (Good timing, ay?)

Just another mind-blowingly beautiful part of New Zealand

Oh Catlins, stop boring us with your stunning attractions…

The awesome thing about driving your home around New Zealand is that you have all your dry clean clothes to change into after climbing a waterfall… So Laura swaps her clothes and we hit the road for the second Catlins activity of the day: The Tautuku Estuary Boardwalk!

It’s a 10-minute drive down another gravel road, (got to love those gravel roads), until we reach the entrance to the Tautuku Estuary Boardwalk – another short walk with minimal effort to another stunning aspect of nature in the Catlins… Oh well, here we go again!

Walking in the unique environment of the Tuatuku Estuary Walking in the unique environment of the Tuatuku Estuary
The estuary is home to many little critters The estuary is home to many little critters
Reflections in the Tuatuku Estuary Reflections in the Tuatuku Estuary

cross-section of forest

Of course, we delve into another forest. This time, a section of the forest looks like it has been cross-sectioned for a science display where we can see the complete trees from treetop to the roots! We’re not sure if it is natural or a result of putting in this walking track, but seeing roots almost the size of the tree trunk itself is pretty darn cool. (To plant nerds like we have become in New Zealand. It will happen to you too if you’re here long enough!)

The Tautuku Estuary Boardwalk

The forest suddenly finishes to reveal a winding boardwalk out into the estuary. Long reeds and grass surrounds the boardwalk, growing out of thick mud. We keep an eye on the mud as we walk until Robin spots something scurry away!

We kneel down for a closer look at underneath the boardwalk is a bunch of crabs! Some crawling out of a hole in the mud, to then scurry away at any movement we make. One of the crabs even has a little baby. N’awww.

Anyway, we move to the end of the boardwalk which leads to a platform looking out over the estuary. An information board informs us that we could spot a rare fernbird… But we don’t. We’re happy with our crab-sighting, thank you very much! Looking over the calm water, we can see why this place is a favourite for sunrise and sunset.

Our last night in Southland…

As if we hadn’t seen enough water today, the rain begins to fall much heavier on our heads, which is our cue to head back to the Whistling Frog Resort.

Tomorrow, we are finally leaving this part of the Catlins. We’ve been here four days and still haven’t seen all there is to see! But time is of the essence, and we have one more day of Catlins exploration before we hit Dunedin tomorrow evening. Thus, leaving the Southland region that we have loved so much! So join us tomorrow for a trip to Nugget Point and Kaka Point!

Laura and Robin

A boardwalk through the Tautuku Estuary
A boardwalk through the Tautuku Estuary Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Well, that’s just splendid! Check out these stellar Catlins articles:

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See you tomorrow!

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