Getting off the beaten track: Secret walks and waterfalls of the Wakatipu

Written by: Stephanie Johnstone on 12th May 2017

Waterfall Circle In Milford Sound2


Got a fetish for waterfalls?

Or perhaps you prefer to take your walking without the crowds. While Queenstown is not short of world-famous walks, there are plenty of options for finding secret spots and getting off the beaten track.

If there were such a thing as waterfall-spotters, the South Island would be their Mecca. With extraordinary annual rainfall, the mighty Fiordland National Park and its most famous hotspot, Milford Sound, is quite literally, dripping with waterfalls. Westland’s Tai Poutini National Park can receive 6 – 8 metres of rainfall per year. Perfect conditions for waterfalls. In Queenstown, the climate is dryer, so waterfalls are harder to find. But they are here; you just have to know where to look.

Off the beaten track

Lower Wye Creek Track: 4 hours return

Most rock climbers know about this steep track at the base of The Remarkables mountain range. But this track is also a joy for walkers and trampers. The steep route follows an irrigation pipeline to a rocky bluff before ducking into the beech forest and emerging beside the Lower Wye Creek basin stream. Most of this walk is steep, so it’s better suited to those with a good fitness level.

Wye Creek Waterfall

Lake Alta Track: 1 hour 30 minutes return

Not many people know that Lake Alta exists. Set at the top of The Remarkables skifield, the glacier lake is deserted during summer and frozen and covered in snow in winter. If you want to get away from the crowds, we highly recommend this rewarding 45-minute walk to the lake. Start from behind The Remarkables ski base station for a fairly steep climb over rocky terrain. You will pass over wetlands before following a marked trail leading to the lake.

You may not have spotted it while skiing, but when the snow has melted Lake Alta is a beautiful walk.

Lake Alta: a good spot to swim over summer!

Mt Crichton Loop Track: 2 - 3 Hours

Not really a secret, but there’s still something special about this walk most commonly known as ‘Sam Summer’s. Starting from the Glenorchy Road about 12 km's out of Queenstown, the walk takes you past a creek, a waterfall, beech and manuka forest and a landscape that bears the scars of gold mining. A poignant reminder of the gold mining days is the abandoned hut of Sam Summer. Around 70 years old, this old ruin is a direct link to Queenstown’s gold rush past. There are still some old tools and relics lying around the hut once used by Sam in his hopeful quest for riches.

Sam Summer's Hut can be found on the Mt Crichton loop track

The wonder of Waterfalls

Lake Face Creek Falls

Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

You’ll need a little bit of insider knowledge to spot this secret waterfall. There is no official track to the waterfall, and it’s not marked on any local maps. You’ll find it located on the eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu, on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road, near Mt Creighton. There is an unofficial track leading to the waterfall base and if you keep an eye out you will see the top of the waterfall from the road.

LAKE FACE CREEK FALLS: the hidden waterfall

Two Mile Creek Falls

Sunshine Bay Walk

An easy walk that starts at the One Mile Roundabout at Fernhill or the Sunshine Bay jetty. Enjoy lake views, native bush and the Sunshine Bay boat ramp and jetty. Along the way, a side track leads to an 8-m waterfall at Two Mile Creek Falls.

Sawpit Gully Falls


A great excuse to soak up the beautiful sights of Arrowtown, the Arrow River and take in a waterfall along the way. From Bush Creek, follow the Arrow River and the old irrigation pipeline. After 20 minutes, look out for the Sawpit Gully stream as it cascades down a picturesque waterfall. An ideal spot for a picnic lunch.

Sawpit Gully Falls


Roaring Meg Power Station Waterfall

Kawarau Gorge

Roaring Meg is a waterfall that is both stunning and fascinating. On the way to Cromwell, just before the Goldfields Mining Centre, you’ll notice a rushing body of water pouring into the Kawarau River. This is Roaring Meg, and today is part of the Roaring Meg Hydro Scheme. But back in the gold rush days, the name Roaring Meg meant something quite different. During the bawdy days of the gold rush, Roaring Meg was one of the more high-spirited and fun-loving ‘ladies of the night’.  The story goes that during a journey through the Kawarau Gorge, Meg made such a fuss about crossing the stream that the party named it after her. Her travelling companion made less of a fuss, so the next stream was named after her – ‘Gentle Annie’. Or so they say. The waterfall is located directly by the road with plenty of parking.

The blue, blue waters of the gorge

Author: Stephanie Johnstone

Stephanie Johnstone