Washpen Falls, Canterbury

Off the Beaten Track: The Beauty of Washpen Falls, Canterbury

Washpen Falls are such a hidden beauty and is one of the best waterfall walks in Canterbury.  Unlike most walks around New Zealand, this is not looked after by the Department of Conservation. Instead, Washpen Falls in a private track that the local farmers have looked after, and allow us to access on their farmland.  I have to say, I’m glad they have, as this is such a gem.

I loved the story about how Washpen Falls got its name, so just have to share.  When the Europeans moved onto the land, they decided that the wool that they were going to sell back to England would sell better and fetch more money if it washed prior to being shorn.  So in the stream, now called Washpen Creek, they built the sheep pens and the poor sheep were “washed.” So now you have Washpen Creek and its beautiful Washpen Falls. Such a cute story!

If you are heading to the Methven Area for skiing at Mt Hutt, local jetboating adventures on the Rakaia Gorge or to relax at the luxury Terrace Downs Resort, then this is a great Canterbury walk to add to your must do list in Mid Canterbury.  It’s a lovely walk near Christchurch, so you could also pop out for a day trip and explore the region.

Highlights of Washpen Falls walk

  • Beautiful waterfall set in native bush
  • Cave
  • View over the Canterbury Plains at the Bluff Lookout
  • Stone Lake with a rowboat you can borrow
  • Outdoor bar and picnic area
  • Native trees and native birds
This article will cover:
View from Bluff Lookout from the Washpen Falls walking track, near Christchurch, Canterbury

How to get to Washpen Falls

This Canterbury Walk is located in the little settlement of Windwhistle, about an hour from Christchurch City or 20 minutes from Methven.  It is accurately located on Googlemaps and is signposted from Washpen Road.

The address for this walk is 590 Washpen Road.  Head down Washpen Road and turn right on the farming property.  Head straight all the way to the end of the track and there is parking on the grass, toilets in the building to your right (signposted) and the old rustic shed straight ahead of you is the “visitor centre.”  There are lots of old antique farm machines and equipment around, as well as historic photos of the farm from yesteryear.

Nathan and Kipton from Backyard Travel Family look down from the staircase at the beautiful Canterbury Waterfall that is Washpen Falls

How much does it cost to hike at Washpen Falls?

Since Washpen Falls is a private walk, there is a charge to access it, but let me tell you, it was well worth the cost.  The Washpen Falls walk costs $10 for an adult and $5 for a child. You can pay this via the honesty box in the rustic shack, aka, Visitor centre.  The track is extremely well maintained, has safety ropes in slippery sections and plenty of seats to rest on throughout the hike. We also loved that there were walking sticks available to use, included in this charge.  After a good rain, the ground can get a little slippery and these would be very useful.   

You can also pick up a copy of the Washpen Falls map and brochure as throughout the walk, you will find numbered reference points.  This brochure contains lots of interesting factsa about such things as the maori campsite, the large Rhyolite lava boulder and target circles in the canyon.  There seemed to be a few markers missing, but the kids did have fun hunting for them.

When we visited, there was a lovely man who I assume was the caretaker of the track who spoke to us, and had already walked the entire trail to check it was all okay.  This was before 10am on a Saturday morning. So that just shows the commitment they have to making sure you have an enjoyable experience.

Heading down through the paddock towards Washpen Falls, Canterbury.
Nathan from Backyard Travel Family stares up at Washpen Falls from his spot on the rocks

What is the Washpen Falls hike like?

Note: The walk starts to the right of the visitor building

I really loved this walk with the kids as it had a little bit of everything.  The track is clearly marked and starts heading uphill (moderately steep) through the forest.  You will walk amongst tall cliffs and rock formations that look like they are out of North America, past a cave/cavern and up to the Bluff Lookout.

The beautiful Bluff Lookout will show you amazing views over all of the Canterbury Plains, Rakaia River and out to the East Coast of New Zealand and Pacific Ocean.  They certainly are impressive and a great photo opportunity. Don’t worry, there is no more uphill after the lookout

From the viewpoint you will head down through the paddock and back into the forest.  Now is the time to get excited because at the base of the stairs you will find the main event – Washpen Falls.  It is nestled quietly in the native bush and quite a wee beauty crossing the wooden bridge. I felt like Washpen Falls was around 75% through the walk, so there isn’t too much to go after this. 

Head alongside Washpen Creek for your riverside walk, which is dark and moody and towards the last photostop – Stone Lake.  Quite unexpected, there is an outdoor venue here at Stone Lake. Long wooden tables to sit at, a bar area, all overlooking the cute lake.  Those wanting a rustic photo can row the small rowboat around the lake.  

Fun Fact:  In the Depression years they used to ice skate on the lake in winter and it was popular spot for swimming and boating in the summer. 

In terms of terrain, it was a well trodden track, with the only hazards being a bit of mud from the rain near the beginning of the trail.  Easily doable in running shoes as it is a forest track, compacted dirt and stairs etc. A few tree roots to navigate here and there but this is one that most children will manage

View from Washpen Falls waterfall walk, near Christchurch

How long will the Washpen Falls walk take?

The official site says to allow 2 hours and I agree that this is accurate.  With a 4 and 5 year old, and a baby on my back, with a number of stops for exploring, eating and photos, it took us just over 2 hours return.

Nathan from Backyard Travel Family feels the spray on his face while sitting on a rock close to Washpen Falls, Methven, Canterbury

Other things to do in Methven and Mid Canterbury

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Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 5 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

Backyard Travel Family New Zealand. Lets share these articles and spread the love

what you need to know


- 20 minutes drive from Methven
- 60 minutes drive from Christchurch
- 590 Washpen Road, Windwhistle, Canterbury

The track

- 2 hour loop track with stops
- Forest and dirt tracks, some stairs, rope handrail in one area, small sections of boardwalk
- Uphill easy to moderate to the lookout and downhill and easy after this
- 1 large and 1 small waterfall
- Cave, cavern, volcanic rock
- Lake and stream
- Outdoor bar and outdoor venue

Suitable for kids?

Babies: Will need to be carried in a carrier. Best place for a leg stretch and crawl around is at the lookout where there's a big paddock area. Waterfall area is small, narrow and very close to the water.

Toddlers/Preschoolers: Most preschoolers would be able to walk this as it is quite interesting, but there is a good section of uphill for the first half. Toddlers could walk small sections but I would bring a carrier for them.

5 years old+ could walk this with ease.


- Toilets in the carpark but none on the trail
- Visitor building in the carpark area
- Good picnic area about 10 minutes from the end with large wooden tables.
- Wooden seats around the track for resting or food breaks
- Walk is quite sheltered as it is in the bush, but would be windy and cold at the lookout if the day wasn't nice. (but this is only a small section)

What to bring

- Food and snacks as there is nowhere to purchase these
- Water
- A few warm layers
- Camera

Food options

- Terrace Downs High Country Resort: Cafe and Restaurant
- Small supermarket, cafes and restaurants in Methven, 20 minutes away or in Darfield (25 minutes way towards Christchurch)

Further information

Click the ? to be taken to the Washpen Falls website

What the critics thought

Is it finished already Mum? Can we go back again, and maybe find trolls in the cave? Do you think we could swim in the waterfall when it's hot? Can we bring Daddy when we come back? (So many questions haha!)
Backyard Travel Family / Your go to for practical advice for active families travelling around New Zealand
4 year old Firecracker
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