Sutherland Falls

Sutherland Falls, New Zealand
Sutherland Falls / Joel Krauska, Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 44.8001 S 167.7311 E
No:192        (list of all attractions)
Values:Geology, Visual
Address:Australia and Oceania, New Zealand, South Island, Southland, stream between Browne Lake and Doubtful Sound
Height:580 m, tallest drop - 270 m
Average width:27 m?

The most impressive falls in New Zealand are Sutherland Falls. Technically there are higher falls (836 m tall Browne Falls) or more powerful ones (Huka Falls) but Sutherland Falls provide the thrill - noise, quake of soil and magnificent sight. There are few waterfalls in the world which are more impressive.

Discovery of Donald Sutherland and John Mackay

First settler in the beautiful Milford Sound was adventurer, soldier and sailor Donald Sutherland. He looked for silent and calm life here and enjoyed walking in the beautiful valleys of Fiordland, looking for gold and greenstone.

One day arrived his old friend John Mackay and they both together went to explore unexplored valleys south-west from Milford Sound.

Sutherland Falls, New Zealand
Sutherland Falls / Fred Hsu, Flickr. CC BY 2.0

After walking for three days on November 10, 1880 they were the first white people to see the giant falls - the distant roar of falling water was heard already in the morning of the day. Both men were hugely impressed and considered that falls are more than one kilometer high. (1)

Surveyors came here in 1888 and measured the falls - they were "just" 580 m tall. Milford Track opened in the same year and first tourists came to see the falls. This has continued since then - falls are available by 3 km long track from Quintin Public Shelter at Milford Track.

Giant falls

Sutherland Falls originate from Lake Quill - comparatively large lake fed by glaciers around it. Arthur River leaves the lake and, after falling down along the Sutherland Falls, continues up to the Milford Sound.

Lower cascade of Sutherland Falls, New Zealand
Lower cascade of Sutherland Falls / Fred Hsu, Flickr. CC BY 2.0

The height of waterfall is that large that even the climatic zones change along it. Above, around the lake, are alpine meadows but after some seconds water rushes down in a temperate rainforest.

Falls have three cascades. Height of each step (from above) is: 229 m, 248 m, 103 m (2). Waterfall falls by 580 m over the horizontal distance of 480 m - thus the mean angle is 56°.

Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland, 1888 / From Hero Stories of New Zealand, CC BY-SA 3.0

Average volume of water in it: 11 m³ per second, maximum recorded volume - 142 m³ per second, what still is 17 times less than in Niagara.

The force of the falling water creates constant winds and fog, making the base of falls constantly damp and dark. In dry weather though it is possible to go behind the last cascade. This is amazing experience - one gets wet instantly, winds are that fierce that it is hard to breathe.


See Sutherland Falls on the map of New Zealand!


  1. James Cowan, Hero Stories of New Zealand, 1935. Accessed on January 15, 2011
  2. Bryan Swan & Dean Goss, World Waterfall Database, Sutherland Falls. Accessed on January 15, 2011

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