The teenager killed in a freak accident near Wanaka was courageous, sporty and loved the outdoors, his family say.

Dion Latta, 15, was left hanging upside down for three hours behind a waterfall after his leg became trapped between rocks, and died in hospital despite heroic attempts to save him.

In a statement, his parents Logan and Sue Latta and older brother Cody paid tribute to the young man who "lived life to the full".

"Dion was a lively, sporty young man from a rural background. He packed many things into his short life, which he lived to the full. He loved farming, fishing, hunting, rugby and running. It was his courage and determination that made him such a talented all-rounder," they said.

The family have been comforted by messages of support from throughout the country and John McGlashan College, which Dion attended.

Dion had been staying with friends in Wanaka before his accident in Motutapu Gorge on Sunday.

A funeral service will be held for Dion at the family farm near Palmerston, Otago, on Saturday afternoon.