Mt Damper Falls (or Mount Damper Falls if we spell it out) was a waterfall that Julie and I only became aware of when we were flipping through one of the tourist brochures we had obtained from an i-Site earlier on in the trip. Not only did the falls look attractive, but we also learned that it was said to be 74m tall (prompting some to claim that it was the tallest waterfall in the North Island; which I think was untrue due to Wairere Falls among others), and that it was the waterfalling excuse for us to explore the so-called Forgotten World Highway. Up until then, we had never anticipated seeing this waterfall and so we did not include it in our trip planning.
However, as we were waiting patiently for the weather to clear on a day we were supposed to do the Tongariro Crossing tramp, that was when we took advantage of our scheduling flexibility to spontaneously do the long full-day loop drive that encompassed the so-called Forgotten World Highway, the conical Mt Taranaki, Waverley Beach, and even the impressive Raukawa Falls as well as this waterfall. After our initial visit here in November 2004, Julie and I made a return trip to the falls five years later in January 2010, when it appeared that the falls was no longer as obscure as it once was (thanks to better signage and more sealed roads).
We would end up arriving at the trailhead for Mt Damper Falls (see directions below), where there was one other car parked at the trailhead in this seemingly out-of-the-way place. That said, it would turn out that Julie and I were on this trail alone. We began by going by a sign that indicated that Mt Damper Falls was a 20-minute walk (which we eventually figured out that they meant 20 minutes in each direction), and we promptly went onto a dirt track flanked by fences that appeared to cut through the boundaries of someone's pastures where we could hear sheep all around us.
After about 7 minutes from the trailhead, the track eventually led us to a gated fence leading to a bridge crossing over a creek. That gate was to keep the livestock from entering the reserve, where the scenery changed from rolling grassy pastures to bush lands filled with native foliage. During this section of the track, we also noticed a signposted junction indicating that there was a primitive bush track that would lead to Te Rerepahupahu Falls (some 7 hours away). I'd imagine only experienced bush walkers would be well-prepared enough to even embark on a long endeavour like that.
Eventually, the path descended towards the lookout with a direct view of Mt Damper Falls, but we also noticed a small side waterfall in a neighbouring gully. In our initial visit here, there didn't appear to be a way to get a cleaner look at the falls, but in our second visit, there was a more obvious use trail that led us to a more open look at this bonus waterfall. The descending path also afforded us some panoramic river gorge views adding to the scenic allure of this waterfall.
Once we were at the trail's end at the overlook platform, we could see how the tall plunge waterfall was swaying with the winds making Mt Damper Falls bend from time to time. At the bottom of the falls, it looked like the falls briefly fanned out before adding to its plunge pool, which didn't appear to be accessible. It seemed like the only things that changed regarding the scenery at this falls between our first and second visits was that the trail appeared to be a bit more developed (more improved lookout platforms and steps) than it was the first time even though the general track trajectory stayed the same. Indeed, Mt Damper Falls was one dramatic instance where letting Nature dictate the pace of change (even if it seemed like it didn't change much over five years) was reassuring in the sense that it was certainly the way it should be.
Even though we thought Mt Damper Falls seemed to be relatively out-of-the-way of most tourist itineraries, there were still many ways of getting to the trailhead. We'll describe all the different routes we managed to take to access the falls.
Perhaps the quickest way to get there involved going through a seemingly more well-signed and direct approach that didn't require going on the Forgotten World Highway. From the SH3 and SH3A junction in New Plymouth (4.5 hours drive or 361km south of Auckland), the route went east on the SH3 for about 50km to the well-signed turnoff for Mt Damper Falls at Okau Rd. Taking Okau Rd, it would lead about 26km to the car park for Mt Damper Falls. Since most of this route was sealed, I'd say this would be the most preferred approach, and it took us about 90 minutes of driving between New Plymouth and the trailhead.
In 2004, we approached the falls from the east via Taumarunui (from Tongariro National Park; Taumarunui was about 3.5 hours drive or 281km south of Auckland) so we'll begin the next route description from there. From the SH4 and SH43 junction, we went west on SH43 otherwise known as the Forgotten World Highway (which on our second visit here also became known as a "Heritage Trail"). We persisted along the winding and sheep-sharing road for about 66km (it started to get unsealed after about 39km) until we saw the signposted turnoff on our right to go onto Moki Rd, which was unsealed on our first visit (sealed on our second visit). We followed along Moki Rd for about 6km (keeping right at the main junctions), then we kept right to go onto Mangapapa Rd. We followed Mangapapa Rd for another 9km before reaching the signposted car park for Mt Damper Falls.
Finally, going in the other direction from Stratford (30 minutes drive or 40km south of New Plymouth), we headed east on SH43 through idyllic pastures and rolling green hills for about 83km. Most of the road was sealed except for the last 7km or so just past the Moki Tunnel (or "Hobbit Hole"). Then, we turned left onto Moki Rd and took it to Mangapapa Rd as described above before reaching the car park for the falls. According to my trip logs, this drive took us about 2 hours.
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