Waitonga Falls

Tongariro National Park / Ruapehu District / near Ohakune, Manawatu-Wanganui Region (North Island), New Zealand

Rating: 3     Difficulty: 3
Waitonga Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Waitonga Falls was a waterfall that attracted attention to Julie and I during our pre-trip planning when we learned that it was said to be the tallest waterfall in Tongariro National Park. Upon learning that Mangawhero Falls was also nearby, we made it a point to make the detour to Ohakune and see what the waterfall was like, especially considering that we hadn't seen any photos of it prior to our visit. And as you can see from the photo above, our exploration was well rewarded when we finally made it to this twisting two-tiered 39m falls amidst the rugged volcanic slopes of Mt Ruapehu.

Our excursion to Waitonga Falls began from a well-signed car park right off of Ohakune Mountain Road. According to the sign here, the waterfall walk was supposed to be 80 minutes return. The track was also shared with the Round the Mountain Track, which appeared to be a multi-day tramp around Mt Ruapehu with huts strategically placed along the way for overnighting. The hiking path then descended towards a small suspension bridge where signs around the area warned that we were in a lahar zone. Lahars were mud flows induced by volcanic eruptions that rapidly melted any snow, and it attested to the active nature of Mt Ruapehu.

A section of the switchbacks where the elongated steps were getting a little steeper, but was still quite easy to manage After the suspended bridge, we hiked on conventional dirt track that was flanked by interesting native ferns, shrubs, and trees. The track undulated up and down along a mix of more dirt track as well as some wooden boardwalks. Along the way, we encountered a signposted junction for the Old Blythe Track, which we didn't pursue. There was also a sign pointing the way to the falls so that helped to ensure that we wouldn't get lost. Eventually after 20 minutes from the trailhead, the bush track started to rise then give way to an open scenic bog area where a boardwalk traversed the mushy terrain. For some reason, this section reminded me of the Dead Marshes in the Lord of the Rings movie as there were standing pools amidst the bog that created an otherworldly quality about it. That said, according to the DVD, the actual location of the Dead Marshes was some remote area in the South Island.

When we finished the traverse of the scenic bog, the track then descended back into a more forested terrain along a series of elongated descending steps comprising a pair of long switchbacks. It was in this section that we finally started to see part of Waitonga Falls between the trees. At the tip of the second switchback, we noticed there appeared to be an informal trail of use seemingly leading closer to the falls, but we decided to explore this spur path later. So we decided to keep going on the main track, which ultimately bottomed out by the Waitonga Stream. Looking further upstream, we could see the twisting Waitonga Falls beckoning us to come closer, but that would require a bit of a stream scramble.

Julie and I ultimately made it up to where we were right next to a lighter-flowing mossy cascade that flowed just before Waitonga Falls. I suppose we could have gone even closer than where we were at, and perhaps we might have even been able to get behind the lower plunge of the falls if we were so inclined (like a couple of young guys just do when we got there). But further scrambling meant more navigating through large boulders as well as dealing with the relatively fast flow of the creek. When we returned to the elongated switchbacking stair-stepped path, we made good on our desire to explore that informal path for a different view of the falls.

This path was a little bit iffy because it was overgrown with a couple of pretty slippery spots with some dropoff exposure, but when we eventually got to the end, we were able to get a pretty unobstructed angled view of Waitonga Falls as well as the companion waterfall that we stopped behind further downstream. The sun had just started to momentarily break through the cloud cover when we got there at around midday so we were somewhat looking against the sun from this unsanctioned viewing spot.

Anyways, when all was said and done, we ended up spending nearly 2 hours away from the car. So we decided to give this waterfall a 3 in its difficulty rating to reflect this.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

This was the open scenic bog on the Waitonga Falls Track that reminded me of the Dead Marshes in the Lord of the Rings' first movie (though this part of the hike wasn't the actual filming location)This was the open scenic bog on the Waitonga Falls Track that reminded me of the Dead Marshes in the Lord of the Rings' first movie (though this part of the hike wasn't the actual filming location)
This was as far upstream as we went, which was besides this attractive cascade fronting Waitonga FallsThis was as far upstream as we went, which was besides this attractive cascade fronting Waitonga Falls
Even though Waitonga Falls was on the southwestern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, the real big draw of Tongariro National Park was the Tongariro Crossing (shown here near the Red Crater summit)Even though Waitonga Falls was on the southwestern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, the real big draw of Tongariro National Park was the Tongariro Crossing (shown here near the Red Crater summit)
The signposted car park besides Ohakune Mountain Road for Waitonga FallsThe signposted car park besides Ohakune Mountain Road for the falls (as well as the Round the Mountain Track)

Julie crossing over the suspension bridge in the lahar zoneJulie crossing over the suspension bridge in the lahar zone

Signpost warning of the lahar zone in the Whangaehu RiverSignpost warning of the lahar zone in the Whangaehu River

Julie surrounded by native bush as we got further into the Waitonga Falls TrackJulie surrounded by native bush as we got further into the track

The Waitonga Falls Track was a mix of conventional dirt track as well as some developed sections like this to help reduce the difficulty of the walkThe track was a mix of conventional dirt track as well as some developed sections like this to help reduce the difficulty of the walk

Signposted junction with the Round the Mountain TrackSignposted junction with the Round the Mountain Track

Julie on the boardwalk through the open scenic bogJulie on the boardwalk through the open scenic bog

Julie now beyond the scenic bog and descending the gently sloping elongated steps of a pair of switchbacks as we were getting quite close to Waitonga FallsJulie now beyond the scenic bog and descending the gently sloping elongated steps of a pair of switchbacks as we were getting quite close to the falls

Julie at the second switchback, where we were finally able to start seeing parts of Waitonga FallsJulie at the second switchback, where we were finally able to start seeing parts of Waitonga Falls

Looking upstream towards Waitonga Falls from where the track met the streamLooking upstream towards the falls from where the track met the stream

Scrambling upstream to get a closer look at Waitonga FallsScrambling upstream to get a closer look at the falls

Waitonga Falls from a different spot at the end of that iffy scramble from the second switchbackWaitonga Falls from a different spot at the end of that iffy scramble from the second switchback

Looking down towards a companion cascade that was probably the one where we stopped at when we tried to get closer to the base of Waitonga FallsLooking down towards a companion cascade that was probably the one where we stopped at when we tried to get closer to the base of Waitonga Falls


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS




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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

The car park for Waitonga Falls was about 1.4km before the car park for Mangawhero Falls from Ohakune along the Ohakune Mountain Road. See that page for details on getting to Ohakune.

For reference, we drove from Turangi to Ohakune via the Desert Rd (SH1) to Waiouru, then on the SH49 to Ohakune. This drive was about 94km long. Turangi was about 50km south of Taupo. Taupo was nearly 3.5 hours drive (278km) south of Auckland. In the other direction, Ohakune was about 100km north of Wanganui.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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RELATED PAGES



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