This Top 10 Best New Zealand Waterfalls List is where we showcase our favourite waterfalls in the Land of the Long White Cloud, and show you how to visit each of them.
It’s not easy to put together a list like this because it’s completely subjective and limited to each person’s experience with the falls being named.
Nevertheless, we based this list on our own personal experiences, which encompasses a couple of long trips here (including our honeymoon). Moreover, this list is not permanent and will certainly change as we intend to make more trips to Middle-Earth to experience more of the country’s superb nature and of course its waterfalls.
While we struggled to pick just ten waterfalls out of our extensive library of experiences, we have a very competitive list where there’s bound to be waterfall snubs that deserve to be on the list. Just to give you an idea of how much we had to filter down a large list to just 10, we have a separate page showcasing all of the waterfalls we’ve been to and written about in a comprehensive New Zealand Waterfall Survey. We have also published a guidebook devoted to these waterfalls.
So without further ado, we present our Top 10 Best New Zealand Waterfalls in reverse order…
This waterfall nestled deep off the Forgotten World Highway pleasantly surprised Julie and I when we tried to buy ourselves time while waiting out the bad weather to do the Tongariro Crossing.
With a plunge of 74m, it is also one of the North Island’s tallest waterfalls.
Indeed, it felt like we had gone off the beaten path to find this gem. And we benefited from the breathtaking bush and white cliff scenery along with the serenity that one could only attain by straying away from the usual crush of the tourist-beaten paths.
On a return visit, things have changed and it appeared that it felt a little less off the beaten path than before, but it still retained its tranquility and relative wildness nonetheless.
And for that, we’ve given this falls its props by being on this list.
This picturesque 55m plunging waterfall whose Maori name was Waireinga was worth the detour between Hamilton and Raglan on the North Island.
We experienced the falls from a lookout at its brink, from an expansive upper overlook, and from a dock-like lookout at its base.
The well-maintained walking track to take in the falls in these various ways made it easy for us to access and enjoy.
Indeed, waterfalls like this remind us why New Zealand’s nature is world class.
Thus, it belonged on this list of Top 10 New Zealand Waterfalls.
What this waterfall lacked in height, it more than made up for in other ways.
Indeed, this underdog waterfall possessed sheer power. The frothing the mineral-rich powdery blue Waikato River dared jet boat tours to come closer while threatening to pull them in its undertow.
So Julie and I delighted to see such sheer force and character from its lookouts on both sides of the river.
Such an attraction exemplified how New Zealand surprised us in ways that we never saw coming prior to our visit.
I’d imagine it will likely have the same effect on you, too!
This skyscraping waterfall with a towering drop of 153m fell from such heights that we even spotted it from the Waikato Plains while driving between Matamata and the trailhead.
Both times we saw this majestic falls from up close, we gained the direct view at an overlook half-way up the mountain.
We could have tested ourselves by climbing to the top of the waterfall for regal views of the Waikato Plains expanse. However, we contented ourselves with the direct views as the falls did enough to impress us without going through the extra effort.
We could see that on our second trip here, this falls had grown in popularity over the years.
In any case, this waterfall certainly belongs on the list.
This wide, classical, rectangular-shaped year-round 30m waterfall threw a bit of mist even from its easily accessible lookout just 10 minutes from the road.
While most tourists come to this part of the Waikato Region to see the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, this waterfall further to the west put on a show of its own as one of North Island’s more reliable and picturesque waterfalls.
Adding to the scenic allure of this waterfall, we also checked out the eccentric Mangapohue Natural Bridge, which formed from a collapsed cave. We spotted rocks with fossils of ancient sea life on this side excursion.
So given all these things, we just had to put this one on our list.
Indeed, we think people miss out if they only stop at the Waitomo Caves. Don’t make that mistake!
Like What You See So Far?
As the first of two permanent waterfalls situated in the impossibly beautiful Milford Sound, I gave it special attention because it used to have walking access to its base. Unfortunately, they closed that path indefinitely just prior to our arrival in late 2004.
That said, this gorgeous 161m waterfall still benefited from bush-clad mountains serving as a backdrop when we viewed it during the popular Milford Sound Cruise.
So given its location, its size, and its overall wild and naturesque feel, we felt compelled to include this waterfall on its own in this list.
Plunging off a hanging valley between the Elephant and Lion Mountains deep in the Milford Sound, this 155m waterfall was the other of the permanent waterfalls we encountered while touring the mythical Milford Sound.
Unlike the look-but-don’t-touch experience of Bowen Falls, the cruises that we went on actually tried to drench people willing to stand outside the front of the boat as the nose of the vessel would go directly beneath its falling waters.
In addition to this waterfall, there were many others to be seen both named and unnamed along with the mind-blowing scenery and wildlife all around us.
Nevertheless, we were totally waterfall-saturated by the end of this waterfalling experience, and it was certainly memorable enough for us to include it on this top 10 list.
This giant 275m waterfall was one of Fiordland National Park’s better kept secrets.
When we first saw it back in 2004, it was known mostly to trampers setting out on the Hollyford Track or to those self-driving and willing to take the detour from the Milford Sound Highway.
Yet this waterfall epitomized the spectacular bush scenery nestled amongst majestic peaks so prevalent in this remote part of the Southern Alps.
Oh, and by the way, there was also a companion waterfall about half its size to add to the drama and awe of the scene.
So putting all these things together, this waterfall certainly belonged on the upper ranks of our Top 10 New Zealand Waterfalls list.
With a towering drop of 131m amidst the stunning alpine backdrop of the Arthur’s Pass section of the Southern Alps, it was certainly the star attraction of the rugged Arthur’s Pass National Park.
Given the various ways we managed to experience the falls (as we were able to get close enough to the base of the falls to feel its spray as well as get a nose-bleed view from across the valley), we found this falls to be very memorable.
Indeed, it was a no-brainer to include this mighty cataract in our regional Top 10 of Best New Zealand Waterfalls.
This gorgeous 580m waterfall was easily New Zealand’s most spectacular waterfall.
Given its remote location deep in the wild and beautiful Fiordland National Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage Area), this was one of many highlights of the famed Milford Track – said to be one of the finest walks in the world.
Julie and I certainly bent over backwards (including enduring lots of rain and persistent sandflies) to make a visit to this waterfall happen, and we didn’t regret it one bit.
In fact, this waterfall was so spectacular that it also made our World’s Top 10 List as well as topping our list of Top 10 New Zealand Waterfalls.