Curtis Falls was a diminutive waterfall (we’re guessing it’s about 5-8m tall) that Julie and I had some extra time to explore while we were spending a couple nights in New Plymouth. We had a choice between visiting this waterfall or attempting the longer and more physically demanding trek to the much bigger Bells Falls. Unfortunately with the changing weather situation, we couldn’t take chances with Bells Falls and we ultimately decided on doing Curtis as it also gave us a chance at exploring the easterly face of Mt Taranaki. It would turn out that we had to go on quite a bit of a moderately strenuous hike to even see this waterfall, but we ultimately got more intimately connected with the native flora and terrain in this part of New Zealand.
We began our hike from a well-signed car park near the so-called Mountain House (see directions below). We noticed there was some signage about some kind of parasite called “Didymo”, which apparently could spread easily through New Zealand’s waterways. It was the first time that we saw something like this in our travels throughout the country, and we wondered if it was only an issue on the slopes of Mt Taranaki. We were also swarmed with small black flies that fortunately weren’t the biting types (like the reviled sandflies that we had encountered in much of Fiordland).Anyhow, the trail initially descended down to Curtis Creek before we then embarked on a pretty long and persistent climb up a combination of steps and slopes. Along this long stretch of bush tramping, we noticed some traps for stoats or other pests that preyed on endemic wildlife such as the flightless kiwis. The traps seemed to contain broken eggs with spilled yolk as bait. The trail then descended down into another gully before climbing once again. After the apex of the second climb, the trail then descended to a bouldery stream on which Curtis Falls resided. By this time, we had spent about 45 minutes of hiking from the trailhead to get here.
Next, Julie and I then had to do some awkward boulder scrambling alongside and within Curtis Creek. We could see Mt Taranaki barely and briefly showing itself through the thick cloud cover, and I’d imagine that on a finer day, this would be a particularly scenic part of the hike where the tip of Mt Taranaki would loom above us as we’d be struggling through the boulder field. After another 15 minutes of this boulder scramble with a couple of stream crossings, we’d finally see the three segmented parallel drops of Curtis Falls across its wide span further ahead of us. After a few minutes more of navigating through the boulder field, we ended the hike standing right up against the falls, where we closely examine the hard rock underlying the falls as well as the moss growing from the moisture of Curtis Creek.
After having our fill of Curtis Falls, we then had to go through the same obstacles that we endured to get here. That meant getting through the awkward boulder scramble, and then going up and down the trail twice before finally returning to the car park. Overall, we had spent about 2.5 hours away from the car. It seemed like we went through a lot of trouble for such a small waterfall, but we learned that there was a contrast between busy and popular attractions (usually for bigger waterfalls) and quiet and peaceful attractions (usually for the more obscure smaller waterfalls). Clearly, Curtis Falls belonged to the latter category.
I’d imagine that the trouble it took to do this hike would have been more offset by the scenic allure of Mt Taranaki under better weather conditions than when we did it, which wasn’t that bad but it would have been nice had the conical volcano shown itself.
We’ll describe the driving directions from New Plymouth since that was where we had based ourselves while exploring the Taranaki area. From New Plymouth, we headed south on SH3 for about 39km to its junction with Pembroke Rd in the town of Stratford (a couple of block north of the town centre). We then turned right onto Pembroke Rd and followed it for about 14.5km towards the car park right next to the Mountain House. This was where we started the hike. This drive took us around 40 minutes though I’m sure if we were staying in Stratford, it would be a significantly shorter drive.
In case you’re curious, in another 3.5km further up the slope from Curtis Falls, that was where Manganui Ski Field was.
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