Dawson Falls

Egmont National Park, North Island, New Zealand

About Dawson Falls


Hiking Distance: 500m round trip
Suggested Time: 20 minutes

Date first visited: 2004-11-18
Date last visited: 2010-01-06

Waterfall Latitude: -39.32499
Waterfall Longitude: 174.10717

Dawson Falls was our convenient waterfalling excuse to explore more of the conical Mt Tarnaki – the centerpiece of Egmont National Park.

The funny thing about this classically-shaped volcano was that it actually doubled as the iconic Japanese volcano Mt Fuji in the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai.

Dawson_Falls_005_11172004 - Dawson Falls
Dawson Falls

In any case, the 16m waterfall appeared as a double-barreled drop that reminded me a lot like a smaller version of Havasu Falls in Arizona (without the colors).

However, on a later visit five years later, the waterfall looked different as it barely had its second parallel drop flowing.

The scenic rating was updated to account for this latest observation, which made it stand out less than our initial impressions.

Accessing Dawson Falls

From the car park of the Egmont National Park Dawson Falls Visitor Centre on the southeastern slopes of Mt Taranaki (see directions below), we walked back along the narrow road towards the signposted Kapuni Loop Trailhead.

Dawson_Falls_002_11172004 - Descending the short track to the base of Dawson Falls
Descending the short track to the base of Dawson Falls

It didn’t look like there was sufficient room to park the car at this trailhead, and I wondered if we were allowed to park here in the first place.

So that was what necessitated the walk along the road.

Once we were on the track, we immediately descended into the lush native bush towards a fork.

At first, we went right at the fork, which took us down to a somewhat contextual view of the falls spilling over the bush.

Dawson_Falls_003_11172004 - Signposted junction after the initial descent en route to Dawson Falls
Signposted junction after the initial descent en route to Dawson Falls

We could have continued on the trail then looped back to the base of the falls.

But instead, we opted to go back up to the fork, then continue to down the shadowy steps leading directly down to the base of Dawson Falls.

From down here, it was a little misty on our first visit in November 2004, which had a bit of volume, which caused me some trouble to take photos from this close.

As we tried to get a little further away for a better photo, we had to be careful of the slippery rocks as we were scrambling around the wet area.

Dawson_Falls_021_01052010 - Making it down to the base of Dawson Falls on our visit in January 2010
Making it down to the base of Dawson Falls on our visit in January 2010

When we came back here in January 2010, the photographing difficulties weren’t as prevalent as it seemed to have significantly lower volume than before.

With the lower volume, Dawson Falls looked like an unbalanced waterfall as the size of each of the segments appeared to have swapped places from when we first saw it back in November 2004.

I guess it just showed us how Nature runs by her own rules, and what we had previously thought would be “normal” was really just a snapshot of Nature being itself at any given moment when left to its own devices.

Even though we spent less than 30 minutes total away from the car, we did have the option of extending our hike towards Wilkies Pools, the Enchanted Track, or other tracks that go up and around Mt Taranaki.

Dawson_Falls_024_11172004 - This was how the base of Dawson Falls looked like on our first visit back in November 2004. Notice how the sizes of the segments seemed to have traded places over the years
This was how the base of Dawson Falls looked like on our first visit back in November 2004. Notice how the sizes of the segments seemed to have traded places over the years

That said, we didn’t do them so we can’t say more about those options.

Authorities

Dawson Falls resides in Egmont National Park near Stratford in the Taranaki region of North Island, New Zealand. It is administered under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Surf_Highway_001_01052010 - Looking through some of the low clouds hovering around the southern slopes of Mt Taranaki from the Surf Highway on a later visit in January 2010
Dawson_Falls_001_01052010 - At the trailhead for Dawson Falls on our visit in January 2010
Dawson_Falls_002_01052010 - Descending the steps leading down to the base of Dawson Falls as seen in January 2010
Dawson_Falls_018_01052010 - Looking upstream at Dawson Falls in its single-barreled state in January 2010
New_Plymouth_002_01062010 - This lit up waterfall was in Puka Park during the Festival of Lights in New Plymouth, which Julie and I thought was a magical family friendly evening on this festive evening in early January 2010
Mt_Taranaki_007_11172004 - During the drive up Manaia Rd, we could see parts of the snowy peak of Mt Taranaki in November 2004
Dawson_Falls_001_11172004 - The signpost for the Kapuni Loop Track as seen in November 2004. The rest of the photos in this photo gallery were taken on this day
Dawson_Falls_009_11172004 - Zoomed in look at Dawson Falls from the more distant view on the Kapuni Loop as seen in November 2004
Dawson_Falls_013_11172004 - Profile view of Dawson Falls as we were approaching its base back in November 2004
Dawson_Falls_018_11172004 - A misty up-close view of Dawson Falls seen back in November 2004

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To reach Dawson Falls from the SH3 and SH43 junction in the heart of Stratford, we went south on SH3 for about 1km, then turned right onto Celia St.

We followed Celia St (which then became Opunake Rd) for about 14km.

Stratford_002_11172004 - In our first visit to Dawson Falls in November 2004, we drove from Stratford directly to the falls, where we got these partial views of the snow-capped Mt Taranaki along Opunake Rd
In our first visit to Dawson Falls in November 2004, we drove from Stratford directly to the falls, where we got these partial views of the snow-capped Mt Taranaki along Opunake Rd

Then we turned right at the intersection with Manaia Rd to go onto Manaia Rd, and we followed this road up the mountain to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre after about 9km.

We had to be careful on this section of Manaia Rd because it was narrow (like about 1.5 lanes) with some blind turns and heavy bush cover.

There were other ways to get to Manaia Rd from other rural streets and roads.

However, if you happened to be on the Surf Highway (SH45), Manaia Rd also junctions with SH45 at the township of Manaia.

Mt_Taranaki_005_11172004 - This was the narrow Manaia Rd as we made our way up to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre
This was the narrow Manaia Rd as we made our way up to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre

It would be about 19km between Manaia and the Opunake Rd/Manaia Rd intersection.

Finally for some context, Stratford was about 30 minutes (40km) south of New Plymouth or 4 hours drive (312km) north of Wellington. New Plymouth was 4.5 hours drive or 361km south of Auckland.

Bottom up sweep of the falls viewed from just downstream of its base

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Tagged with: taranaki, egmont, stratford, new plymouth, manaia, opunake, surf highway, north island, new zealand, waterfall



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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