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: 174.10542

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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.

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).

Dawson_Falls_024_11172004 - Dawson Falls
Dawson Falls

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

The scenic rating we put up accounted for this latest observation.

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.

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.

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

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

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. This meant I had some trouble taking photos from this close.

When 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 (yielding the photo you see at the top of this page).

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.

However, it looked like an unbalanced waterfall as the lone thick column (now the left column instead of the right column) left only a trickle for the right column (formerly the larger column from back in 2004).

Dawson_Falls_021_01052010 - How Dawson Falls looked on our second visit in 2010
How Dawson Falls looked on our second visit in 2010

I guess it just showed us how Nature runs by her own rules. 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 our hiking only took less than 30 minutes total (it was only 5 minutes walk from the trailhead to the falls), 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.

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


Dawson Falls 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
Stratford_002_11172004 - In our first visit to Dawson Falls, we drove from Stratford directly to the falls, where we got these partial views of the snow-capped Mt Taranaki along Opunake Rd
Mt_Taranaki_005_11172004 - This was the narrow Manaia Rd as we made our way up to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre
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 telling us that it was only 5 minutes walk to a pair of views of Dawson Falls
Dawson_Falls_002_11172004 - The track was wet and puddly when we first did the hike in November 2004
Dawson_Falls_005_11172004 - Dawson Falls viewed from further away on the Kapuni Loop
Dawson_Falls_009_11172004 - Closer look at Dawson Falls from the more distant view on the Kapuni Loop
Dawson_Falls_002_01052010 - Descending the steps leading down to the base of Dawson Falls as seen in January 2010
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
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


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. 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. 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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