Mangatini Falls was definitely our favourite waterfall of the ones that we didn’t get to see on our first trip to New Zealand in 2004 but we were able to see on our second go in 2009-2010. While this 25m waterfall was definitely pleasant to look at with its satisfying rectangular shape and high flow, we remembered this hike most for the Charming Creek Walkway. This track basically had us walking through tunnels while following an old coal mining railway (definitely attesting to the coal mining history of the area). Practically the whole time, we were meandering amidst the gorge all the while listening to the sound of rushing water on the Ngakawau River throughout the hike. And for a bit of a thrill factor, there was even a hair-raising swinging bridge crossing over Ngakawau River just before the falls itself.
This hike almost didn’t happen for us because we had originally intended to try the hike to the falls on the day we arrived in Westport. Unfortunately, torrential rains had caused floods and we decided not to risk it on this track at the time. So we waited for the next day, and even though much of the track was muddy, we certainly didn’t regret that decision as the weather improved dramatically (with the resulting improvement in experience, I’m sure).
Our hike began from a signed car park for the Historic Charming Creek Walkway (see directions below). Following the signs (which predicted it would be an hour walk to get to Mangatini Falls), we promptly walked along the Charming Creek Walkway, where we immediately started to follow along old railroad tracks that were undoubtedly utilized during the areas earlier coal mining days. That meant the walking track was pretty wide with gentle grade for what turned out to be just about the entire walk. In any case, the scenery early on was of the mouth of the Ngakawau River where there also seemed to be some native flora blooming red during our visit.
Given the torrential rains from the day before, there were still very muddy stretches, especially after we had crossed a bridge and entered an area with some ruins and signage explaining the origins of the once-private railway that we were following. After passing by a railway siding (where there was apparently an alternate track that we didn’t take) as well as some old coal mining carts left behind, we then proceeded to walk along the south side of the Ngakawau River as we were blowing past some rockfall zones (where signs urged us not to stop), tunnels, and bridges over some tributaries.
After nearly an hour of hiking from the start we encountered a surprising side waterfall that Julie mistakenly thought was Mangatini Falls at first. This particular waterfall was fairly attractive in its own right, but we would learn that it had nothing on the real Mangatini Falls. The view from the bridge crossing its tributary was mostly blocked by rocks and overgrowth so I actually did a little bit of a scramble to get a somewhat more fuller view of the cascade that had split on its way down.
Beyond this waterfall, where we spent at least 15 minutes or so just lingering and taking photos, we then encountered a long swinging bridge suspended high above the Ngakawau River Gorge. I could envision how there could easily be a queue on this bridge as there was only room for people to go in one direction at a time, and there was a limit on the number of people on the bridge (I forgot how many). Fortunately for Julie and I, we were almost completely alone by the time we got to this bridge so we were able to cross without difficulty other than the natural butterflies we would get from being this high off the ground while bouncing on the swinging bridge.
On the other side of the long bridge, we then reached a lookout before another tunnel where we got the frontal look at Mangatini Falls that you see pictured at the top of this page. Even though we could have kept going on the Charming Creek Walkway through that tunnel, this was our turnaround point. As for the viewing experience at the falls, we were getting some pretty harsh sidelighting just as the sun was starting to break through the patchy clouds that were intermittently revealing then concealing the bright morning sun. So that created some extra glare as the waterfall had high enough volume to cause a lot of spray that ultimately amplified the sun’s light.
As we were leaving the falls, we had to get back through the swinging bridge again, but that was when we started to encounter at least one group of hikers making it across so we had to be a little patient before we could quickly make our way back to the trailhead. In fact, despite such crappy conditions the day before, it seemed like this excursion was very popular. After all, when we started the hike, we were the only ones parked at the trailhead. However, when we returned nearly 2.5 hours later, it was completely full!
From the SH67/SH6 junction in Westport (91km north of Greymouth), we drove north on SH67 for about 39km towards the town of Hector (or Ngakawau). Just before getting to the bridge over the Ngakawau River, we turned right onto Tyler Rd (noting that this road was also signposted for the Historic Charming Creek Walkway). Then, we followed Tyler Rd to the car park just beyond some old railroad tracks where the road seemed to be really beat up.
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