About Mt Damper Falls
Mt Damper Falls (or Mount Damper Falls if we spell it out) was a waterfall that Julie and I only became aware of due to bad weather that postponed our ability to hike the Tongariro Crossing.
More specifically, we were flipping through one of the tourist brochures we had obtained from an i-Site earlier on in our New Zealand honeymoon trip and we came across this waterfall.
Not only did the falls look attractive, but we also learned that it was said to be 74m tall.
That prompted some to claim that Mt Damper Falls was the tallest waterfall in the North Island, but I think this was untrue due to the presence of Wairere Falls among others.
Nevertheless, it became our waterfalling excuse to explore the so-called Forgotten World Highway, especially as we took advantage of our day of schedule flexibility.
The Forgotten World Highway was kind of like an adventurous drive that allowed us to experience the conical Mt Taranaki, Waverley Beach, and even the impressive Raukawa Falls as well as this waterfall.
When we first did this drive and visited Mt Damper Falls in November 2004, it felt like we were one of the few people experiencing this quiet part of the North Island.
However, when we came back five years later, it seemed like the falls was no longer as obscure as it once was thanks to better signage and more sealed roads.
Mt Damper Falls Track Description
Our Mt Damper Falls hike began from a signed car park with some limited amount of parking space (see directions below).
Then, we passed by a sign that indicated that the target waterfall was a 20-minute walk (which we eventually figured out that they meant 20 minutes in each direction).
Beyond the stile, we promptly went onto a dirt track flanked by fences that appeared to cut through the boundaries of someone’s pastures where we could hear sheep all around us.
After about 7 minutes from the trailhead, the track eventually led us to a gated fence leading to a bridge crossing over a creek.
That gate was to keep the livestock from entering the reserve, where the scenery changed from rolling grassy pastures to bush lands filled with native foliage.
During this section of the track, we also noticed a signposted junction indicating that there was a primitive bush track that would lead to Te Rerepahupahu Falls (some 7 hours away).
I’d imagine only experienced bush walkers would be well-prepared enough to even embark on a long endeavour like that.
Eventually, the path descended towards the lookout with a direct view of Mt Damper Falls, but we also noticed a small side waterfall in a neighbouring gully.
In our initial visit here, there didn’t appear to be a way to get a cleaner look at the falls, but in our second visit, there was a more obvious use trail that led us to a more open look at this bonus waterfall.
The descending path also afforded us some panoramic river gorge views adding to the scenic allure of this waterfall.
Once we were at the trail’s end at the overlook platform, we could see how the tall plunge waterfall was swaying with the winds making Mt Damper Falls bend from time to time.
At the bottom of the falls, it looked like the falls briefly fanned out before adding to its plunge pool, which didn’t appear to be accessible.
When we finished the excursion both times we’ve done it, we had the trail and waterfall to ourselves.
So apparently, this place still remained a bit off the beaten path.
Anyways, the only things that changed over the years between our visits was that the trail appeared to be a bit more developed (more improved lookout platforms and steps) than it was the first time.
That said, the general track trajectory stayed the same.
Indeed, Mt Damper Falls was one dramatic instance where going with the flow yielded one of the best waterfalling experiences we’ve had in New Zealand.
Mt Damper Falls resides in the Mount Damper and Waitaanga Conservation Area near Stratford in the Taranaki Region. 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.
Even though we thought Mt Damper Falls seemed to be relatively out-of-the-way of most tourist itineraries, there were still many ways of getting to the trailhead.
We’ll describe all the different routes that did to access the falls.
Driving from New Plymouth to Mount Damper Falls
Perhaps the quickest way to get there involved going through a seemingly more well-signed and direct approach that didn’t require going on the Forgotten World Highway.
From the SH3 and SH3A junction in New Plymouth, the route went east on the SH3 for about 50km to the well-signed turnoff for Mt Damper Falls at Okau Rd.
Taking Okau Rd, it would lead about 26km to the car park for Mt Damper Falls.
Since most of this route was sealed, I’d say this would be the most preferred approach.
It took us about 90 minutes of driving between New Plymouth and the trailhead.
Driving from Taumarunui to Mount Damper Falls
In 2004, we approached the Mt Damper Falls from the east via Taumarunui so we’ll begin the next route description from there.
From the SH4 and SH43 junction, we went west on SH43 otherwise known as the Forgotten World Highway (which on our second visit here also became known as a “Heritage Trail”).
We persisted along the winding and sheep-sharing road for about 66km (it started to get unsealed after about 39km) until we saw the signposted turnoff on our right to go onto Moki Rd, which was unsealed on our first visit (sealed on our second visit).
Then, we followed along Moki Rd for about 6km (keeping right at the main junctions), then we kept right to go onto Mangapapa Rd.
Next, we followed Mangapapa Rd for another 9km before reaching the signposted car park for Mt Damper Falls.
Driving from Stratford to Mount Damper Falls
Finally, going in the other direction from Stratford , we headed east on SH43 through idyllic pastures and rolling green hills for about 83km.
Most of the road was sealed except for the last 7km or so just past the Moki Tunnel (or “Hobbit Hole”).
Then, we turned left onto Moki Rd and took it to Mangapapa Rd as described above before reaching the car park for the Mt Damper Falls.
According to my trip logs, this drive took us about 2 hours.
For some geographical context, New Plymouth was about 4.5 hours drive or 361km south of Auckland. Taumarunui was about 3.5 hours drive or 281km south of Auckland. Finally, Stratford was about 30 minutes drive or 40km south of New Plymouth.