Mt Damper Falls

Stratford District, North Island, New Zealand

About Mt Damper Falls


Hiking Distance: 2km round trip
Suggested Time: 40 minutes

Date first visited: 2004-11-18
Date last visited: 2010-01-07

Waterfall Latitude: -38.91977
Waterfall Longitude: 174.7883

Mt Damper Falls (or Mount Damper Falls if we spell it out) was a waterfall that Julie and I only became aware of when we were flipping through one of the tourist brochures we had obtained from an i-Site earlier on in the trip.

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 this was the tallest waterfall in the North Island, which I think was untrue due to Wairere Falls among others.

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Mt Damper Falls

Nevertheless, it became our waterfalling excuse to explore the so-called Forgotten World Highway. Up until then, we had never anticipated seeing this waterfall and so we did not include it in our trip planning.

However, as we were waiting patiently for the weather to clear on a day we were supposed to do the Tongariro Crossing tramp, that was when we took advantage of our scheduling flexibility to spontaneously do the long full-day loop drive.

The day ultimately encompassed the so-called Forgotten World Highway, the conical Mt Taranaki, Waverley Beach, and even the impressive Raukawa Falls as well as this waterfall.

After our initial visit here in November 2004, Julie and I made a return trip to the falls five years later in January 2010.

In that latter trip, it appeared that the falls was no longer as obscure as it once was (thanks to better signage and more sealed roads).

Mt Damper Falls Track

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Stile at the Mt Damper Falls Track start

We would end up arriving at the trailhead for Mt Damper Falls (see directions below), where there was one other car parked at the trailhead in this seemingly out-of-the-way place.

We began by passing by a sign that indicated that Mt Damper Falls was a 20-minute walk (which we eventually figured out that they meant 20 minutes in each direction).

We then 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.

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The gated bridge marking the change between pastures and native bush lands

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.

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Partial view of Mt Damper Falls near the main overlook

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.

Authorities

Mt Damper 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.

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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 we managed to take to access the 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 (4.5 hours drive or 361km south of Auckland), 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, and it took us about 90 minutes of driving between New Plymouth and the trailhead.

In 2004, we approached the falls from the east via Taumarunui (from Tongariro National Park; Taumarunui was about 3.5 hours drive or 281km south of Auckland) 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). We followed along Moki Rd for about 6km (keeping right at the main junctions), then we kept right to go onto Mangapapa Rd. We followed Mangapapa Rd for another 9km before reaching the signposted car park for Mt Damper Falls.

Finally, going in the other direction from Stratford (30 minutes drive or 40km south of New Plymouth), 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 falls. According to my trip logs, this drive took us about 2 hours.

Bottom to top sweep of the falls

Tagged with: stratford, taranaki, forgotten world, taumarunui, new plymouth, north island, new zealand, waterfall

Visitor Comments:

Mt Damper – Are there bigger “single drop” waterfalls in New Zealand? August 17, 2010 3:55 am by Rebecca A. - Regarding the Mt Damper Falls in New Zealand, Wairere is obviously taller but the locals in Taranaki claim Mt Damper to be the "longest single drop". Are there bigger "single drop" waterfalls in New Zealand? I live on the farm at Mt Damper, if people ask me I like to know what I'm talking about… ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Mt Damper Falls: Strange Creature and Changes.. October 31, 2010 9:30 pm by Alan Baldwin - Joyce and I first visited this waterfall in early March 2006. It was a showery day and we were about to return to our transport when we experienced an extreme shower. It felt like we had got too close to the falls! We used the little shelter provided by the tree ferns at the top… ...Read More

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