Mt Damper Falls

Stratford District / Mount Damper and Waitaanga Conservation Area, 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

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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.

Mt_Damper_Falls_011_11172004 - Mt Damper Falls
Mt Damper Falls

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.

Forgotten_World_Hwy_007_11172004 - The Forgotten World Highway passed through idyllic green pastures such as this between Mt Damper Falls and Stratford
The Forgotten World Highway passed through idyllic green pastures such as this between Mt Damper Falls and Stratford

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).

Mt_Damper_Falls_001_11172004 - Julie on the Mt Damper Falls Track shortly after starting the hike
Julie on the Mt Damper Falls Track shortly after starting the hike

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).

Mt_Damper_Falls_004_01062010 - Julie approaching the gated bridge marking the change between open pastures and native bush lands of the Waitaanga Forest
Julie approaching the gated bridge marking the change between open pastures and native bush lands of the Waitaanga Forest

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.

Mt_Damper_Falls_009_01062010 - Bonus waterfall that we noticed on the way to Mt Damper Falls
Bonus waterfall that we noticed on the way to Mt Damper Falls

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.

Mt_Damper_Falls_015_01062010 - View of Mt Damper Falls from the lookout during our visit in January 2010
View of Mt Damper Falls from the lookout during our visit in January 2010

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 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.

Mt_Damper_Falls_002_01062010 - The stile at the Mt Damper Falls Trailhead crossing into the pastures before re-entering the native bush lands further on as seen during our January 2010 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_003_01062010 - Sign indicating that we were entering the Waitaanga Conservation Forest just past the gated fence and footbridge as seen on our January 2010 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_005_01062010 - Beyond the gated bridge, Julie was now within the native bush part of the walk en route to Mt Damper Falls, which appeared to be a bit more developed in January 2010 than it was in November 2004
Mt_Damper_Falls_006_01062010 - Looking down towards a partial view of Mt Damper Falls as we descended towards the main lookout during our January 2010 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_008_01062010 - Julie checking out Mt Damper Falls from the upper lookout deck in January 2010 that I didn't recall was there in November 2004
Mt_Damper_Falls_012_01062010 - In January 2010, we saw a use trail that wasn't there in our first visit in November 2004. This allowed us to get this better view of the bonus (or side) waterfall en route to the Mt Damper Falls lookout
Mt_Damper_Falls_025_01062010 - This was our view of Mt Damper Falls in January 2010 from the lower lookout as the waterfall was bending with the wind
Mt_Damper_Falls_030_01062010 - On the way back from Mt Damper Falls on our January 2010 visit, we noticed one of those spiral ferns that seemed to be endemic to New Zealand
Forgotten_World_Hwy_003_jx_01062010 - After our visit to Mt Damper Falls in January 2010, we returned to New Plymouth via the Forgotten World Hwy where we drove through the Moki Tunnel also known as 'The Hobbit Hole'
Forgotten_World_Hwy_001_11172004 - The first time we drove the Forgotten World Hwy in November 2004, we encountered this situation where we would literally be surrounded by sheep
Mt_Damper_Falls_002_11172004 - Traversing through the open green pastures as we were making our way to the actual bush reserve beyond this farmland during our November 2004 visit to Mt Damper Falls
Mt_Damper_Falls_003_11172004 - Julie approaching a gated bridge marking the start of the bush walk and the end of the farmland during our November 2004 visit to Mt Damper Falls
Mt_Damper_Falls_004_11172004 - Julie going past the gate and bridge into the native bushlands of the Waitaanga Conservation Forest en route to the Mt Damper Falls during our November 2004 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_007_11172004 - Julie getting deeper into the bush track after having passed the gated footbridge en route to Mt Damper Falls on our November 2004 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_030_11172004 - The signposted junction of the Mt Damper Falls Track and the Te Rerepahupahu Falls Track as seen during our November 2004 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_008_11172004 - This was about as much of the side waterfall as we were able to see on our first visit to Mt Damper Falls in November 2004
Mt_Damper_Falls_009_11172004 - Zoomed in look at the bonus waterfall that we noticed on the way to the Mt Damper Falls during our first time here in November 2004
Mt_Damper_Falls_010_11172004 - Julie checking out Mt Damper Falls from the lookout platform from our first visit back in November 2004
Mt_Damper_Falls_028_11172004 - Going down the wooden steps to reach the Mt Damper Falls lookout platform on our November 2004 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_029_11172004 - Looking downstream into the gorge from the Mt Damper Falls Track as it was about to make its final descent to the lookout platform during our November 2004 visit
Mt_Damper_Falls_022_11172004 - This was the view of Mt Damper Falls from the lookout in November 2004

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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 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.

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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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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