Taranaki Falls was a waterfall that I took time to do solo under some inclement weather that ultimately gave way to clearing skies just as started to reach the beautiful waterfall over an ancient lava flow. Given that this was a hike that took at least two hours, I guess I got to experience some of the fickle nature of New Zealand’s weather, especially since it was said to rain almost every day at the three volcanos (Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe, and Mt Tongariro) that were essentially like Tongariro National Parks’ cloud magnets. Given the bad weather and persistent cloud cover, I wasn’t able to get decent views of the famous three volcanos while on this hike. However, I’d imagine it would have really added to the experience under clearer skies.
Since Julie and I were staying at the Chateau Tongariro at the foot of Whakapapa Village, I was able to do the entire loop hike right from the hotel. I began by walking along SH48 to the back of the accommodation, then I walked along Ngauruhoe Terrace, which was one of the side streets immediately behind the Chateau Tongariro. I walked this street for about 200m to the first trailhead that I encountered to my left (near the Skotel Alpine Resort), and I ended up starting the hike going in this direction meaning I would eventually do the hike in a clockwise loop.I immediately walked onto a dirt trail that was flanked by tall tussock grasslands that would have had expansive views all around with some of Tongariro National Parks’ famous volcanos rising above me. It turned out that this section of track was part of the longer Tongariro Northern Circuit, which was one of the multi-day Great Walks of New Zealand. However, it really started to rain hard by the time I got to this point in the hike so I was pretty much focused on staying on the trail, watching my step (as my vision was somewhat limited from the hood of my rain poncho), and paying attention to the signs to ensure I stayed on the correct path to Taranaki Falls.
About 30 minutes from Whakapapa Village, I reached a trail junction within the lush native forest as the scenery changed from open tussock lands to the green of quintessential New Zealand bush used to consistent rains. This junction was where I left the Tongariro Northern Circuit and proceeded onto the bush trail following the Wairere Stream (more or less) where the sign here indicated that I still had 40 minutes to go. As I continued walking through this covered part of the track, I noticed some tiny cascades here and there before I ultimately made my way out of the bush where I crossed a bridge (traversing the Wairere Stream).
After the bridge (about 25 minutes from the departure of the Tongariro Northern Circuit), the scenery was a bit rockier but it pretty much followed the Wairere Stream all the way up to Taranaki Falls. I noticed some weird infrastructure like a low hexagonal table that I wasn’t sure what it was for. I ultimately found some open use trails that led right up to the boulder-fringed base of the impressive 20m waterfall, which was spraying the plunge pool area given its recent injection of water from the bad weather.
As I had my fill of this close-up perspective of the falls, I then walked up a few switchbacks (one with a well-positioned bench and a nice view back at Taranaki Falls) before ultimately reaching the top of the climb where it appeared the track I was on junctioned back with the Tongariro Northern Circuit. As the sign predicted, it took me a little over an hour to get to this point from where I started. At this point, I then kept right and took the Tongariro Northern Circuit back to Whakapapa Village, but not before making a couple of short detours on both sides of the bridge over the Wairere Stream to get a good look from the top of Taranaki Falls towards the scenery beyond. I was further helped along by the fact that the weather started clearing up when I got to this point.
The remainder of the trail was undulating gently through more open tussock grasslands with a few surprise ephemeral waterfalls seen randomly about. It seemed like with the latest injection of rain, there was a gully following along the track that seemed to flow as if it was a creek or something, but I somehow got the feeling it was more of a little bit of trail engineering than a natural stream. Eventually after nearly 2.5 hours of this moderate but pleasant bush walk through volcanic landscapes and rainforest, I was back at the other trailhead at the end of the Ngauruhoe Terrace Road. And from there, it was another 5-10 minutes or so walk back to the Chateau Tongariro and a nice hot shower…
From the intersection of SH47 and SH48 on the western side of Tongariro National Park, we drove up the slope on SH48 for about 2.5-3km to the signposted car park for Tawhai Falls on our left. Further up SH48 for another 3.6km was the Chateau Tongariro and the Whakapapa Village. We were able to find street parking in the villlage past Ngauruhoe Terrace or around the Chateau Tongariro. The Taranaki Falls Track began and ended (the endpoints were about a block apart) from the end of the Ngauruhoe Terrace near the Skotel Alpine Resort.
For context, Whakapapa Village was about 2 hours drive (143km) north of Whanganui, which itself was about 2.5 hours drive (193km) north of Wellington. From the other direction, Whakapapa Village was about 3 hours drive (225km) south of Hamilton, which itself was about 90 minutes drive (125km) south of Auckland.
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