Wairere Falls was probably one of my favourite North Island waterfalls. The falls made two dramatic leaps that we could see even from the Old Te Aroha Rd several kilometres away. We were able to see most of its 153m cumulative drop from a trail that immersed us in the bushwalk experience as it featured bridges, stairs, and plenty of native foliage. The overall height of the falls could very well be the North Island’s tallest though I’m not totally sure about this claim just yet. Nonetheless, Julie and I were mesmerized by the upper drop swaying with the wind as we gazed upon the scene while catching our breaths for the return hike. I suppose if we had the energy and time, we even could have continued climbing up to the top of the falls where I’d imagine there would be majestic views over the idyllic Waikato (pronounced “WAI-kuh-toh”) Plains from within the Kaimai-Mamaku Ranges separating the Bay of Plenty Region from the Waikato Region.
From the car park (see directions below), we were greeted with a lovely stone sign containing a rhyming poem motivating us to think about the heritage of this track from days past when Maori, then missionaries, traders, and scientists have passed this way. After passing by this and other signs, then weaving between a few trees, we found ourselves in a lightly forested landscape that was fairly open as it straddled the boundaries of the reserve and what appeared to be a private pasture. Shortly thereafter, the track started climbing in earnest as it followed alongside and crossed the Wairere Stream several times in a combination of sturdy and swinging bridges.
This section of climbing and going back and forth over the Wairere Stream persisted for a large chunk of the hike. Then, breaking up the rhythm a bit, we encountered a squared spiral wooden staircase that got Julie and I sweating and breathing heavier by the time we made it above this multi-layered ascent. From there, we entered a grove of native trees as we ultimately reached another signposted junction where we kept left to finally make it up to the Wairere Falls Lookout and the view you see at the top of this page. There was a wooden rail that kept us from scrambling any further though we were pretty content with the views we were getting from here anyways. It took Julie and I a little over an hour to get up to this spot.
When we had our fill of this overlook, we decided to go back down to the car park where it was all downhill on the way back. Both times we have done this hike, we never bothered to go up to the top of the falls (essentially doubling the distance and effort of this hike). Next time, I’ll make it a point to allow at least four hours to complete this hike and experience that view from the top. Until then, it took Julie and I between 90 minutes and 2 hours to just take in the walk to the lookout of Wairere Falls.
The first time Julie and I visited this waterfall was from Tauranga. We headed south along SH29 then got off the highway at Tauranga Rd. After about 2.3km on Tauranga Rd, we then kept right to go onto Old Te Aroha Rd for the next 15km or so. We then turned right onto an unsealed spur road leading to a dead end where the gravel car park for Wairere Falls was.
The second time Julie and I went to this waterfall, we came from the north at Te Aroha (about 53km east of Hamilton City or 21km south of the town of Paeroa [of lemon and paeroa (or L&P) fame] along SH26). From Te Aroha, we headed south on Old Te Aroha Rd for a little over 25km to the junction mentioned above, then we continued to go straight past the junction to the car park at its dead-end.
Finally, it’s interesting to note that town of Matamata was the closest town of any appreciable size to Wairere Falls. Had we stayed on Tauranga Rd for another 10km (instead of turning right to go onto Old Te Aroha Rd), we would have reached the town, where they just so happened to have filmed the shire in The Lord of the Rings as well as The Hobbit movies. Both times we visited the falls, we never took the time to visit the set in town. Maybe next time we’ll satisfy our curiosity of how much the town resembled the idyllic set.
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