Wakefield Falls

Mt Cook (Aoraki) / Mackenzie, South Island, New Zealand

About Wakefield Falls

Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2009-12-22
Date last visited: 2009-12-23

Waterfall Latitude: -43.70215
Waterfall Longitude: 170.13937

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Wakefield Falls was perhaps the most prominent of all the named waterfalls that we were aware of in the vicinity of the great Mt Cook (Aoraki was its Maori name).

Indeed, this waterfall was our waterfalling excuse to talk about New Zealand’s highest mountain as our visit here was centered around being close to this impressive mountain, which was surrounded by both the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers.

Mt_Cook_116_12222009 - Wakefield Falls
Wakefield Falls

The falls tumbled down the mountainside in three prominent drops with a handful more smaller cascades sprinked throughout.

Taken together, Wakefield Falls appeared like a tall and slender mountain cascade, especially when viewed from a distance.

Experiencing Wakefield Falls

While there were some fairly strenuous hikes in the area to see Aoraki in different ways, Julie and I were able to witness Wakefield Falls from right off the road.

We were aware of its presence from studying our Tumonz map prior to making our visit.

Mt_Cook_027_12212009 - The dirty Tasman Glacier when we showed up in December 2009. I'd imagine it's significantly more melted now with Global Warming
The dirty Tasman Glacier when we showed up in December 2009. I’d imagine it’s significantly more melted now with Global Warming

It was a good thing we did that because when we got to the falls, there didn’t seem to be signage nor any other indicators pointing out its whereabouts.

So I’d imagine that most casual visitors could easily miss this waterfall.

Perhaps this was why it seemed to be pretty unknown and obscure when we made our visit here in December 2009.

Even though this was essentially a roadside waterfall, we were tempted to get closer to the falls for an up-close and personal experience.

Mt_Cook_114_12222009 - Full context of the Wakefield Falls as seen from the road
Full context of the Wakefield Falls as seen from the road

However, our off-trail scrambling only went so far as we ultimately decided against crossing the stream to get even closer to the base of the twisting mountain cascade.

Besides, I was also feeling guilty about tramping on what looked to be fragile bush and grass that may take years to grow back.

Wakefield Falls only revealing parts of itself

Due to the twisting nature of the Wakefield Falls, it was hard to get a complete view.

There was always some part of the falls concealing itself due to cliff or mountain slopes getting in the way.

Mt_Cook_103_12222009 - Wakefield Falls seemingly showing only parts of itself during its twisting tumble
Wakefield Falls seemingly showing only parts of itself during its twisting tumble

Generally, the further from the falls we were, the better we could appreciate both its context and its height.

Indeed, this was a nice add-on attraction since it was on the way to the Tasman Glacier (see directions below).

Best Lighting on Wakefield Falls

Having been to Wakefield Falls twice during our December 2009 visit, we must warn that the best time to photograph the falls would be early in the morning.

During that time, we got soft morning backlighting without nearly as many shadows causing problems.

Mt_Cook_032_12212009 - Looking against the afternoon sun at the Wakefield Falls
Looking against the afternoon sun at the Wakefield Falls

During the late afternoon on our first look at this falls the day before, we looked right into the sun.

That casted some nasty shadows against the bright sun, which filled the surrounding depression in which the falls tumbled through.


Wakefield Falls resides in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park near Mt Cook Village in the Canterbury region of South Island, New Zealand. 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.

Tekapo_001_12212009 - As we were driving west towards Tekapo from Geraldine, we started to see the chain of snowy mountains of the Southern Alps in the distance
Tekapo_008_12212009 - We then passed by the colourful Lake Tekapo
Mt_Cook_Rd_006_jx_12212009 - Then, we followed the Mt Cook Road past some more attractively colourful lakes towards Mt Cook itself
Mt_Cook_Rd_015_jx_12212009 - Getting even closer as we approached Mt Cook
Mt_Cook_018_12212009 - Looking back at the context of Tasman Valley, which was where we took the unsealed road that passed by Wakefield Falls
Mt_Cook_038_12212009 - This was the attractive Tasman Valley as we were headed towards both Wakefield Falls and the Tasman Glacier
Mt_Cook_039_12212009 - Wakefield Falls seen against the afternoon light and only revealing parts of itself against the recesses of its gully
Mt_Cook_044_12212009 - Later that afternoon, we drove to the end of the road of the Hooker Valley and saw this look at the impressive Hooker Glacier beneath Mt Sefton, I think
Mt_Cook_126_12222009 - The next morning, we drove back on the unsealed Tasman Valley Rd to get a better look at Wakefield Falls
Mt_Cook_107_12222009 - Focused view of the Wakefield Falls with the morning light

The unsealed Tasman Valley Road turnoff was about 1km south of the Mt Cook Village, which itself was at the official end of the Mt Cook Rd.

We had to drive the dusty but wide Tasman Valley Road for about 6km before Wakefield Falls came into view to our left.

Mt_Cook_013_12212009 - View of Mt Cook from right out the window of our room at the Hermitage in Mt Cook Village, which was only a few minutes drive from Wakefield Falls
View of Mt Cook from right out the window of our room at the Hermitage in Mt Cook Village, which was only a few minutes drive from Wakefield Falls

Mt Cook Village was about 56km north of the SH8 and Mt Cook Rd junction between Tekapo and the Mackenzie District. This junction was roughly 272km (nearly 4 hours) west of Christchurch, 264km (over 3.5-4 hours) north of Dunedin, and 207km (about 3 hours) east of Queenstown.

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Bottom up sweep of the falls

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Tagged with: mt cook, mount cook, aoraki, mackenzie, canterbury, south island, new zealand, waterfall, hermitage, southern alps

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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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