Chasing Waterfalls and Charming Towns: An Unforgettable New Zealand Adventure Itinerary
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Now, scientifically speaking, there are health benefits to spending time in the presence of a waterfall. Pretty cool right? The US National Library of Medicine published a 2021 study about the science behind the calming and stress-relieving benefits of waterfalls, they stated it “had a positive effect on immune enhancement and physical and psychological health”.
Today I want to take you on a little tiki tour of Aotearoa, visiting not only majestic waterfalls but the associated little towns and outdoor adventures nearby. New Zealand has loads of awesome little pockets that sometimes get overlooked; we are here to put some on the map and get you out there exploring unrated or little pockets of New Zealand.
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Starting from the top of the north and heading the bottom of the south;
Table of Contents
Rainbow Falls / Waianiwaniwa + Kerikeri, Northland
Northland Bridal Veil Falls + Raglan, Waikato
Wairere Falls + Te Aroha, Waikato
McLaren Falls + Matamata, Bay of Plenty
Tarawera Falls + Tarawera Area, Bay of Plenty
Huka Falls + Wairakei, Waikato
Omaru Falls + Piopio, Waikato
Mangawhero Falls + Ohakune, Manawatu-Whanganui
Maruia Falls + Murchison, Tasman
Trident Falls + Franz & Fox, SI West Coast
Fantail Falls + Lake Hawea, Otago
Falls Creek Falls + Sterling Falls, Milford Sound + Te Anau, Southland
Waipohatu Waterfall + Slope Point (southern most point of SI), Southland
Koropuku Falls + Curio Bay, Southland
McLean Falls Cathedral Caves + Owaka, Southland
Purakaunui Falls + Kaka Point, Southland
Nicols Falls + Dunedin, Otago
Rainbow Falls / Waianiwaniwa + Kerikeri, Northland
Rainbow Falls / Waianiwaniwa is a delightful sight situated down a short, simple path with flourishing, regenerating native bush, on the fringes of the Kerikeri township. You’ll be pleased you’re in the subtropical Far North with this beauty cascading directly into a swimming hole. The falls are a section of the Waipekakoura River which wriggles and weaves its way through the pleasant township.
Rich in character, historical buildings and stories, surrounded by beautiful native flora and fauna and a touch of modern artistic flare, Kerikeri is an enriching spot to visit that will leave you feeling charmed and energised. Make sure to make time to enjoy the peace of Kerikeri.
Bridal Veil Falls + Raglan, Waikato
This bride has one long veil. These falls are so satisfying to watch as they fall from such a massive height. Just a 15 minute drive from the township of Raglan and a 10 minute walk to the falls from the falls car park, on a very wide and well maintained walking track complete with boardwalks. The falls has a fantastic viewing platform which is surrounded by stunning greenery, native bush.
As you arrive into Raglan, you’ll notice yourself already starting to relax. The countryscape seamlessly blends into a little town made of green and blue.
Raglan is a paradise for waterbabies, with two main gorgeous beaches, as well as many little ones, to choose from for all things watersport but most popularly, surfing. Ngarunui Beach (also known as Ocean Beach), is great for swimming, paddleboarding and for beginner surfers learning to catch a wave. Manu Bay is home to an impressive left-hand break for more experienced surfers, it’s also pretty easy on the eye.
You can feel the pulse of Raglan’s main township area with a relaxed, island-life atmosphere, palm-tree lined main street and several cafes with a particular emphasis on al fresco dining – what’s not to love?
Grab yourself some surf lessons or hire a kayak or paddleboard to make the most of this easy-going, sunny little pocket of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Wairere Falls + Te Aroha, Waikato
A bit more of a trek (and a tiny bit of climbing/clambering) to get to Wairere Falls, so strap yourself into some decent footwear, it’s totally worth it. You’ll wind your way through the bush on a rocky, mossy track and a nīkau, pūriri and kohekohe grove to reach Wairere Falls Lookout. If that’s not enough for your adventurous spirit, the track continues on to a top platform which is a very steep climb which includes some steps in the steepest areas. At the top you’ll be met with epic views of not only the Wairere Falls dropping 153m down but out across the Waikato Valley, greenery everywhere.
Nearby, the little rural town of Te Aroha, is Wairere Falls town to explore after your climb; and it has the perfect spot to relax, Te Aroha Mineral Spas. Natural mineral pools to soothe and soak. Te Aroha also has the world’s only hot soda water geyser, to add a little magic and spectacle to your visit.
Te Aroha township sits at the base of Mount Te Aroha which is the tallest peak in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park, and is great for walking and mountain biking if you’re ready to get in some more amazing views while you’re in town. The Hauraki rail trail is a wonderful option for something a little less changeling or if you have children
McLaren Falls + Matamata
Wander into the peaceful surroundings of McLaren Falls Park with the wind in the trees, birds chattering and waterfalls gushing. With several waterfalls to find, you’ll find one cascading and one gently trickling between giant boulders on the path of least resistance, creating a mesmerising sight.
The entirety of gorgeous McLaren Falls Park has so much to offer, from diverse native walking trails, glow worms, watersports such as kayaking or paddleboarding on the lake, an animal park and when you’re needing a refresh, there is even a cafe.
Step into the magical world of Middle-earth, also known as Matamata: The gateway to McLaren Falls. Embraced by a rural beauty, Matamata’s warm and welcoming atmosphere invites you to explore its quaint streets and immerse yourself in the sense of community. Chat with the friendly locals, savour farm-fresh cuisine, and create lasting memories in this delightful little town.
Photo credit Myreality2
Tarawera Falls + Rotorua lakes area
Getting to Tarawera Falls is an adventure in itself; A magnificent trip from Rotorua showing off inviting lakes and rivers, plus wonderful little pit-stops such as The Wishing Tree and Kokako Ecosanctuary; followed by a beautiful native bush walk through Rotoiti Forest, winding alongside the Tarawera River, leading to the stunning Tarawera Falls. Thundering waters flow over ancient volcanic rock, creating a breathtaking spectacle.
Rotorua’s geothermal wonders, Maori culture, and unique attractions make it a fascinating town to explore and a perfect base for your adventure to Tarawera Falls.
On the trip out to the falls, don’t miss the chance to visit the serene Hamurana Springs, known for its crystal-clear waters and tranquil setting.
Also make sure to visit the Wishing Tree, Te Ara explains its significance beautifully – a sacred ancient Matai “The tree is known as Hinehopu’s wishing tree – as a baby, she was hidden there from enemies by her mother. It was at this spot that she later met her future husband Pikiao, the forebear of the Ngāti Pikiao people.”
While in the (slightly off the track) area, the Kokako Ecosanctuary is a wonderful stop where you can witness New Zealand’s native birdlife in their natural habitat.
Photo Credit Pseudopanax@wikimedia
Huka Falls + Wairakei
Huka Falls is one of New Zealand’s most popular natural attractions, located near the rural, riverside township of Wairakei. Easily accessible by car, the falls can be found along the Waikato River, where the mighty river narrows before plunging dramatically. Witnessing the force of the Huka Falls is a truly awe-inspiring experience with unparalleled views of the roaring cascade from multiple lookout areas or an extra special experience on the Huka Falls Jet or Huka Falls river cruise.
Head to the geothermal towns of Wairakei and Taupō. You’ll have a hard time deciding how to best explore this area with such an awesome array of fun and naturally relaxing and beauty options. Melt into natural hot springs, check into a golf course sanctuary for the most tranquil round of golf you’ll ever have or go see some thermal goodness at Craters of the Moon. Combine the breathtaking beauty of Huka Falls with the diverse offerings of Taupo Wairakei for an unforgettable New Zealand experience.
Omaru Falls + Piopio
The captivating Omaru Falls are accessible by a short walk through enchanting landscapes and green-rolling farmland, the falls cascade over a limestone cliff into a little pool below. The peaceful falls almost feel out-of-place surrounded by Aotearoa’s native greenery in the middle of farmland.
Piopio’s claim-to-fame is its scenic beauty featured in “The Hobbit”, film trilogy. The town’s connection to the iconic movie series adds a touch of magic to your visit. Experience Piopio’s kiwi hospitality with its friendly locals in a relaxed, rural community.
Photo Credit easegill
Mangawhero Falls “Gollum’s Pool & Ithilien” + Ohakune
This one is specially for the “Lord of the Rings” fans – Journey into the Ithilien region to Gollum’s pool, or as we call it in the non-fantasy world “Mangawhero Falls”.
The small town of Ohakune, is the southern entry to Mount Ruapehu and the famous Tongariro National Park, offering hiking, skiing, and loads of outdoor adventures. Spend some time exploring Ohakune, known as the “Carrot Capital” of Aotearoa New Zealand, where you’ll find quirky carrot-themed attractions and delicious carrot-based temptations!
The Mangawhero Falls drop from a considerable height, and depending on the rainfall can go from a steady trickle to a decent gush, and surrounded by beautiful greenery or coated in snow.
Photo credit Adrian Romney
Maruia Falls + Murchison
Tucked away deep in the isolated beauty of Murchison, lies the roaring force of Maruia Falls. Be impressed by nature as the waters pour down the stone surface into the river below, and then gently laps at your feet on the stoney riverbank – such a contrast. The falls are symbolic of the wild surroundings and the considerable forces that have shaped New Zealand’s landscapes. Murchison is located between two national parks, Nelson Lakes, and Kahurangi making an outdoor enthusiasts go-to area, offering a variety of activities like white-water rafting with multiple choices of companies, kayaking with the NZ Kayak School, and hiking.
Photo credit nelsontasman.nz
Trident Falls + Franz Josef
Trident Falls is nestled amidst glacier country and the lush rainforests of the South Islands West Coast. The falls are accessible by either guided tours or self-guided walks. Trident falls are sure to leave you in awe of nature’s untamed grandeur.
The South Islands West Coast is the ultimate playground for those who adore an outdoor adventure – you’ll be spoilt for choice. From exploring the magnificent glaciers to walking through native forests; Glacier hiking, heli-hiking, and skydiving are just a few of the thrilling adventures awaiting you. For a more calm and low-key adventure, hike the short trail into the breathtaking Lake Matheson with amazing lake, native bush and Fox Glacier views; visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre or take a flight around the glaciers for awe-inspiring.
Photo credit – kiwi – Liz Carlson
Fantail Falls + Lake Hawea
Prepare to be delighted by Fantail Falls, located at about the halfway point along the Haast highway from Lake Hawea, with Mt Aspiring National Park on the western side of the road. The Falls are a 2-3 minute walk from the road. Fantail Falls is a fierce force (despite the gentle name) into some of the most crystal clear, see-through and freezing water in Aotearoa New Zealand!
The falls’ beauty is complemented by the wide-open landscape and lake views of Lake Hawea, which offers a perfect backdrop for photographs and moments of reflection. For those seeking relaxation, a chance to connect with nature and the perfect photo, you know where to head.
Milford Sounds Stirling Falls + Te Anau
Milford Sound, a massive tick box in the Aotearoa New Zealand adventure right? Well, of course. The Fiords are renowned for their incredibly dramatic landscape creating a captivating experience, especially on a wet day – the rainier, the better!
Milford Sound is the only Fiord accessible by car, making it very popular. The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau is like no other, including endless waterfalls, two of which are Knobs Flat Waterfall and Falls Creek Falls, both worth stopping for! The scenery transforms into an ethereal wonderland as rain showers enhance the already breathtaking landscapes. Milford Sound offers cruises into the fiords, two popular companies are awesomenz and greatsights, allowing you to witness the majestic beauty of the fiord up close and get to our spectacular featured waterfall for this article – Stirling Falls. If you’re looking for something a little different, there are kayaking tours, scenic flights, scuba diving, day walks and even an observatory to get underwater without a drop of wet.
Te Anau is the perfect base to explore brilliant Fiordland. The township is peaceful, picturesque and set in the heart of Fiordland, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its pristine, awe-inspiring views. Walk the lake’s edge in the morning, find a coffee and take in the stunning scenery. This is the perfect place for a relaxing, natural and stress-free break. For more activity options, check out RealNZ for an incredible array of wilderness and wildlife experiences.
Milford images – photo credit – Great South
Waipohatu Waterfall + Slope Point (The Southernmost Point of the South Island)
In the southernmost region of the South Island lies Waipohatu Waterfall. Getting to the falls involves a scenic drive with dense native forests on either side of the road. The waterfall is beautiful with the water bouncing from one ledge to another, until it finally meets the waters below.
The Catlins region itself will make a wildlife enthusiast out of you if you’re not already one! Spotting dolphins, penguins, seals and sea lions, as well as, an impressive selection of native bird species to find. For those seeking a unique experience, the Waipohatu Waterfall and Slope Point provide a journey into the raw beauty of New Zealand.
Waterfall and Slope Point images – photo credit – Great South
Koropuku Falls + Curio Bay
Welcome to the beautifully untouched area of Curio Bay and Koropuku Falls. Located in the Catlins, casually sign-posted on the side of the Chaslands Highway road, the falls are accessible by a short walk through native forests, leading you to a tranquil oasis. The falls cascade into a serene pool, offering a peaceful spot to get out of the car and immerse yourself back into nature.
Curio Bay is an untouched-by-people destination, known for its ancient petrified forest, where you can see the remnants of a prehistoric forest from millions of years ago. The bay is also home to native and protected wildlife, such as the endangered Hector’s dolphins and yellow-eyed penguins. For those seeking a blend of history, wildlife, and natural beauty, Curio Bay and Koropuku Falls are a true gem in New Zealand’s South Island.
Video credit – Great South
McLean Falls + Owaka
Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of McLean Falls, with the waters falling down a forest green, flora-covered rockwall and flowing over terraced rock ledges slowly stepping down with the silky water pouring over it. It’s lovely to slow down and take it all in, the sound is calming and makes for a peaceful moment in your day.
The nearby Cathedral Caves are another of the Catlins surprises, accessible at low tide. The large beachfront cathedral-like caves make for an Insta-worthy opportunity, with the reflective wet sand, and contrast from dark cave to glowing (or rainy), beach and sea views.
The little township of Owaka, with its warm and welcoming community, invites you to join in the laid-back Kiwi lifestyle, making it the perfect place to slow down the pace of life, relax and rejuvenate.
Photo Credit – Great South
Purakaunui Falls + Kaka Point
Kaka Point is a favourite destination for many visiting the Catlins. Renowned for its marine wildlife – the native Hector’s dolphins, seals and sea lions – plus a white sand surfing beach, it’s got the feel of a tropical island, just with your jacket on! Kaka Point is a fantastic place to catch the Aurora Australis, if you plan your trip to time with it! The low light pollution and immediate access to the Catlins rugged and wild coastline, means you have no interruption to the mesmerising colour-dancing show.
Purakaunui Falls are also a favourite waterfall in the area. A short walk from the carpark, the falls will not disappoint. The falls have three distinct tiers, surrounded by perfectly pristine nature. The serene setting offers a perfect opportunity to indulge in a moment of tranquillity. Remember to take your phone or camera – you’ll want to capture this one.
Another notable attraction in this area is Nugget Point, walk out to the lighthouse first thing in the morning to catch a perfect sunrise, and you might even see some penguins heading out for breakfast.
Nicols Falls + Dunedin
A visit to Nicols Falls (and the glow worms, found on the same track) in the city of Dunedin is a magical experience. After a short, windy scenic drive, you will walk (mostly uphill) to the waterfall, where you can view from a short distance away (still amazing), or clamber up the giant boulders for a real close up of this majestic beauty. And, if you’re game, you can get underneath this one! Refresh with the most natural shower you’ve ever had!
As night falls, make your way to the glow worm grotto, where thousands of bioluminescent glow worms create a breathtaking display.
The city of Dunedin is rich in Scottish heritage and a growing arts and cultural scene. Explore the city’s gothic architecture, street-art trial and visit the amazing Otago Peninsula where you can meet protected wildlife, such as the royal albatross and little blue penguins. Dunedin’s is an ideal destination for the art and cultural minded, wildlife lovers, and those seeking both adventure and quietness in their break.
Photo credit for all Dunedin images – DunedinNZ
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