Tarawera Falls - into the hidden valley

Enjoy a walk to a stunning waterfall near Whakatane. Most waterfalls spurt over the top of a cliff. Tarawera Falls pours straight through the middle.

Most waterfalls spurt over the top of a cliff. Tarawera Falls pours straight through the middle. The crystal clear outflow from Lake Tarawera disappears as it runs into deep fissures in the ancient lava rock - and then spurts out of the middle of a tall cliff-face 25km from Kawerau.

The Falls are not unusually high – but surrounded by lush bush they are certainly spectacular.

Sheer remoteness adds to the sense you’re looking at something a bit special. Tarawera Falls is well off the beaten track, 60km from Whakatane, 20km of that on unsealed roads. Not a “fill in a spare hour” outing, but if you have a day to enjoy, and you aren’t afraid of solitude, this one is very rewarding.

You need to start the trip with a visit to the information centre at Kawerau, to pick up a permit to visit the Falls ($2.50 per car). Note that there’s no camping allowed and no access after dark.

The drive in is pretty bumpy but the Falls walking track itself is great, well formed and wide (wheelchair access) and about 20 minutes’ stroll. The highlight for my own kids was actually not the Falls but a collection of massive boulders, legacy of the Tarawera eruption that destroyed the world famous Pink and White Terraces. Today the rocks are bound to the ground by twisting Pohutukawa and Totara roots. Under many, there’s a small cave: when you’re seven, that’s elves and faeries country.  

Different perspectives. If you’re a runner, this track shouts “quality training opportunity”. You can run on past the Falls and up to the lake, a demanding workout, without getting into serious adventure country (still run with company and a jacket, though).

Whatever your own speed and fitness, end on this thought. On the drive back to Kawerau, look straight up to Mt Edgecumbe. This dormant volcano is over 800 metres high and the scree-covered slopes are near vertical. But come October each year the Mt Edgecumbe Mountain Run sees supremely mad athletes run to the top and back. The winning time? Less than 50 minutes.

Article by Jim Robinson