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January 2013 Issue
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A waterfall that won’t disappoint

A safe swimming spot on the Tarawera River, about 1hr from Te Tapahoro Bay
rivate forestry roads. Permit ($5), plus map and directions available at the Kawerau Information Centre, Plunket St

Te Tapahoro Bay via Tarawera Falls, Lake Tarawera Scenic Reserve

Waterfalls aren’t usually a part of the natural world I’m drawn to unless they’re big and powerful.

I usually find them underwhelming and while many of my companions make child-like ‘aww’ sounds, I want to push on to more interesting places.

I thought this might again be the case when I visited Tarawera Falls. But this is one waterfall that didn’t disappoint.

It was a sunny Friday afternoon and I was with local white water kayak instructor and guide Bruce Webber who’s passionate about the Tarawera River and who knows the area like the back of his paddle.

We grabbed an access permit from Kawerau, drove along the forestry road running parallel to the river and parked at the end. It’s a 20 minute walk from here through native bush to reach the falls.

As I walked down, the thundering sound of surging water signalled there’d been plenty of rain in previous days and weeks.

As the falls came into view, I found myself stopping and making a child-like gasp.

The Tarawera Falls have a power and drama to them I haven’t seen before, apart from Taupo’s Huka Falls.

A torrent of white water spurts out of fissures in a rock face that juts out of native bush.  It’s possible to walk off the track down onto the riverbed and up close to the falls to get an even more impressive vantage point.

From the falls the track climbs above it. Webber showed me a few unofficial side tracks at the top which lead to viewing spots down to the riverbed and to where the river disappears and reappears in and out of underground lava caves made when Mt Tarawera erupted 11,000 years ago.

DOC is currently constructing some small bridges and stairs for these side tracks.

DOC advises caution for swimming in the river due to underwater currents and the caves. There is a popular swimming spot in a safer section about an hour from the outlet.

From above the falls, the track follows the river and passes a few smaller waterfalls, one of which violently spits the river through a narrow gorge, turning the water into a swirling white froth.

The track between the falls and the outlet is relatively flat and makes easy walking. It passes through one of the most stunning areas of bush I’ve encountered. Pohutukawa, rata and hybrids of the two dominate the relatively young forest which has regenerated after the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera. Large rocks on either side of the path reminded me of the area’s volcanic history.

The majestic and historic Mt Tarawera stands above the outlet campsite. Right then and there I would have liked to climb and explore it, but the mountain is the private land of Ngati Rangitihi and access to the summit is managed by the iwi. Ngati Rangitihi spokesperson Ken Raureti told me independent public access was stopped in 2000 because the mountain, a sacred burial ground, was being disrespected and desecrated. In 2000, more than 10 tons of rubbish was removed from the mountain. Even with open public access prohibited, Raureti said vandalism and littering on the mountain is a regular problem.