A day trip to a striking waterfall in the little-known Tawarau Forest.
Buckled by earthquakes, riven by rifts, wrested asunder by the shifting continental plates, it’s no wonder that New Zealand’s crumpled terrain has resulted in a myriad of waterfalls. One of the more striking but little-known ones lies in the heart of an extensive block of native forest in the King Country: Tawarau.
Although Tawarau Falls is not particularly high (25m), it makes up for it by its unusual shape and position. Near the drop-off, the Tawarau River swirls through a limestone gorge, which narrows where the waterfall cascades through a fissure in a limestone bluff, splaying into a wide apron. A large, colourful overhang nearby gives the whole scene a grand appearance.
The Tawarau Falls Loop Track makes a worthwhile half-day circuit. Take notice of the access of Appletree Road as it can be confusing. So pay attention to your map, and although a 4WD will save a bit of road walking, a 2WD will get you within striking distance of the track start.
The track starts from a DOC information panel at the end of a left-hand fork in the vehicle track, past the end of Appletree Road. It leads through native forest on the true right of the Tawarau River, passing through some fine stands of mataī and Prince of Wales fern, and it can be slippery after rain, so wear decent footwear.
The river wends through a narrow limestone trench and the track fords it in four places – the first using a footbridge, but the following three requiring fording. All three fords could be difficult or dangerous when the river’s in flood. The first ford is generally shallow and easy, so provides a good measure – if the water level makes this ford challenging, then turn back. Shortly before reaching the waterfall, the river enters a limestone labyrinth and at one point almost disappears among the jumbles.
Shortly beyond, at a signposted junction, the roar of the falls becomes obvious. Take the five-minute side-track that descends steeply to the base of the falls, using the heavy chain to guard against slipping. After enjoying the spectacle of the falls, return to the track junction, and here take the other branch.
The track now climbs briefly through a section of stunted trees, with moss, lichens and Lycopodium forming attractive mosaics on the forest floor. Beyond, the track arcs around a broad ridge dominated by dense stands of tawa.
After crossing a small creek, the track intercepts the Double Falls Track. Head right (north) along the wide trail (an old vehicle track) to reach the other fork of Appletree Road. From there, it’s around 30-minutes on the road to your vehicle.
- Total Ascent
- 2.5–3hr round trip
- From Waitomo, take Te Anga Road and drive for 18km until turning onto Appletree Road. Where the road forks, take the left-hand branch