Tackling the North Island’s tallest fallsThe short but steep climb to Wairere Falls wastes no time in stealing your breath, but the views will do the same. The falls makes its first impression during the car ride along Old Te Aroha Road. Plunging 153m, the North Island’s tallest waterfall suddenly appears as a shimmering gap in curtains of native forest – impressive even from the road. The trip to the falls takes three hours return and the route is as diverse as it is rewarding, it’s clearly defined and, although steep in places, not difficult. The car park is nestled at the foot of the treeline at the end of Goodwin Road. Toilets are found several paces into the track, on the right. The track begins gently, coming alongside the clear Wairere Stream within a few minutes. Boardwalks, bridges and stairs have been used sparingly where needed.
The path is pleasant as it follows the stream, flanked by mossy boulders and tumbling falls which feed Wairere Stream. Strangles of supplejack snake into the periphery, while nīkau and pūriri stand guard overhead.
The first viewing platform, reached within 45 minutes, is satisfying – as is the chance for a breather – but the falls are framed tightly by tree growth, which steals some of its glory.
From here, the track continues relentlessly uphill to 400m, with some impressively steep flights of stairs. Despite the rapid climb, views on the ascent are limited by the thick bush – but a hot day will have walkers thankful for shade.
Terrain levels out for five minutes before reconnecting with Wairere Stream, which guides the track to the escarpment, and the best is saved for last.
The top viewing platform provides nauseating views straight down over the route, complimented nicely by the cooling blast of displaced air rushing up from below. The real joy, however, is sitting in the pools, seemingly at the edge of the world, looking west over the flat expanse of the Waikato Plains.
On a fine day, the water flow is slow enough to safely cool off just metres from the edge – but care is still needed – while it may provide good Instagram fodder, it’s one slip away from a very bad outcome, with plenty of air time to contemplate poor footing.
When sufficiently cooled, enjoy a relatively quicker descent back to the car park on the same route.