I’ve shared a few pictures from the waterfalls I’ve seen near Lake Taupo – Taranaki Falls, Tawhai Falls, Huka Falls and Waihi Falls. It is probably pretty clear that I’m slightly obsessed with waterfalls. Paul and I hiked for four hours through the mud to see Waitonga Falls when the bridge was out. So, when we decided to take a road trip to the Balloons over Waikato in Hamilton, I decided to turn the drive into a waterfall tour up the west coast of the North Island, New Zealand.
Our first stop was Omaru Falls, a large waterfall in southern Waikato. The falls is about 10 miles south of Te Kuiti off State Highway 4. The beginning of the walk can be a little deceptive as you have to go over a barbed wire fence, but there are steps leading over the fence and a clearly posted green sign for the Omaru Falls Track. The cow paddies make it obvious that the field is used for farming during part of the year, which I don’t quite understand, but follow the path to the right and you’ll be led to a well-worn trail through the trees. It only take 30 minutes to make it to the falls and it is a very easy walk. The only incline are the newly-built step to the viewing platform. There is a short swing bridge to cross on the way to the falls which is another great picture opportunity. Although, the most interesting part of the walk had to be the red mushrooms, which were so perfect it was as if they were sketched into the walk from the child’s movie, Alice in Wonderland.
I was very impressed by this waterfall, because so many that I’ve seen in New Zealand have been small – either very short or very little water. This waterfall was gorgeous. The viewing platform was at the perfect angle to see not only the impressive sheer cliff, but also the beautiful fauna surrounding the area. The ferns at the base of the falls swayed in the breeze as if they were alive and dancing to the music of the falls. It was a real treat to have this as my first stop for the day and it wasn’t even 9AM!
The next waterfall on our tour was Madonna Falls on State Highway 4, just 5 minutes north of Omaru Falls. This falls is easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for, because it is very small is nestled behind the trees. The falls is right at the edge of the road and if it wasn’t for the sign I would think of it as a waterfall, but just rainwater runoff from a recent storm.
Hint: Look for the flowers that adorn the shrine, stop on the side of the road and walk back to the falls.
The water from this falls is believed to have healing properties and many people take the water home with them. A small contraption has been built to assist people in taking the water. A man was there collecting buckets of water and cleaning the nearby monument. He didn’t look like a government employee, but just a concerned citizen who cared for the Madonna Shrine. It is said that a boy crippled from birth was placed at the bottom of the falls to relieve his pain. While he sat in the frigid waters an image of “The Holy Mother” appeared with a star above her head. He was able to walk out of the pool unassisted and he was no longer a paraplegic. Other stories of miracle cures have been attributed to the falls too, so it was blessed in 1975. The roadside shrine has been dedicated to ‘Our Lady of the Waterfall’, (Te Whaeao te Rere).
After I stuck my hand in the magical waters of Madonna Falls we drove an hour more to the Mangapohue Natural Bridge. It is a short and relaxing walk along the stream to the limestone bridge. After the bridge you can loop around to the beginning of the track, but the path is through a pasture of cows, so I suggest you just take the same way back. The bridge is really beautiful. It began as an underground stream, which became so wide and thin at the surface that the top caved in forming a gorge with only a short portion still covered. Now the natural bridge is covered with moss and new limestone formations creating a beautiful ceiling to look at.
We read that Marokopa Falls was just after the Mangapohoe Natural Bridge, but were delighted to see one more attraction along the route – Piripiri Cave. We hoped to see a few glowworms, since it was very close to the famous glowworm caves in Waitomo, but it was just a regular cave. A nice little stop with a free view of a cave is always appreciated. It is the first time I’ve been in a cave while not on a tour!
Marokopa Falls is my favorite New Zealand waterfall. This falls is only a 10 minute drive from the Piripiri Cave. Although getting to this falls from Waitomo isn’t an easy drive due to the curvy road, it is worth the trip. The waterfall is beautiful. The viewing deck is perfect for photos – we saw a family of 8 (3 generations) taking various family photos as we approached the falls.
Bridal Veil Falls is probably the second most famous waterfall on the North Island. Huka Falls seems to be more widely known, maybe due to the easily accessible location or the unique aquamarine color and rushing rapids caused by the deep gorge of Huka Falls. Bridal Falls, in stark contrast to Huka Falls, is the highest waterfall on the North Island. The face of the cliff looks as though it was carved by an artist instead of being formed naturally. It is a truly spectacular site and worth the 261 steps to the base of the falls.
I can’t believe we did all of this in a day and still made it to Hamilton from Motuoapa in time for the Balloons over Waikato Night Glow. It was a day to remember.