You’ve seen the Lord of the Rings right? Asked the ranger at the visitor center. We both have watched the trilogy, but were no super fans. With only five days to tour New Zealand’s north island, we chose to skip out on visiting Hobbiton, the enchanting movie set on every LOTRs devotee’s bucket list. Lucky for us, Tongariro National park was a filming location chosen for its vast and rugged landscape. We were excited to check out all of the viewpoints where Frodo and Sam voyaged Middle Earth.
With one day to explore Tongariro National Park, we decided to tramp the Taranaki Falls track. The trail is a straightforward, short day hike compared to the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing trek. It’s the perfect alternative if you want to take in the views, but are on a tight schedule. After completing this track, we can definitely say it’s one of the best short walks on the North Island
Getting to The Park and Trail head
Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and is located centrally in the North Island. We made our way from Auckland, which took about 4 hours. The Taranaki Falls trailhead is located within the small village of Whakapapa inside the park. We started our trek by visiting and parking at the Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauhoe Place. From there, the track is 100 meters away, and we walked there by foot.
Overview of the track
This easy four mile loop is well maintained. The trail consists of an upper and lower track with Taranaki Falls residing roughly in the middle of the two. Starting on the upper track will lead you to the tip of the falls first, while starting on the lower track will guide you to the mouth of the waterfall. Both tracks lead to the view point, so it’s a personal preference if you want to either climb up or or down the steps. We personally enjoyed starting on the lower track and enjoyed lunch at the base of the cascade, before ascending on.
The hike is estimated to take 2 hours, but we took our sweet time soaking in the scenery and taking photos, so it took us 3 hours to complete. We visited in the middle of January, and were lucky to have a clear visible day. It’s recommended to wear comfortable walking shoes, layerable clothes, and hats to block the sun. We did not have any “sporty” hats at this point, so wore our beach hats!
While beginning our hike on the lower track, we were in awe of the varying biodiversity. We walked through bunched grass, alpine shrubs bloomed with white flowers, and were led into a beech forest. Surrounded by trees, we could hear the racing water of the Wairere Stream that runs throughout the trail. We curiously felt the rushing water to see how cold it was! The lower track ends with the first viewpoint, Cascade Falls, a small waterfall visible over a bridge.
We could hear the roaring water, before arriving at the lookout. The impressive waterfall topples 65 feet (20 meters) high and spills over the edge of ancient rock formed by a volcanic eruption 15,000 years ago. The fall overflows into a sapphire blue boulder pool that connects to a nearby stream. Our favorite part was walking through the boulders and aligning ourselves under the thunderous rush of water. Some of the rocks had algae on them so we were careful not to slip or get our camera wet! We climbed back out of the falls and enjoyed our sandwiches before heading to the upper track.
To get to the second half of the hike, we continued onto the 100 steps that climb to the top of the falls. Once at the peak, you can actually walk out to the point where the falls start. This gave me some vertigo, and I nervously urged Joe not to step out too far.
Next, we crossed over a bridge taking us back over the Wairere Stream. We were lucky to have crystal clear skies and views of Mount Ruapehu, the largest active volcano in New Zealand, and the north island’s highest peak in the backdrop. We walked along rocks formed of ancient lava flow, green tussock, and manuka shrubs with an abundance of white flowers bloomed at the ends. To complete Sam and Frodo’s journey, we took in the sights of Mount Ngauruhoe, or known in the fiction world as Mount Doom. It has a perfect cone aesthetic and is New Zealand’s most active volcano, with 70 eruptive episodes since 1839.
This track was a great introduction to the diversity and scenery New Zealand offers. We were blown away by trekking through a rising forest, the tip of a waterfall, and an active volcano all in a 3 hour timespan. We can’t wait to come back and complete the full Tongariro Alpine Crossing Track, now that we have a taste for the terrain. We highly recommend checking out this section of Middle Earth if you are in New Zealand’s beautiful north island.