Tarawera Falls

These are the most spectacular falls in the Bay of Plenty. The Tarawera River plunges 65 metres down a sheer cliff face before tumbling down bush-lined rapids.

Te Tatau a Hape

‘Te Tatau a Hape’ or ‘The doorway of Hape’ is the original name for the Tarawera Falls.

The ancestor Hape (whose full name is Hape-ki-tumanui or Hape-ki-tumanui-o-te rang) is said to have come from Hawaiki to Aotearoa/New Zealand in search of greenstone. He arrived here on the Te Rangi-matoru canoe which made landfall at Ohiwa Harbour.

From Ohiwa, Hape made his way inland until he reached a spot above the Falls. He mistook the green aquatic plants in the clear waters of the river below for greenstone and so set about blocking the course of the Tarawera River by placing a large boulder above the Falls where the waters enter an underground cleft. Dismayed at finding no greenstone, Hape continued his quest journeying southward, eventually reaching the West Coast of the South Island and the prized greenstone.

The land and its mantle


The Tarawera River bed around the Falls is carved into ancient volcanic rocks and the high cliffs are thought to the eroded face of an ancient lava flow that poured from Mt. Tarawera about 11,000 years ago.

The forest, dominated by Pohutukawa and Rata as well as hybrids of the two, is relatively young. The Mt. Tarawera eruption of 1886 devastated forests in this area. Floods, caused by the sudden release of volcanis debris blocking the lake outlet, have also caused huge changes to the upper valley. The last time it happened, in 1904, 700 metres per second flowed over the falls.

Native forest birds such as Tui, Tomtits, Fantails and Kereru can often be seen near the tracks.

Tarawera Falls Track

Start: Waterfall Road carpark

Time: 20 minutes one way – 0.7km

This part of the track system is easy and well graded. From the carpark, heading upstream along the Tarawera River, cross the footbridge then continue along the river until you arrive at the Falls viewing area. It’s a spectacular sight and there are signs to explain the cultural and natural significance of the area. Backtrack to the carpark or continue along the walking track to the Tarawera Outlet.

Tarawera Outlet to Falls Track

Start: Tarawera Outlet

Time: 1.5 hours one way – 5km

AT the outlet, cross the bridge and turn right. The track meanders through the native bush, largely following the river. Caution is advised for those wishing to swim beside this track due to strong currents. However, there is a safe and popular swimming spot about an hour from the Outlet, at a wider and shallower stretch of the river where the water runs more gently. Shortly afterwards, the track divides for a brief distance before coming together again and zigzaging down a steep escarpment to the viewing area at the base of the Falls.

If you have not arranged return transport, you will have to go back along the same track to the Outlet.