nzwaterfalls.html v4 New Zealand Waterfalls

New Zealand Waterfalls

These pages depict a random selection of New Zealand waterfalls. There are a huge number of waterfalls in the country, most of them small and known only locally, the more you go looking, the more pop up. This site just lists a few that I've noticed. Some of them I didn't even know existed, I'd be driving down a back road and see a sign that said 'Waterfall' - Waitanguru, Mount Damper and Te Reinga falls come into that category.

Any heights given here I've found by searching the net, though I have to say that some of the figures cover a fairly wide range of opinion. I've quoted the figures that seem most likely to bear some resemblance to reality. To do any better, I may have to resort to visiting some of these falls with a very long tape measure with a weight on the end.

I've split them into pages, about five for North Island and one for South Island. To North Islanders, the South Island (whose locals call it 'the Mainland') is almost like a foreign country, we have to actually get out of our cars and get on a boat (or a plane) to get there. However, when it comes to waterfalls, South Island has them like a dog has fleas. The far greater number of North Island waterfalls in these pages just reflects the fact that I can get to them easier. My apologies to South Islanders for living in the wrong place.

Equally contentious may be the way I've grouped waterfalls in the North Island. I've done this purely for my own convenience with no regard for regional boundaries.

This is part of the reason why the Waitakere Ranges get a whole page to themselves when only one waterfall really deserves mention. They're on my doorstep and tracking them down takes a pleasant few hours on a sunny weekend.

Auckland Region
West Coast (North Island)
Central North Island waterfalls
Eastern North Island Waterfalls
Hawkes Bay Waterfalls
Waitakere Ranges waterfalls
South Island Waterfalls

Footnote on photography

Many waterfalls are in deep gorges or steep-sided valleys which make it very difficult to get a good view of them. Often trees get in the way - in many cases the authorities have considerately cleared a gap in the trees or built a viewing platform.

Quite frequently, for example Mt Damper Falls or Bridal Veil Fall, a standard 35mm or 40mm (equivalent) lens such as is fitted to most compact digital cameras can't get them 'in one', a wide-angle lens such as 28mm (equivalent) is needed. The alternative is to take several shots (allowing a good overlap) and using software to join them together - the 'free' programs given out with digital cameras are weighted towards being easy-to-use and sometimes give good results, but often get caught out with blurry transitions. More sophisticated software can do an excellent job - I use Hugin+enblend, which are free (open source) programs and there are packages for all the major Linux distributions (I use Debian), and Windows.
Of course, a helicopter would in many cases give the ideal viewpoint, but hire costs would be rather prohibitive.

Sunshine can give you a hard time. Again, because of their frequent location in deep valleys (and always on the side of cliffs), waterfalls can often be in shadow. Film or digital cameras are far less tolerant of contrasting light and shade than the eye. On clear sunny days it's essential to get the entire fall in sunshine (or alternatively entirely in shadow). The sunlight makes the fall stand out beautifully, but patches of shade can make it impossible to photograph satisfactorily. On such days, being there at the right time can be vital.
A day with light overcast, on the other hand, is far more tolerant of timing - almost any time of day will do so long as there's enough daylight.

Another factor is the New Zealand bush - very dense and dark, as soon as the sun is off it. This can provide a good contrast with the waterfall, but too much of it can make the picture look very gloomy - see the second photo of Marokopa Falls (North Island) for an example.

Heights of Falls

The heights of waterfalls seem to be one of those topics where numbers get thrown around with great abandon, and it's hard to know whether they've been accurately measured or are just someone's optimistic guess. Searching on the Net doesn't always help much as figures are quoted without attribution. There's also the question of whether smaller falls above or below the main fall are included in the quoted height, or should be.

Generally, I'd accept figures quoted on the 1:50,000 maps of the NZMS 260 series published by Land Information NZ (formerly Lands & Survey). However not all falls have their heights shown.

Sometimes, as in the case of Thunder Creek Falls or Tawhai Falls, the quoted heights vary by a factor of three to one, which makes one wonder if someone hasn't made a metres-for-feet error somewhere.

In these pages I've sometimes fallen into the error of quoting heights without giving their sources; I'll try and tidy this up. Where I say 'survey map' or '1:50,000' map I mean the NZMS series mentioned above; generally I would regard this as the most credible source. I would regard DOC (Department of Conservation) and regional council (parks) figures as reasonably credible, though not always infallible. Local tourism sites I would suspect of optimism on occasion.

Estimating height

In a couple of cases, where there is no published height for a fall, I've calculated the height myself from my photos. This method only works where the fall is reasonably vertical, seen roughly square-on by the camera (i.e. at the same level), and where the camera's distance is known.

For an example, I'll explain how I calculated the height of 'Hidden Fall' at Arthurs Pass (last item on the 'South Island waterfalls' page).
The EXIF data buried in the JPG image gives a focal length of 36.6mm (which happens to be full zoom for my Panasonic LZ2). At full screen, on my monitor, the fall measures 190mm on the screen.
I took, for comparison, a shot of a steel rule at exactly 2m distance and with the lens at a focal length of 36.6mm. Bringing this photo up on screen, full-screen, 190mm (screen length) equates to 223mm actual length on the steel rule.
Using the large-scale map at NZtopoOnline, the distance from the railway track to the base of the slope is 160m. Then, by proportion, the fall must be 0.223 x (160/2) = 18m high.

The opportunities for error in the measurements are obvious. However, in the absence of a proper survey, the result (treated with due caution) is probably at least as accurate as most measurements.

Another good source for estimating the horizontal distance information is available at Google Maps, the aerial photos (select 'Satellite') come with a scale on them.


The maps on these pages are all sourced from Land Information NZ, mostly their large-scale 1:50,000 series, and are accessible at as complete downloads in TIFF format (though they're huge, typically 80MB).

On-line map: The whole of New Zealand is now accessible as a searchable, zoomable map (incorporating the LINZ 1:250,000 and 1:50,000 maps) at


Except where otherwise noted, the photos on these pages are all mine. You're welcome to make use of them, though a link to these pages would be appreciated.

This is what LINZ have to say about copyright on their maps: "Unless otherwise specified, content produced by LINZ is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. In essence you are free to copy, distribute, and adapt the work, as long as you attribute the work to LINZ and abide by the other licence terms."

I think that is incredibly public-spirited of them.

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