The Waitakere Ranges, west of Auckland, are steep and bush-clad, and cut up into many small valleys. Their high rainfall results in many waterfalls but, because the catchments are small, so are most of the waterfalls, Kitekite and Karekare being the only permanent ones that approach a respectable size. Waitakere Falls, on the other hand, is genuinely impressive at higher flows.
I have generally shown the 'best' pictures of the falls, which in several cases were taken shortly after a good period of wet weather. This is identified with a note in the text. Most of the time, those falls will not be flowing nearly as well. Falls this applies to include Mokoroa, Houheria and Wainamu Falls.
Note that the inclusion of a fall on this page does not necessarily mean the fall, or the easiest route to it, is publicly accessible. Auckland Council GIS (Google it!) is a good guide to public or private ownership, look at 'Rating Information'.
Starting some distance up the coast north of the Waitakeres, at Muriwai,
there are two waterfalls on the Okiritoto Stream. Toroanui Falls is on private land, it can be
seen across the fields from the edge of publicly accessible land in Woodhill Forest. It appears
to be quite a good-sized waterfall, at least from this distance.
The forest extends to a line between Lake Okaihau and the Okiritoto Stream. Sadly, this area has recently been logged, so is probably not a pleasant stroll from the forest gate at Coast Road any more.
Okiritoto FallsOkiritoto Falls is, according to the map, 200 yards further upstream, but can't be seen from the edge of the forest. However, here's an excellent picture of it (many thanks to Matt and Sandi).
The earlier edition of the LINZ map gave the height as 5m (16 feet), but it always looked far more than that.
This picture is a scan from the Hercules episode Resurrection, in which a character jumps off the fall. Assuming the 'stuntie' is five feet tall (which is conservative), the waterfall scales at 30 feet (9m), which seems more like it.
In fact the current map shows it as 8m (26feet) which agrees with the contoured air photo.
Taiapa fallJust for completeness, and since it's on the map... heading upstream, the valley of the Okiritoto Stream (which becomes the Raurataua Stream) curves back round towards the coast. Alongside Taiapa Road is shown a waterfall - which can indeed be seen from the road, though not from the best angle. It's about ten feet high where it disappears over those rock slabs.
Taken in late spring, I haven't fiddled with the colours, it really was that green.
Mokoroa FallsJust south of Taiapa Road, on the northern fringe of the Waitakere Ranges proper, is the seldom-visited Mokoroa Falls, reached by a walking track off Horseman Road. (It's a mile from the falls mentioned above, but fifteen miles by road - the Waitakeres are mercifully undeveloped as far as connecting roads go). The falls form a horseshoe in conjunction with a very small (but higher) waterfall on the Houheria Stream (right of photo).
This view from the viewpoint on the walking track. These photos taken after a lot of heavy rain, so the falls are flowing much better than usual.
|The map gives their height as 11m (35 feet) which looks about right (airphoto agrees).|
Houheria FallsThis is the fall on the Houheria Stream, looking very scenic after plenty of rain. They're normally just a trickle.
The viewpoint on the walking track can be seen at top right.
Wainamu FallsThe Mokoroa Stream joins the Waitakere River just inland from Bethells Beach. On the southern side of the river, the Waiti Stream flows in, flanked by a stretch of sand dunes. At the upper end of the dunes, the Wainamu Stream joins, flowing down from Lake Wainamu, which is held back by the dunes. (The walk up the sandy bed of the Waiti-Wainamu streams to the lake, and back over the dunes is a pleasant excursion. In summer, many people swim in the lake from the dune side).
Just above the lake are a series of small cascades and falls, of which this is the first and highest.
It seems to have an unusually level crest which distributes the flow evenly, except for the little channel on
the right of the photo which steals fully half the water and drops into a natural echo chamber of its own
making, producing an impressive roar which can be heard from some distance down the track as you approach,
even at light flows. However this was taken after quite heavy rain, which gives a much better coverage for
the widespread 'sheet' across the rest of the fall.
Height 4 1/2m (according to airphoto).
The next one upstream (only makes a good showing at high flows like this)
|And this is the uppermost fall in the series - again, this flow is probably as good as it gets||
Upper Wainamu FallsJust a half mile upstream (but an hour's trekking up the streambed and through the bush), just below the crossing of the Wainamu Bush Track, is another flight of falls. The first fall is a low cascade, this is the second and third falls in the series. Unfortunately the bush does not permit a view of the full flight.
|The fourth fall in the series|
|The fifth and topmost fall in the series|
The CascadesThese are among the most-visited - and least seen - falls in the Waitakeres. Paradox? Yes. The Cascades are up a short side-track off the popular Auckland City Walk which runs alongside the Waitakere River stream from the nearby Cascades Park, and they're a good size, but remarkably bashful. As you follow the track up the stream, you sidle round the base of an enormous boulder which has fallen from the overhanging cliffs above. Scrambling over (or under) more huge boulders, with the cliffs closing in overhead, you come upon a small deep pool with a narrow slot at the far end which angles out of sight. With some very cautious climbing round the boulders, or venturing knee-deep in the pool, you can just see the bottom tier of the cascade, and a glimpse of falling water much further up.
This is only really practical in fine weather, when the rocks aren't dangerously slippery, so most visitors never even see this much.
The total fall from the valley above to the pool appears to be about 20 metres, though without doing some canyoning it's impossible to tell how many drops make up the descent.
Waitakere FallsAnd now, the real thing - Waitakere dam and waterfall, seen from Pukematekeo viewpoint above the Scenic Drive. This was after a wet season and prolonged heavy rain, on one of the rare occasions when the dam was full and the fall was allowed to flow. Taken with a long lens on a very overcast day, hence my excuse for the under-exposure.
However, under current regulations, the stream and waterfall are now allowed to flow more regularly - which ironically means the chances of a high flow such as this one are reduced.
The lower photo, also from Pukematekeo, shows the more usual flow over the fall, though the clouds were kind in highlighting the fall and dam.
The dam can be reached by a walking track from the Scenic Drive - follow Anderson Track and West Tunnel Mouth Track to reach the narrow-gauge tramline that was built for the construction of the dam.
Waitakere waterfall, seen from the tramline a quarter mile away (between the short tunnel and Kelly Stream). This is the one spot that gives a view of the waterfall, the thick 'bush' (rain forest) screens the view from everywhere else.
It may be possible to get a better view from the stream bed, but access to 'the valley below the dam' is officially forbidden due to the danger of rockfall from the overhanging cliff seen on the left of the photo.
The Waitakere Ranges are not very high - nothing over 1500 feet - so I was very surprised to find that this fall is the third highest in North Island, after Wairere Falls (502') and Ananui Falls (345'). Waitakere Falls are shown as 95m on the contour map, and a detailed survey carried out to assess the stability of the cliff makes them 94.5m (310 feet) high.
|And this is the little-known lower fall, 19m (64 feet) high. A good drop with a large plunge
pool at its base.
There is no official track to it and access is (probably) forbidden, depending how far 'the valley below the dam' is considered to extend, for which reason the source of this shot prefers to remain anonymous.
Marawhara fallIn north Piha, from the point where the short streamside Marawhara Walk becomes Whites Track, crosses the stream and heads off up the hill, an unofficial but well-trodden track continues up the Marawhara Stream. And this (right) is where it's headed - at the top end of the little Marawhara gorge is this ten-foot fall, which plunges into a deep pool making a popular swimming hole for the locals.
Taken after rain on a slightly misty day
Kitekite Falls lies half a mile up the valley from the head of Glen Esk Road inland from Piha, above the short but steep-sided Kitekite Gorge. The walking tracks to the base of the falls climb up the sides of the valley to avoid the gorge.
Recently a small gap has been cleared in the bush to permit a full view of the falls from the approach track. Previously, it was only possible to photograph the fall in several sections (by looking through different gaps in the trees) and try and join the results together.
A short but moderately steep walking track, Connect Track, leads up to the top of the falls and on into the network of walking tracks in the upper valley.
The best and most pleasant approach is from Glen Esk Road via Byers Walk or Kitekite Track. The approach down Winstone Track to the top of the falls may look shorter, but it's a stiff climb from the bottom of the falls back up to your car.
And in afternoon sunshine
Unlike most falls, these are well angled to catch the late afternoon sun, at least in summer.
A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls says the falls 'plunge 40m (131ft) in three ... leaps'
and the accompanying illustration in that book, taken from the foot of the falls, shows only the
lower three steps. If the upper falls are taken into account, the total is certainly higher than that.
|The top of the falls is the site of a 'driving dam'. A timber dam was built and, when filled, it was tripped to release the impounded lake with its quota of floating kauri logs down to the mill. The photo is taken from an information board on the track; the accompanying text states that this was only tried once, the logs were so damaged on the rocks below that it was never repeated. Thereafter the dam was used only to float logs in the stream below the falls.|
50 yards below the main falls, the stream drops into the narrow, sheer-sided little Kitekite Gorge.
This lower fall can be seen (with some caution) from beside its crest, but not from below unless you wish to
scramble up the gorge itself from the bottom end (as I did for this photo).
The next valley south of Piha is Karekare, site of the other notable Waitakere waterfall. The falls are just a half mile up the valley from the beach, on Company Stream, and it is just a short walk from the road down the track to the foot of the falls themselves.
|The first waterfall you see on the track, though, is this cascade on Opal Pools Stream. It isn't often flowing as well as this, though.|
The contoured airphoto gives the main fall as 39m (128 feet) high and the steep cascade
above it as 18m (60 feet). Just a little short of Kitekite in height.
This was taken from Lone Kauri Road after heavy rain when there was much more water in the falls than usual, and on another overcast day (under-exposed again...)
|And this was taken from Cave Rock Track, high up on the opposite side of the valley. From here, and with this framing, the fall looks lost in the wilderness. It's deceptive.|
|Just around the shoulder of the hill are the scattered houses of Karekare, and (left of photo) the little waterfall on the Murdoch Stream (it only flows well enough to be noticeable after a good rain). It looks from the contours to be about 20m high.|
|3/4 of a kilometre (half a mile) above the Karekare fall on the Company Stream, is this series of small falls...|
|... which culminate at the top in this quite respectable little fall, with a good-sized pool. It's approximately 8m high.
It can be reached by taking Taraire Track to where it crosses the stream, then following the stream eastwards (upstream) - and I mean follow it, do not try to take shortcuts unless you like being lost in the bush!
|The other stream in Karekare, Karekare Stream itself, flows gently through the flat valley alongside the road. At the northern end of the valley, Karekare Road crosses the stream and starts to climb steeply up to the Piha Road. About 500 yards upstream from the road bridge is this fall.|
PararahaThe next valley south of Karekare is the Pararaha valley. I've seen it described as 'remote' in the guidebooks, possibly because there's no road access, but on a sunny Sunday I've encountered four or five groups of adventurers enjoying their 'wilderness experience' - busier than most of the tracks nearer civilisation. The Cowan Stream section splits off near the top end of the valley, but since it's customary to follow it downstream, I'll start at the top of Cowan Stream.
Cowan StreamWARNING: Both Cowan Stream and the Pararaha are 'experienced trampers only' routes. Don't attempt alone, or late in the afternoon. The streamside track on Cowan Stream is quite easy to follow, but can be hard to find, not least because it keeps crossing the stream. You do not want to be trying to find it in the bush with dusk coming on.
You should allow at least an hour and a half to follow the Cowan Stream from Odlins Track to where it joins the Pararaha. (An hour if you know the way and keep moving, OK?)
|Having said that, it makes a satisfying day starting from Karekare, up Zion Ridge (much nicer than walking up the road!),
down Cowan Stream and the Pararaha, and back up the beach to Karekare.
From Lone Kauri Road, Odlins Timber Track descends with many steps to cross the Pararaha Stream then climbs over a stiff hill, and down to the crossing of Cowan Stream. Heading downstream from there, small waterfalls begin almost at once. Most of these are only four or five feet high, but they fall into nice deep large pools.
|Probably for this reason, the stream is popular for 'canyoning', though the term is a misnomer - nowhere do the valley sides close in to force you into the stream. In fact this stream is unusual (for a Waitakere stream) in that respect - there's an easy (for 'experienced trampers') stream-side track all the way down it. Most of the streams that have the energy to create waterfalls have also cut little gorges for themselves, but not this one.|
|And another little cascade...|
|Then we come to a drop in the valley, with this quite impressive cascade in two steps. So far as I can measure, the upper step is 33 feet (10.2m) high, and the wide lower cascade is 21 feet (6.5m) high. I may have been a bit conservative with that, as the airphoto contours suggest a total height of 21m.|
|A few yards further on is this cascade, again in two steps, the upper one is 15 feet (4 1/2m) high and
the lower, 26 feet (8m) high. All these heights are fairly approximate, being measured with a length of string
with a piece of wood tied on the end. The difficulties of getting a near-enough-vertical drop, and judging when
the wood has reached the out-of-sight pool below, without it getting caught up, or sliding over the edge oneself,
(Addendum: A half-full Coke bottle works better than a piece of wood; its shape is better adapted to sliding down rocks and being hauled up again without slipping, and one can feel more readily when it has reached the pool below.)
|And this is the second big drop in the valley floor, yet again in two steps, though more widely separated.
The first is a true waterfall, 26 feet (7.8m) in one sheer drop to the deep pool.
Then a couple of minor drops...
|...which are perched at the top of another wide sloping cascade, 44 feet (13.5m) high so far as I can measure it. However I probably didn't make enough allowance for the slope on this one, the contours hardly support anything over 10 metres here. You can just see the upper fall in the background above it. There's another 5-foot step below this one, too.|
|And down the valley below this is just one more fall, in three steps, 10 feet (3m), 5 feet (1.5m), and a bottom
step (out of sight behind the camera) of 9 feet (2.7 m).
Below this the track follows the stream for what seems like quite a long way to the Pararaha, from where it's just an easy few hundred yards upstream to reach Odlins Track again; or (much more difficult) head downstream on the Pararaha Valley Route (but see the caution below).
Pararaha Valley RouteThe 'Pararaha Valley Route' (it doesn't qualify as a track) follows the stream for about two miles, from where Odlins Track crosses the stream, down to Muir Camp, half a mile inland from the coastal swamps. This section takes at least two hours if you don't know the route well and involves some difficult route-finding and tricky scrambling where sections of track climb over outcrops up the sheer valley side. Caution: Don't start the Pararaha section late in the afternoon as the route is far from obvious and impossible to find in the dark.
|A few hundred yards downstream, the streamside track heads precipitously up over a bluff (right of photo) to avoid this waterfall. Or you can take the other side of the stream (in the bush on left of photo), cross back over just below the camera position, and clamber along the stones imbedded in the steep rock streambank below the fall.|
Walker StreamHalf a mile below this fall, a small stream joins in a sloping waterslide. Just 100 yards up this stream is this nice little fall with a total height (if the contours are to be believed) of 21m (70 feet). Quite satisfying to find it, the air photo showed steep ground here and there it was, just where it should be.
This was on a lightly overcast day, on previous occasions the bright sun and dark shadows made photography very difficult.
||Shortly after Walker Stream, the Pararaha starts to cut its way down into a short narrow gorge. A series of small cascades start, among which is this small twin waterfall. It is a true fall, the water springs free of the rock face, and the total drop is about 5m (16 feet). The small cascade on the right only flows occasionally. The avoiding track climbs high up the hillside above the cliff on the left of the photo, with some disconcertingly near-vertical sections; or you can balance along the sloping rocks on the edge of the pool on the right of the photo (but only if they're dry, not when they're wet with a fine film of green weed on them!).|
|A little further down is this, the tallest of the cascades. It has a large pool, often used
for swimming, just above it, and one at its foot as well. Height 8m / 26'.|
|Below this cascade, the stream falls through several small drops into a short narrow little gorge best negotiated by clambering over the huge kauri tree trunks permanently jammed in it. The 8m cascade can be seen, side-on, as the topmost fall in the photo at left.|
|But for the jammed kauri logs, the gorge would be impassable.|
Below the gorge, the stream flattens out and runs tamely down past the campsite at Muir Track to the swamps at the back of the beach.
The swamps in the Pararaha valley mouth.
The valley is in the right distance.
(I know it ain't waterfall-related but I love this spot).
|Once you reach Muir Camp, you're out of the jungle. The track down through the swamps to the dunes, up the dunes to Tunnel Point, through the tunnel and up the back of the beach to Karekare is easy to follow and takes a bit over an hour. And it's remarkable how much more evening light there is once you're clear of the bush.|
The coastal swamps seen from the track over the dunes south of Tunnel Point.
The Pararaha valley goes up by the low grey dunes in the distance.
|An easier way to visit the Pararaha cascades (rather than tackling the 'Pararaha Valley Route') is to walk down the beach from Karekare past Cowan Point, across the low dunes to pick up the track under the cliffs and through the tunnel at Tunnel Point (this is the track of an old logging railway), down the dunes above the edge of the swamps to Pararaha, and then follow the signposted track to Muir Camp then up the stream (short scramble through the gorge) as far as the cascade. And back the same way.|
Waihuna Stream, PararahaFrom the sandy track across the swamps in Pararaha valley mouth, this ephemeral waterfall can be seen to the north, when it's flowing (which, in summer, is not often). It's on the Waihuna Stream, which has a very small catchment - a pity, since it would be quite spectacular with a bigger flow. Allowing for part of the lower fall being obscured by vegetation, and scaling off the pungas - tree ferns - at its base, the lower fall appears to be about 8m high. This is a pretty rough estimate, obviously. (Mature tree ferns in this area measure, quite consistently, just over 4m across). According to the contoured photo, the main cliff is 20m high up to the middle of the photo, and the total height of the drop is around 40 metres, which agrees.
There are a number of un-named cascades and falls on the Nihotupu stream just above the lake of the Upper Nihotupu Dam, which can be seen from the track which runs down from Piha Road to cross the stream just above the the lake. The top picture shows the uppermost one.
Just below the bridge across the stream is this cascade (right). There's a concrete gauging weir at the top (just visible in the photo),
|... and below the pool the stream runs down a curious narrow deep cut in the
rock that might almost be artificial ...
(I've been told it was indeed artifical. The stream originally flowed around beside the road, it was diverted through the cut to permit quarryng at the head of the lake, to provide rock for the dam)
|to emerge high up the side wall of the valley above the head of the dam lake.
The main fall is 12m high to the top of the mossy hump (scaling off a convenient friend of known height, who was standing on the rocky beach to the right - out of shot in this photo).
There is also a waterfall below the dam which only ever flows when the dam is overflowing, which is rarely.
|And this is the fall into the lake after some brief but heavy rain. They say the Niho dam fills very quickly, this stream is the reason.|
Fairy FallsOn the eastern side of the ranges, reached by a walking track off the Scenic Drive, is Fairy Falls.
It's actually a cascade of quite respectable extent, the contour map suggests at least 60m (200 feet) total height, though mostly in small steps, and it would benefit from a bit more flow. The ranges generally slope to the west so catchments on this eastern side are small.
I'm not sure whether it justifies the obtrusive signage on the Scenic Drive; it's a pleasant enough walk (but a stiff climb back up the hill). I prefer the approach from the Mountain Road end, though parking is extremely limited.
The path crosses the 'falls' half-way up their height; this is the upper half of the cascade, seen from the path.
And this is the lower, steeper cascade; the flow appears to have spread itself a bit thin on the rock face. The path crossing can be seen at the top of the cliff.
It might be worth the hike after some good heavy rain to see it in better condition.
Incidentally, in walking from the Scenic Drive down to the falls, you have walked almost the whole length of the stream that feeds them!
|If, up above the falls, you follow Goodfellow Track, you first pass an enormous kauri tree (possibly one of the largest in the ranges), then this nicely proportioned little cascade, all of ten feet high, just where the track crosses the second little stream and starts to climb furiously towards Old Coach Road Track.|
|And this is the kauri. (Picture tacked together from three 28mm shots with 'Hugin').|
KaramaturaTowards the southern end of the Waitakeres, surrounded by some of the highest hills in the ranges, is the Karamatura valley. Where the Karamatura Track crosses White Stream, a short branch to the right leads to a waterfall, a popular spot for picnic parties. The catchment isn't very large, so the stream is correspondingly small, though like all these streams it can get much bigger when in flood.
|Above the top of the main fall, you can just see further falls in a narrow slot in the rock. A track climbs steeply up the right bank and descends to the stream bed above the series of falls. This is looking down the the next tier of falls from above, the stream disappears over the top of the main fall in the middle distance.|
|And this is turning round and looking at the uppermost of this lowest series of cascades. An easy stroll over the rocks alongside the stream leads to more...|
|This is a cascade down a sloping ramp, the way leads up the slippery ramp on the left of the stream. At the top is a deep pool below the next fall.|
|The next fall in the series. The way on skirts round the steep bank on the right-hand side of the pool, then up a near-vertical rock face with tree roots for handholds, and some kind person has fixed a knotted rope to help|
|And it goes on. The track leads through the bush to the right of this quite impressive fall|
|And on... yet another pool, with a small fall hidden behind the rocks at the far end. The way leads round the edge of this pool, and up the easy rock slope in the centre|
|And this is as far as I got. A small fall, with no obvious track past it (though there may be one higher up the right-hand slope)|
|From here there is even a view - across Kaitarakihi Point and Cornwallis Peninsula and the Manukau Harbour. We're about 700 feet up.|
|Incidentally, if you feel like a bit of an uphill hike on your way back down to Huia, probably the largest kauri in the ranges is at the ridgetop 'crossroads' of Tom Thumb Track, Twin Peaks Track and Goat Hill Track.|
White StreamIf you continue west from where the waterfall track branched off, straight after crossing White Stream, Karamatura Track commences to climb very steeply up the valley side, for about 400 vertical feet. At the top of this long stiff climb, with a steep drop to the valley on the right, the ridge on the left abruptly eases off and a track branches off directly into the ridge, in a cut so level and straight it must surely be artificial. After 50 yards this leads to Whites Stream, flowing gently in a shallow valley, which seems quite bizarre considering the height we've just climbed.
The artificial cut was, I believe, a diversion done in connection with kauri logging, to increase the flow in the Karamatura. There's probably the remains of a logging dam somewhere around.
| Following downstream in this gentle valley for 100 yards leads to the fall line, where the stream abruptly
disappears over the edge. Impossible to get a good view without abseiling, though judging by the sling round a nearby tree,
someone had done exactly that.
With wet slippery rocks and an unknown drop below,
this is as close to the edge as I'm going to get
Looking down the cascade from the top edge.
Seagull StreamThe flat-topped main north-south divide of the Waitakere Ranges is marked by Huia Ridge and Donald McLean Track. Just over the other side of the divide from White Stream, Bob Gordon Track does an apparently pointless loop off the Donald McLean track, part way down the side of the ridge and then back up. At its lowest point it crosses Seagull Stream, on the site of an old kauri dam, and just above a cascade. There isn't a lot of flow, since the stream catchment is so small, but the cascade is of a good height. It probably looks at its best from the valley below, but I didn't feel like finding a way down the slope through the thick bush.
|The Seagull Stream flows down into the Whatipu Stream, which eventually runs out into the coastal swamps at Whatipu.
From Whatipu, Kura Track follows the stream for a mile until it abruptly sidesteps up the slope and follows the contour for a half
mile before clawing its way upslope to Puriri Ridge. From the track you can hear a waterfall below.
|I'd heard there was a waterfall up the stream, and the map showed one in Rimu Gully (the fall marked on the main stream is my addition). Following an easy stream-side track led me to the apparently impassable waterfall pool (top right). A narrow, barely visible track clinging to the rock led past views of further small cascades (partly obscured by trees)...|
|... to more small falls...|
|... and this is as far as I got. This pool was hard to pass.|
|And just for completeness, this is the fall marked on the map, in the Rimu Gully stream - hard to see through the sawgrass, and with a very small flow. It isn't the one you can hear from the track, that one is just a two-foot drop on the main stream.|
Last (and definitely least...)And this is a joke, though I'm not sure by who or on whom. It is undeniably a waterfall, technically anyway. It's on the Esk Stream, a mile above Kitekite Falls, and it is actually marked on the latest edition of the survey map. So I went looking for it, even though the contours and the lie of the land said it couldn't be very high. I walked up the Kauri Grove Track which parallels the stream, listening intently for the roar of falling water - nothing. So I started from the ford on Lucy Cranwell Track and made my way down the stream through thick bush, cautiously so as not to risk slipping and going over the fall should I come on it unexpectedly. As it turns out this might not have caused much damage. It's all of four feet high. The waves on Piha Beach that day were higher...
I think the joke was on me.
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