A land of rivers, mountains, and lakes, New Zealand naturally contains many gorgeous waterfalls. Some are an easy stop on a road trip, while others require several days' walk in the wilderness to reach. Some can be swum in, while others are best viewed from a distance. Spilling from high mountain lakes or tumbling over rocky river beds, shrouded by damp native forest or cascading over rocky cliffs, New Zealand's beautiful waterfalls offer something for everyone. And to top things off, not all of them are best enjoyed from a distance. Read on to discover which provides hot spring waters and which can be white-water rafted. Here are a few of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand.
Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges
Located in West Auckland's Waitakere Ranges, near the popular surf beach of Piha, the 131-foot-high Kitekite Falls is a great place to hike to. Walking tracks start from Glenesk Road, east of Piha, and pass through attractive rainforest. Hike on a warm summer's day, and you can swim in the pool at the bottom. Follow a different trail on the way back, for variety.
Owharoa Falls, Coromandel
Near the famous Karangahake Gorge in the Coromandel, Owharoa Falls is three waterfalls. Two are easily accessible from the parking lot (although there are some steps, so this waterfall isn't the best option for wheelchair or stroller users), whereas the third takes a bit more effort to get to. The most famous of the three falls is an attractive staircase style with different streams running down it. This is a popular place with cyclists, and it is easy to see by mountain bike. Karangahake Gorge and the nearby Owharoa Falls are about a 30-minute drive south of Thames, and an hour north of Tauranga.
Huka Falls, Taupo
Mighty Huka Falls are some of the most accessible and popular waterfalls in New Zealand, and certainly among the most dramatic. The mighty Waikato River gushes through an opening in the rocks that's slightly too small for the volume of water, creating an impressive gush. The volume of water coming into the river from Lake Taupo is controlled by gates, as there are several hydropower stations along the river. There are a few viewing points a short walk from the parking lot, a short drive north of Taupo town.
Bridal Veil Falls, Waikato
One of the numerous waterfalls around the world with this name, Waikato's Bridal Veil Falls drop 180 feet into a pool surrounded by forest. Two viewing platforms are near the top of the falls, although travelers with more time and stamina can also walk to the bottom. Reaching Bridal Veil Falls requires a bit of a detour, but they're near both Hamilton (45 minutes) and Raglan (20 minutes). The two higher lookouts are an easy walk from the parking lot.
Marokopa Falls, Waikato
In the Waitomo area of the North Island, the 115-feet-high Marokopa Falls on the river of the same name is located in Tawarau Forest, surrounded by tawa and nikau trees. The short walk from the parking lot to the falls can be combined with walks to the nearby Piripiri Cave and Mangapohue Natural Bridge, for an active half-day excursion. Marokopa Falls is about a 30-minute drive west of the Waitomo Caves.
Kerosene Creek, Rotorua
Although the falls at Kerosene Creek are just 6.5 feet high, the attraction here is that the waters are geothermally heated. Visitors can bathe in the naturally warm waters, surrounded by native forest. Kerosene Creek is about a 30-minute drive south of Rotorua. There's no entry fee, but don't expect to have these natural baths to yourself.
Tutea Falls, Rotorua
White-water rafting enthusiasts shouldn't miss the chance to raft on the Okere/Kaituna River, where Tutea Falls is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. At 23 feet tall, on a river graded Class V, experienced (or fearless) rafters only should attempt this trip. Most travelers join tours from Rotorua or nearby areas.
Rere Falls, Gisborne
Located on the Wharekopae River northwest of Gisborne, Rere Falls is a vast but delicate curtain of water falling 33 feet down a cliff. A mile further west down the same road is one of Gisborne's most popular natural attractions, the Rere Rockslide, a natural waterslide. Both the falls and the slide can easily be visited on the same trip; they're about a 40-minute drive from Gisborne.
Maruia Falls, Tasman District
The 33-feet-high Maruia Falls were created by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in 1929, known as the Murchison Earthquake, that shifted the level of the earth. Further evidence of this earthquake can also be seen at the nearby Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park, which has information and markers showing the before and after level of the land. The falls are 15-minutes' drive south-west of the town of Murchison, on the edge of the Kahurangi National Park, which is a white-water rafting hot spot. It's a short and easy walk from the parking lot. It's not safe to swim there (signs remind you of this), although some experienced white-water kayakers do sometimes tackle them.
Sutherland Falls, Milford Sound
Sutherland Falls are the highest waterfalls in New Zealand, at a dramatic 1902 feet. The source of the falls is Lake Quill, which spills out over a ridge of the circular mountain bowl where it sits. Unlike many other falls on this list, Sutherland Falls is not that easy to get to, which perhaps adds to its appeal. Located in Fiordland, it can only be seen via a scenic flight (from Milford Sound, Queenstown, or Te Anau), or on the four-day Milford Track hike. Walkers will see Sutherland Falls on the third day of the walk.
Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Sound
The trip to 531-foot-high Lady Bowen Falls at Milford Sound is an excellent option for families or other travelers who want a bit of an adventure, but not a very strenuous one. A short boat ride from Freshwater Basin at Milford Sound takes travelers to a pontoon, from where the falls are a short walk. Access to these falls was closed for 15 years due to instability from rock falls, but the track was reopened in 2018.
Thunder Creek Falls, Mt. Aspiring National Park
The 315-foot-high Thunder Creek Falls, in the Mt. Aspiring National Park, is a must-stop when traveling along the Haast Highway on the West Coast of the South Island. Thunder Creek Falls is about a 1.5-hour drive from Wanaka. A viewing deck and the base of the falls can both be reached via a short walk from the parking lot.
Devil's Punchbowl Falls, Arthur's Pass National Park
The walk to the 430-foot Devil's Punchbowl Falls provides an excellent short walk for moderately fit travelers. A short climb up steps leads to a viewing platform. The surrounding beech forest is home to native birds, including fantails, kea, and kiwis. Located in the Arthur's Pass National Park in the central South Island, the falls are just off the main highway, between Christchurch and the West Coast, so are a good place to break the journey.
Purakaunui Falls, Catlins Forest Park
Beautiful Purakaunui Falls is reminiscent of the kinds of multi-tiered waterfalls you might see in Upstate New York. Located in the Catlins Forest Park that straddles the Otago-Southland border, the 65-foot falls are reached via a track through beech and podocarp forests. They're partway between Dunedin and Invercargill, but a bit closer to Invercargill. McLean Falls, in another part of the Catlins Forest Park, is also breathtaking and equally worth the trip to this often overlooked part of the country.