Waitonga Falls can boast being the highest waterfall in the Tongariro National Park, and boast it does. When I researched this hike, every single post that I read made this claim. Yes, it is the highest waterfall in Tongariro National Park, but is much more than that. In the winter it turns into a majestic winter wonderland, rivalling the most picturesque postcards. The Falls are spectacular, but so is the hike up, Waitonga Falls Track. Evidently, we weren’t the only ones with the same opinion as the track got fairly busy during our time there.
Time 1-2 hours return. There are options that allow you can carry on to one of the many huts in the area if you wanted more of a challenging or longer hike
Access Follow Ohakune Mountain Road up Mt Ruapehu for about 11km, on the right-hand side you will see a carpark clearly signposted with access to several hikes in the area
Difficulty In the winter this can be a difficult hike due to the snow, however, there is little elevation gain and it is a relatively short hike so it is suitable for children.
Crawling up Mt Ruapehu
Pa and I headed up to Mt Ruapehu nice and early, as it was peak skiing season, we had to follow the long and slow line of cars crawling up the mountain.
We managed to get a break when the majority of the cars had to stop to put chains on their wheels, but as we weren’t going too much further we didn’t need them.
There was only one other car in the carpark when we got there. Huzzah! So we donned our jackets, hats, gaiters and scarves then headed off. Our breath caught in the crisp air as our feet crunched on the icy snow that covered the track.
Up Waitonga Falls Track
Waitonga Falls Track is well formed, wide and easy to follow. The first point of interest is the little bridge that spans the width of the gentle bouldered river running between the valley. The fresh snow was just waiting to be spoiled by our footprints.
From here the track meanders slowly up the mountain. There are a few hills and a set of steps but these are neither long nor steep.
The track then levels out to an alpine wetland area and Rotokawa pools. This area has a boardwalk to protect the fragile nature of the area. Make sure you stick to the boardwalk if you are hiking this track. On a clear day, Mt Ruapehu is reflected in the pools.
Once you have passed the wetlands it is down into the bush again. Not far from here lies Waitonga Falls.
Unsurprisingly, we heard the falls before we saw them. Gushing down the side of the rock, the falls are powerful. The dusting of snow on the surrounding area made it look like someone rather large had sat above and sprinkled icing sugar all over the area.
This was our destination for the day but you can carry on to other huts in the area if you fancy freezing your tooshie off for the night.
We sat (well, crouched, the snow was rather wet) and admired the falls for a while before turning back for the car again. It was a bit busier going back and the pristine white snow was starting to turn into sludge from the various footprints and the sun starting to warm the earth.
German and Asain tourists were amongst locals coming out to enjoy the winters day. This was a novelty for me. Usually, I don’t see another soul on my hikes apart from the local birds and insects. It was a pleasant change, even if I do prefer the feathered and 6-legged variety of hiking buddies.
Waitonga Falls Track Oozes Family Friendliness
On our way back from the falls, the track was far busier. We came across a few family groups, one with preschool aged children as well as many tourists.
This track is perfect for kids, it is wide, not too hilly and has plenty to keep them entertained for the whole hike. There are many bench seats to stop at, spots for building snowmen, bridges and the wetlands is like another world.
I am going to bring my own children here this winter. They’ll love it.
Top Tips For Hiking Waitonga Falls Track
Though this is a relatively easy hike, there are still some important points to keep in mind:
- Waitonga Falls is on Mt Ruapehu. It is an alpine track so you need to be prepared for alpine conditions. This means hats, scarves, gloves, waterproof jacket, layers, sunglasses, extra food, proper boots and gaiters
- If the conditions are too bad, don’t attempt to hike the track. Come back another day, it will still be there.
- If you aren’t a competent hiker, mid-winter isn’t the best time to hike Waitonga Falls Track. Summer is best, it’s still just as beautiful then
- Always tell someone where you are going and your expected return time first. There is no cellphone reception on the track
- Chuck some warm clothes and socks in the car for afterwards, especially if you are going when there is snow. Your slippers will feel like heaven on your wet, cold feet.
- Check the weather before you head out but also keep in mind that the weather is changeable. Especially in alpine conditions.
Waitonga Falls Track is a great short walk in the Tongariro National Park. If you want the alpine experience without the difficulty of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, this is the hike for you.
Other Snow Filled Hikes You might also like:
- Hiking in Winter Tips + Tricks
- Shorts Track/Knights Track, Ruahine Range
- Dead man’s Track, Ruahine Range
- A-Frame Hut, Ruahine Range
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