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Hidden Waterfalls and Nature Trails in New Zealand: A Guide to the Most Breathtaking Sites

New Zealand is blessed with incredible natural beauty and diverse landscapes that allow for some spectacular hikes to hidden gems. From lush rainforests to rugged mountains, New Zealand’s South and North Islands have endless options for jaw-dropping waterfalls tucked away off the beaten path and secluded walking tracks through native bush.

This comprehensive guide covers some of the most amazing hidden waterfalls and stunning nature trails found throughout New Zealand that should be on every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list.

Table of Contents

  • Overview of Top Hidden Waterfalls and Nature Trails in NZ
  • North Island Hidden Gems
  • Taranaki Waterfalls and Tracks
  • Coromandel Peninsula Secluded Waterfalls
  • South Island Bucket List Hikes and Walks
  • Fiordland National Park Trails
  • West Coast Waterfalls and Rainforest Walks
  • Hidden Waterfall and Track Comparison Table
  • FAQ on Exploring NZ Nature Sites

Overview of Top Hidden Waterfalls and Nature Trails in NZ

New Zealand has no shortage of world-famous Great Walks like the Milford Track and famous tourist attractions like the Huka Falls. But avid hikers and nature lovers know that some of the most magical sights are off the beaten path on less-travelled trails.

The North Island of New Zealand may be less rugged than the South Island, but it still hides cascading waterfalls and native bush walks perfect for escaping the crowds. The verdant Taranaki region and rolling hills of the Coromandel Peninsula conceal swimming holes and walks for all abilities.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s South Island is truly a haven for hiking and waterfall enthusiasts. From the legendary rainforests of Fiordland to the West Coast’s dense bush, you’ll be spoiled for choice with secluded waterfalls only reachable on foot and multi-day treks crossing mountain passes under permanent rainbows.

The following sections provide more detail on some of the most spectacular hidden waterfalls and nature trails that should be on your New Zealand bucket list.

North Island Hidden Gems

While the South Island hogs most of the attention from international visitors, the North Island has no shortage of natural wonders for those willing to get off the tourist trail.

Taranaki Waterfalls and Tracks

Mount Taranaki National Park is a mecca for waterfall hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. With over 250km of walking tracks, three ski fields, and countless waterfalls, it would take a lifetime to fully explore this special place.

Some recommended tracks and waterfalls in Taranaki include:

  • The Veronica Loop Track – A 5-6 hour loop hike through wetlands at the northern end of Egmont National Park with spectacular waterfalls only accessible on foot. Stop to see Thunder Falls, Silent Falls, Secret Falls, and other cascades along the route.
  • Dawson Falls – A 20 minute walk through beech forest to an impressive 55m waterfall. Continue further up and over the national park on the challenging Pouakai Circuit for sensational alpine vistas.
  • Bells Falls – One of Taranaki’s most impressive falls, the Maori-named Ongarue plunges 20m into a boulder-ringed pool. Access via a short walk from the Egmont National Park Visitor Centre on Egmont Rd.
  • The Falls Track – Just 30 minutes from the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre, this easy 1-hour return walk follows a stream to several small waterfalls surrounded by native ferns and lush rainforest.

With its ring of waterfalls thanks to high annual rainfall, Taranaki is a must-visit for waterfall lovers and anyone wanting to experience New Zealand’s diverse and spectacular landscapes away from the crowds.

Coromandel Peninsula Secluded Waterfalls

Just a short drive from Auckland, the stunning Coromandel Peninsula is another North Island gem known for its rugged west coast, golden sand beaches, native forests, and cascading waterfalls carved into the rolling hills over millennia.

Some top secluded waterfalls and nature walks on the Coromandel to check out include:

  • Kaueranga Kauri Track – Wander through impressive 500 year old kauri trees and see thundering cascades dropping into deep pools along the river in this special forest park.
  • Waiau Falls Track – One of the most remote and pristine waterfalls accessible in the Coromandel, it’s an 8km hike into dense rainforest to two waterfalls with idyllic swimming holes. Be prepared for stream crossings and varied terrain.
  • Broken Hills Track – Just over an hour’s walk near Thames brings you to two waterfalls nestled amongst palm trees and native bush.
  • Wentworth Valley Waterfall Track – A magical fairy tale forest walk suitable for all abilities with a tranquil 15m tiered cascade at the end.
  • Cathedral Cove Walk – While technically not a waterfall, this iconic 2 hour coastal trail ends at the famous Cathedral Cove with its iconic rock arch, sea caves, and sparkling blue waters. A bucket list NZ walk!

With its unique combination of rainforest, ocean views and secluded cascades, the Coromandel Peninsula is arguably one of the best places in New Zealand to connect with lush native bush and have a waterfall-filled adventure away from mass tourism.

South Island Bucket List Hikes and Walks

While the North Island may fly under the international tourism radar, the South Island needs little introduction. Boasting epic landscapes from Aoraki/Mount Cook to towering rainforest valleys, here is a taste of some breathtaking hidden waterfalls and tracks on the South Island.

Fiordland National Park Trails

Fiordland National Park remains one of New Zealand’s most remote and pristine natural locations. Forming part of the Te Wahipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area, its rugged grandeur is unrivalled.

Some top Fiordland tracks and lesser-visited waterfalls include:

  • Key Summit Track – A panoramic 3 hour return hike in Fiordland National Park near the famous Routeburn Track, with a surprising waterfall at the top surrounded by alpine plants and dramatic views over lakes and peaks.
  • Lake Gunn Nature Walk – Located off the famous Milford Road, this short 30 minute forest loop walk leads through beech forest to an impressive hidden waterfall.
  • Precipice Creek Waterfall – After tackling the famous Gertrude Saddle day hike to Milford Sound, cool off at this tucked away cascading waterfall only reachable on foot.
  • Lake Hankinson Nature Trail – Just 30 minutes north of Te Anau, this peaceful loop walk through podocarp forest hides a tucked away waterfall cave resurgence.
  • Moraine Creek Track – Starting from the Kepler Track Great Walk near Te Anau, venture 30 minutes upstream on this offshoot trail to see this tucked away cascade beside the shallow blue pools of the Upper Moraine basin.

With its World Heritage status and location within New Zealand’s largest national park, Fiordland has no shortage of jaw-dropping scenery. Its remote wilderness shelters hidden waterfalls and secluded nature walks certain to inspire.

West Coast Waterfalls and Rainforest Walks

Stretching along the west side of the South Island, the West Coast is fittingly known for high annual rainfall contributing to dense temperate rainforests and powerful cascades carved into the landscape.

Some classic West Coast waterfalls and lush forest walks well worth checking out include:

  • Lake Matheson/Fox Glacier Walks – Two spectacular nature walks starting from the roadside. Walk through ancient forest to crystal clear views of Aoraki/Mt Cook mirrored in Lake Matheson and venture as close as safely possible to the Fox Glacier Terminal Face.
  • Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes – See the ocean smash against layers of limestone forming “pancake” rock stacks. Then take a short 5 minutes walk north along the coastal track to hidden surge chambers and blasts of water shooting skyward.
  • Lake Kaniere Scenic Reserve Walks – Several short walks near Hokitika ranging from 30 minutes to a few hours to various waterfalls and scenic outlooks around the idyllic Lake Kaniere. Dorothy Falls, Hans Bay Falls, and Lane Creek Falls are highlights.
  • Paparoa National Park Waterfall Tracks – Too many spectacular waterfalls to list in this World Heritage site! Must sees include the Croesus Track to Tokyo Falls and Ces Clark to see the highest above-ground tiered waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Ballroom Overhang Track – Travel just south of fox Glacier township to experience this enchanting 20 minute loop track through mossy temperate rainforest to emerge at a rocky overhang behind a punch bowl waterfall.

If thunderous waterfalls tumbling from all sides into ancient forest is your scene, put the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island at the top of your bucket travel list!

Hidden Waterfall and Track Comparison Table

 

 

Taranaki NP Dawson Falls Walk 20 minutes 55m waterfall Easy
Coromandel Peninsula Kaueranga Kauri Track 2-3 hours 500 year old kauri trees, waterfalls Easy-Moderate
Coromandel Peninsula Waiau Falls Track 4 hours return Remote pristine waterfalls and pools Hard
Fiordland NP Key Summit Track 3 hours return Alpine plants, lake views, surprise waterfall Moderate
West Coast Fox Glacier Terminal Face Walk 1 hour return Up close safe views of glacier Easy
West Coast Pancake Rocks and Blowholes 30 minutes Iconic limestone formations, blowholes Easy

FAQ on Exploring NZ Nature Sites

Do I need any special experience or gear to hike in New Zealand?

While there are plenty of short easy walks accessible to anyone, exploring hidden waterfalls and remote locations often involves intermediate to advanced hikes. Be prepared for stream crossings, slippery rocks, changeable weather, and proper footwear. Research any tracks beyond your skill level to know what gear is required.

What time of year is best for hiking in New Zealand?

The summer months from December to February are often ideal with long daylight hours and higher temperatures. However the most dramatic waterfalls can be seen after heavy rainfall, making spring (September-November) and autumn (March-May) seasons a great alternative. Just be prepared with waterproof layers.

How can I stay safe while hiking and waterfall hunting in New Zealand?

  • Check the weather report and track conditions before setting out
  • Tell a trusted contact your plans and intended return time
  • Pack appropriate first aid supplies, navigation tools, and emergency communication devices
  • Stay on marked tracks and obey all warning signs near waterfalls
  • Never dive or jump from waterfalls no matter how calm they appear

Are there guided tour options to see remote waterfalls I can’t access myself?

Many specialist tour companies around New Zealand offer small group tours, transport, and experienced guides to hidden waterfalls off limits to solo hikers or those without the necessary skills. Guided tours are a great option if you have limited time or want to see hard-to-reach places like Waiau Falls on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Conclusion

New Zealand remains one of the world’s premier outdoor playgrounds, spoiled with options for adventurers of all levels with a passion for remote wilderness and waterfalls. Unique native bush and the dramatic impacts of ice ages have carved out steep valleys hiding hundreds of cascades, only reachable via countless hiking tracks that could take lifetimes to fully explore.

From Taranaki’s ring of waterfalls on the North Island to the rain-drenched beech forests of Fiordland National Park, you’ll be amazed by New Zealand’s vivid blue pools, multi-stepped veils, and the deafening roar of remote falls accessible only on foot. Just be sure to respect their beauty and power.

So pack your bags and ready your camera! New Zealand’s hidden waterfalls and off the beaten path nature trails are calling.

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