The Best Known Waterfalls in New Zealand

From mountains and glaciers to beaches and fjords, New Zealand overflows with natural wonders, and waterfalls are no exception. Read on to discover the best waterfalls in New Zealand.

Travel and Exploration
3 May 2023

Rugged mountains, vast forests, and winding rivers all contribute to New Zealand’s natural beauty. And waterfalls are an integral part of this breathtaking landscape, with many of them formed by glaciers, volcanic activity, and erosion over millions of years.

With countless examples of stunning cataracts and cascades, we’re picking out some of the best-known waterfalls in New Zealand, starting with what may be the tallest one.

Sutherland Falls: The Tallest Waterfall in New Zealand?

Sutherland Falls (Photo: Kriste Sorokaite via Getty Images)

With an approximate total drop of 1,904 feet, Sutherland Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the world and usually cited as the tallest waterfall in New Zealand. Rather than plunging in one fell swoop, it does so in leaps of 815, 751, and 338 feet respectively. These multiple cascades, combined with the dense forests and rugged cliffs surrounding it, only enhance its grandeur and majestic beauty. It’s little wonder therefore to discover that it featured amongst the otherworldly scenes of Peter Jackson’s fantasy film The Hobbit.

Huka Falls

Huka Falls (Photo: wallix via Getty Images)

The name “Huka Falls”, offers a first glimpse into the unique character of one of the most iconic waterfalls in New Zealand. You see “Huka” is the Maori word for “foamy”. This, together with vivid turquoise waters, thunderous sound, and raw power characterise this extraordinary feature along the Waikato River in Taupō on North Island. It occurs where the Waikato, which is New Zealand’s longest river, narrows from 328 feet to around 50 feet in width. This transforms the previously tranquil river into roiling rapids just as it reaches the 36-foot drop. Thus, the river flows at a rate of 7,770 cubic feet per second down the ravine, explodes over the Huka Falls and into a turbulent pool below.

Lady Bowen Falls

Lady Bowen Falls (Photo: NurIsmailPhotography via Getty Images)

The 530-foot deluge of Lady Bowen Falls, framed by the dense greenery of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, is an awe-inspiring sight. Often referred to as simply “Bowen Falls” or by its Maori name of “Hineteawa”, this formidable cataract provides the local area with much more than a bucolic landscape. Indeed, like many of the waterfalls of New Zealand, it’s a crucial natural resource for the region. Not only is it harnessed for its water, but also to generate hydroelectric power to the nearby Milford Sound township.

Bridal Veil Falls / Waireinga Falls

Bridal Veil Falls (Photo: Westend61 via Getty Images)

This magnificent waterfall in Raglan in Waikato is also known as Waireinga Falls. It’s also worth noting that there are other waterfalls in New Zealand and indeed around the globe with names such as “Bridal Veil Falls”, the resemblance of flowing water to gossamer lace inspiring such monikers. Fed by the Pakoka River, it plunges approximately 180 feet in a single, striking stream, the white water contrasting dramatically with the dark volcanic basalt cliffs behind. The waterfall pours into a large pool, creating a mesmerising mist that adds to its ethereal beauty.

Thunder Creek Falls

Thunder Creek Falls (Photo: Paul Souders via Getty Images)

Amidst the craggy peaks and valleys of Mount Aspiring National Park in Otago, the stream known as Thunder Creek flows determinedly over a cliff-edge, plummeting some 92 feet in a single horsetail. Reaching the bottom of its descent, its waters join Haast River.

Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Falls (Photo: Martin Ruegner via Getty Images)

With its tiered cascades, lush surroundings, and serene atmosphere, Purakaunui Falls is amongst the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand. Found within the small reserve of Catlins Forest Park in Otago, it is nestled amid a mixed podocarp and beech forest.

Wairere Falls

Wairere Falls (Photo: TomKli / 500px via Getty Images)

Wairere Falls roars amid the moss and ferns of Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park in the Bay of Plenty. With a drop of over 490 feet, it’s the highest of all the waterfalls of New Zealand’s North Island.

Marokopa Falls

Marokopa Falls (Photo: Jeanluc Spire / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Another stunning example of the waterfalls of New Zealand is found along the Marokopa River in Waitomo, Waikato. Marokopa Falls plunges almost 100 feet in a wide horsetail shape, creating a stunning visual display amidst the dense vegetation of native tawa and nikau forest.

Top Waterfalls Auckland has to Offer

Kitekite Falls (Photo: Ronnie Li via Getty Images)

Located in Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Kitekite Falls is one of the best known waterfalls Auckland has to offer. Also known as Kitakita Falls, this 130-foot plunge dives into a large lake-like pool. There are actually a surprising number of waterfalls Auckland has within its vicinity. For example, Oakley Creek Te Auaunga Waterfall, located along the longest urban stream on the Auckland isthmus. Some lesser known, but beautiful cascades include Lucas Creek Waterfall at Gills Scenic Reserve in Albany and the 98-foot high Hunua Falls at Hunua Ranges Regional Park.

New Zealand Waterfalls

New Zealand Waterfalls (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty Images)

In conclusion, New Zealand is home to some of the most stunning waterfalls in the world. From the towering heights of the Sutherland Falls to the delicate beauty of the Bridal Veil Falls, New Zealand waterfalls are not to be “mist”.


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