Dawson Falls – Waingongoro Loop

Where: Mt Taranaki – East Egmont
Distance & Time: 14km loop walk, 4 hours 30 minutes
Take: water, snacks, wind jacket, hiking boots, layers of clothing
Amenities on route: visitor centre, car park, and toilets at the start/end of the walk
Cost of the walk: Free


If you asked a child to draw a mountain, I’m pretty sure they’d produce an image that looked very similar to Mt Taranaki. As you drive into Taranaki, the Maunga draws you in, and seeing her in winter, her top covered in snow, is just glorious.

Thankfully, Paul was driving so it meant I could just gaze out the car window, studying the mountain and trying to figure out exactly where we’d be walking the next day (admittedly, I’m still not entirely sure I could point out on the map where we walked!)

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Mt Taranaki as seen from our AirBnB in Stratford

We’d made the decision to stay in Stratford on Friday night so it would only be a short drive to the start of the walk on Saturday morning. Well, it would have been short if *someone* hadn’t forgotten their hiking boots and we had to turn around to go back to the accommodation to get them. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as when we turned around we realised that we could see Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro, and Mt Ngauruhoe in front of us, with Mt Taranaki to our left – glorious!

The Dawson Falls Visitor Centre is only a 25 minute drive from Stratford, and seems to be quite a popular location. There were a few cars and vans in the carpark when we arrived, which made us think there would be loads of people on the track, but that didn’t turn out to be the case (thank goodness!)

Amy’s Advice – call into the Visitor Centre to get the latest weather information. Weather on Mt Taranaki, like any mountain, can change instantly and you will need the most up to date information

We’d decided to merge two of the walks together – the Konini Loop to Dawson Falls, and the Waingongoro Loop track – all up it’d give us a good four hour hike, some stunning views, and hopefully some snow (spoiler alert: there was snow!)

The Dawson Falls walk is relatively short, the loop took us 40 minutes, which included a side mission to the base of the falls. It was quite lovely there as it was just us two, I can imagine it would have been a different story if there had been loads of other people around too!

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I’m well aware that my photo-posing skills require some work

I may have gotten a wee bit excited when on the Waingongoro track we came across SNOW! Admittedly, it was just a small amount, the size of a couple of bits of A3, but still – SNOW!

And then a Swingebridge. Seriously, could this walk get any better?! Why yes, yes it could.

But before it got any better it got a bit more challenging. We’d been warned that there may be some large branches and/or trees on the tracks as the rangers hadn’t had a chance to clear them since the big storm a few weeks ago. Well, we came across a few branches and either walked around them or stepped over the top. That was fine. And then we came to slightly bigger trees that had fallen across the track….and then we came across a tree that we had to climb to the top of to get through and even then, where we thought the track was turned out to be in the complete opposite direction.

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One of the many trees we had to navigate around on the track after the huge storm that passed over the mountain in mid July.

We rock hopped (slight exaggeration – we stepped across) a couple of smaller streams, although I could imagine these would flow higher and faster once the snow melts or after a decent amount of rainfall.

Heading up the Enchanted Track was lovely, but admittedly, I have relatively little tolerance for lovely scenery when I am having to climb stairs that seem to go on forever. And stairs that were made for people with giant legs – I’m fairly tall but even I was having to stretch on a few of the stairs!

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Contemplating pulling a Tarzan in the Enchanted Forest.

I’d lost track of how high we’d climbed or even where the Mountain summit was when all of a sudden we emerged from the forest and wow-wee, there she was!

Some people get snap happy when they see a flash car, a famous person, or a iconic structure. I get snap happy at mountains. My phone is full of multiple same-same-but-slightly-different photos from this walk, and I’m totally ok with that.

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I have approximately 48 identical photos to this in my phone.

For our first two hours on the track we saw maybe five other people. Once we got to the Stratford Plataeau, foot traffic increased somewhat. I hadn’t realised but there is a carpark up here (it’s near a skifield) so a lot of people had driven to this park and hiked from there  – I couldn’t help but feel slightly smug that we deserved this view more as we’d worked to get it!

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Attempting to do one of those artful shots you see all over Instagram. Obviously, I need more practice.

And here is where my excitement levels peaked because there was snow. And not just little bits here and there on the side of the track but actual legit snow on the track that we had to hike through! It was s(n)o(w) cool! Paul may have wondered what all the fuss was about, coming from an Alpine area, but for me it was the bee’s knees.

I’m really hoping that the other walkers on the track stopped to admire the snow person that we put together. It came up no higher than my knee (and also, when I say we, it was 95% Paul. I contributed the hair, eyes, and nose) and was very adorable.

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Snow person. Or thing.

Of course, when there’s snow and a competitive couple hiking through it, you’re inevitably going to end up with snow being stuffed down your clothes, and quite possibly in your mouth. Needless to say, I need to brush up on my snowball-making skills before I head to Europe in the middle of their winter in a few months.

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Hiking in snow! The excitement levels were quite high at this point.

The trickiest part of this hike wasn’t clamouring over the fallen trees, or the multitude of stairs – it was crossing a stream where the ground was frozen which meant the rocks in the stream were frozen. And we all know that frozen rocks = incredible slipperiness. I was actually rather proud of us both that there were no sprained ankles from that and we both stayed relatively dry – go us! As mentioned earlier, there had been quite a bit of rain in the prior weeks, so the stairs heading down were quite damp, but we were fine in our hiking boots.

Rather than heading straight back to the visitor centre, we took the option to walk to Wilkies Pools. If it had been a gorgeous, hot summer day I could have seen us taking off our boots and having a wee paddle. But as it was the middle of winter, I settled for cupping my hands in the pool and taking a few gulps of icy cold water instead.

While Paul explored further up the pools, I entertained myself by pulling dance moves on the bridge. Which was all going well until I turned around and saw a couple walking towards me with amused expressions on their faces. Just another reminder that even if you think you’re alone in the middle of nowhere, there may be someone right around the corner!

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Arty photo by Paul

By pure luck, we chose one of the most stunning days to do this walk. There was barely a cloud in the sky, the snow was picture perfect, and there were hardly any other people on the trails. As would happen, we woke up the following day to howling rain and wind, which further justified our decision to do a day hike rather than staying in a hut overnight and walking out the next day.

There are so many other walks to do on Mt Taranaki, I’m especially keen to do the Around the Mountain hike, and the Pouakai crossing, both of which look glorious. If the weather gods could guarantee me that each day would be like the one we had on this trip, that’d be brilliant!

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Our walk. We started at the Visitor Info Centre (far left of the image) and did the Dawson Falls loop (40 mins) before getting onto the Ridge Track, down the Waingongoro Track, up the Enchanted Track, and back along the Ridge Track to Wilkies Pools to the Visitor Centre.

Do this walk. Especially do this walk when there is snow on the mountain. Just brush up on your snowball-making skills before you go.

Photo credit: Most of these photos were taken by Paul on his cellphone. They all turned out pretty awesome!

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