The Whirinaki Falls Loop Track
The Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park is a place of immense, natural beauty and I invite you to see it for yourself as you walk amongst the giants of the forest. Located near the village of Minginui, it’s about an hour and half from Whakatane, where I live.
I have wanted to do this walk all Summer, and with Autumn’s shorter days, I didn’t want to leave it too much longer. It took me almost two hours drive just to get to the River Road car park, mainly because I didn’t want to risk a flat tyre in the pot holes on the gravel road. I’ve learned to add at least another 30 minutes to my driving time vs Google’s estimate, especially if there’s a gravel road along the way. If you’re experienced in back country road driving, this probably won’t affect you, but if you’re mainly an urban driver like me, you will want to keep this in mind. River Road is a single lane gravel road, so make sure to take extra care.
The Department of Conservation has plenty of information on the tracks and huts within the conservation park, and you can find read about the Waterfall Loop Track here. You can also visit the Murupara DOC Office on your way to the park.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I drove into the River Road car park, mainly because I didn’t get lost (because it felt I was driving forever!), and it also meant I didn’t have to sit in the car for a few hours. I had stopped in Murupara to pick up a coffee, but even Drake’s “God’s Plan” on repeat couldn’t distract me from the fact I had been in the car for longer than I care to be in.
The Waterfall Loop Track is a 9.3km walk that is fairly easy, though I also recommend decent walking shoes. There are some parts with overgrown roots and depending on the rain, small stretches of muddy paths. I came across plenty of small waterfalls, with fresh water cascading from the hillside. Some parts of the track became even more narrow from erosion, but as long as you keep an eye on your footing, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Even though I went chasing waterfalls on this walk, I actually fell in love with the river. There are no clear tracks down to the river, but you can make your way down as long as you’re careful. I just kept an eye on the river flow, and made sure I had a few options to scramble up the hill if there were any issues. I also chose a calmer section of the river, and admired the rapids from above. The climate was cooler in the forest, so it’s important to bring layers and clothing for a change in weather and conditions.
I crossed Te Whaiti nui a toi Canyon about 30 minutes along the track, unfortunately I only took photos from the bridge as I wasn’t game enough to climb down to the river bed. It’s like someone took a hacksaw to the rock face and super-glue moss onto it - a quick Google search will show you what I mean.
Further along the track, I could hear a couple of tourists down by the river, and from the sound of it, the water was pretty cold! Even with the sun shining, I wasn’t at all tempted, so I decided to leave them to dry off in their underwear.
The track loop follows the path of the river, and I’m pretty sure I was walking upstream as I headed towards the Whirinaki Falls. I only have photos from the viewing bridge as well as the rock ledge just below it (there’s a small track to the right of the bridge as you look down towards the waterfall). If you’ve found the track to get a front on view of the falls, let me know, I’d love to see it!
As I was nearing the car park, I found a part of the track that was close to the river, so I carefully climbed down. It took a few goes on the self-timer to get the shots I wanted. A curious little NZ Robin kept me company, it must have been used to humans as it came pretty close. The water wasn’t cold, but not warm enough to entice me to have an Autumn swim, maybe if it was earlier the day.
Next time I plan to explore the Whirinaki Forest, I would consider staying in Murupura or nearby to save me the early morning drive. Though I will add that I loved the mist in the mountains as I was driving over, it would give me more time to explore this beautiful place. The Whirinaki Forest is a treasure we shouldn’t take for granted - go out there, walk amongst the giants, feel the history and take in the beauty of nature.