Tarawera Falls

Useful Information

Location: East of Rotorua. On Northern Tarawera Track. From Kawerau 45 min drive over unsealed roads, then 20 min walk.
(-38.162799, 176.520475)
Open: Tarawera Falls: no restrictions.
Kawerau Information Centre: Winter daily 9-16, Summer daily 8-7.
Fee: Tarawera Falls: free.
Permit to travel on forestry road NZD 5.
Classification: Speleologylava tube Speleologyerosional cave
Light: n/a
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Rotorua i-SITE Visitor Information Centre, 1167 Fenton St, Rotorua, Tel: +64-4-471-1117. E-mail:
Kawerau Information Centre, Plunket Street, Kawerau, Tel: 07-323-6300, Fax: 07-323-6300. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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Springs on showcaves.com are generally karst springs, a result of the main topic of the site: karst caves. This spring is exceptional in many ways: it has nothing to do with karst, it has nevertheless to do with caves, it is a big and spectacular cave, and it is one of the few springs on earth which emerge in the middle of a cliff face. Tarawera Falls is definitely one of the most spectacular sights of New Zealand, and well worth the effort to reach it. And as a bonus, the remote location will make this a destination without bulks of tourists around you, the loneliness fits well to the dramatic location.

Tarawera Falls is a spectacular waterfall. There are many waterfalls on New Zealand, probably bigger ones. What makes this one unique is the fact that the water emerges from the middle of a cliff face. The rocks are dark basaltic lava, the remains of the 1888 eruption of Mt. Tarawera.

Inside the rocks are caves, most likely lava tubes, which formed inside the lava flow. But the lava flow blocked the former flow of a river, and so the water had to look for a new way. It found all the caves, crevices, and cracks, connected them and widened them. This process is called erosion, and such caves, formed by a river are generally called erosional caves. However, this is not the same as the geologic term erosion, which means any kind of destructive process. Speleologists talk of erosion if the cave is formed by mechanical forces, in contrary to chemical solution, which is called corrosion. This is a little weird, but has historic reasons, the terms were coined, before the processes were completely understood.

So as a result the river vanishes on the other side of the lava flow into huge caves. It flows underground through a completely water-filled cavern. Then it emerges in the middle of the cliff face, forming the spectacular falls. Obviously it is impossible to visit the caves.

The waterfall is reached on forestry roads, if you want to drive on this roads by car you need a permit. This permit is provided at the Kawerau Information Centre for a small fee. It includes a map and directions in and out of the forest.