The Long Walk Past Huka Falls

The Long Walk Past Huka Falls
Taupo, New Zealand

Taupo, New Zealand

A bungy rope hangs from a platform, high above the river

I had a full day in Taupo, with time to head out and see the Huka falls. I had seen a sign to them from the bus on the way in, which made it seem a long way out, but in fact it is walkable. The map suggests 30 minutes to the spa park, then 45 minutes to the falls, with the option of another 2 hour walk up to the Aratiatia dam.

I walked down the hill into town first, then out along the river, which lengthened my walk but still took me almost immediately into beautiful surroundings. The Waikato river here is a clear, almost other-worldly sight, cutting through hillsides covered in trees, the landscape undulating while the river makes its sinuous way through. Shortly after town, perched on a cliff edge, is a bungee spot and I stopped to watch, and listen to the yells, as a girl threw herself off. Just the walk for me, thanks.

The route is mostly exposed to the sun. The day had started strangely cool, only 6 degrees in the early morning had kept me in bed while flicking through guidebooks, but it had warmed up by now, and I was glad off some canopy cover once I’d finally reached the thermal park. At least there was a water fountain there to refill my bottle. It seemed a long way to the falls, but I joined the crowd on the bridge. The car park spills people straight onto it, and it looks as though some go no further. Walk round the corner to the viewpoint and it is much clearer, and that’s really where the water falls, though the narrow channel the bridge spans has the dramatic water rush.

Low but wide, pale blue water rushes through the falls
Huka Falls.

I got a burst of energy and excitement and resolved to do the whole walk to the dam. It was 1.30 by now, with the dam opening at 2 and 4. I temporarily forgot that a two hour walk estimate is aimed at everyone and figured I would be there at 3.30, wait around for a bit to see the water gush and be back to the falls by 6, town around 7. The walk to the falls had probably taken me the estimated hour and a quarter plus, but the ‘two hour’ next section was only an hour and a quarter more – I wasn’t as distracted, I guess. Most of this route was exposed, but I had to do it all now – the long walk my non running penance – and was glad it didn’t take the two hours. Plenty of glorious scenery on the way, with the river the highlight.

I arrived at the dam to find a car park, mobile office for a Huka falls cruise and a sign saying maintenance meant the dam might not open. I walked to the first viewpoint and the water running past was dramatic-it turned out maintenance was keeping the floodgates open, rather than shut, so this was an early preview of the effect. Marvellous. My legs weren’t up for the higher viewpoint, which would have had a view of the power station round the corner, but be no better for the water rush.

A wide river flows through trees on either side, dark green under a blue sky
Geothermal Valley.

I walked home by the same route, only in reverse, so the views were slightly different. 10km from the dam to town, a sign said, so it was a decent distance-better for me to be shown that than just an estimate of the time it might take, though a generous estimate allows many people to feel a little smug. I was tired by now but too far from home to give up and sit down for fear of seizing up. Finally the spa park and its valuable water fountain came into sight and then I was passing the bungee stop. At that point I cheated, realising I didn’t have to follows the river’s meandering route and taking the direct roadway back to the hostel.

Back to base, to discover other people in my room. The cheek of it. There was to be no quiet time, because Dorsetian Soimon was in my three bed section of the dorm, and talkative. Eventually I wore down his chatter and he resorted to checking his phone and heading for dinner. I explored a little more of Taupo, walking along the lakefront to Jolly’s English pub and having a pint in the dark of the night before hitting the sack, hard.

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