Haruru Falls Walk | Paihia Walking Tracks - Bay of Islands
Paihia, Family, Walking & Hiking, Activities

Haruru Falls walk

If you’re looking for the best Bay of Islands walks and hikes, you are truly spoiled for choice. If you love a sheltered track, bird-watching, local history and stunning views, you can’t go past the Haruru Falls Walk

Haruru-Falls (image:expedia)
Haruru Falls, Paihia, Bay of Islands (image: expedia.com)

Where is Haruru Falls?

Haruru Falls is one of several beautiful waterfalls in the Bay of Islands. Both the small township and the waterfalls, are about 5km from Paihia in the Bay of Islands and are worth seeing.

In Te Reo Māori, ‘haruru’ means “big noise.” If you happen to visit after one of Northland’s big rains, you’ll understand how the place earned its name. The torrent of water raging over the horseshoe-shaped falls roars down the walking track that follows the inlet. You’ll hear Haruru Falls long before you arrive.

In Te Reo Māori, ‘haruru’ means “big noise.”

According to Māori legend, a taniwha lives in the lagoon underneath the falls, adding his roar to the noise of the water.

Even in summer, or without the added rainfall, the falls are a picturesque place to stop and admire the scenery.

This is where the mighty Waitangi River is strongest, and the Haruru Falls walking track follows the water as it ebbs towards the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and out into the bay.

Best time to walk the track

The track is open all year round, so you can go on the walk whenever you’re in the Bay of Islands. Before you start, keep these tips in mind.

Walking in winter

One of the best times to appreciate the Haruru Falls walk is immediately after a strong downpour of rain. There’s more water rushing over the rocks, and you can really appreciate why it’s name means “big noise.” Bear in mind you’ll need wet weather gear, a waterproof jacket and very sturdy walking shoes for some of the slipperier parts of the track.

Dark clouds and rain can enhance your waterfall photos, so even if the winter weather isn’t great, you may still want to check out Haruru Falls.

Before starting the walk, ask yourself how long it will take you and whether or not you need to make the return journey. In Autumn and Winter, the sun sets just after 5pm in the Bay of Islands, and there are no lights or illumination along the track. It’s shady enough in the mangroves in the middle of the day. You don’t want to be walking the track after dark.

Walking in summer

In summer, the walk through the mangrove forests can provide welcome shade and shelter from the heat. It’s worth remembering that parts of the walk are very exposed to the sun, so you will still need a sunhat and sunblock.

How long does it take to walk the track?

The track is about 6km and will take you 2.5 hours to walk one way. It’s a ‘there and back track’ so you can either park your car by the entrance to the track at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, or in the carpark at Haruru Falls.

The road from Haruru Falls to Paihia and Waitangi doesn’t have a footpath and isn’t safe for pedestrians. So if you’re planning on taking this walk, allow enough time for the return trip or organise transport to meet you at the opposite end.

Where do I find the start of the Haruru Falls Track?

Starting in Waitangi

From Paihia, it may be easiest to follow signs for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds along Te Karuwha Parade and Tau Henare Drive, past the entrance to Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi and take the next left. There you’ll find a carpark and the entrance to the Haruru Falls Track.

Starting in Haruru

If you’re travelling from further north like Kerikeri it may be easier to start from the Haruru Falls end and finish at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Take Puketona Road State Highway 11 and turn onto Haruru Falls Road. Once you cross the bridge turn right, and you’ll find a carpark and the beautiful Haruru Falls.

How difficult is the Haruru Falls Track to walk?

The Department of Conservation rates the Haruru Falls walk an Easy: Walking Track. It’s suitable for people with moderate fitness and abilities, although if you think you may be in this category, you may want to allow more than the suggested 2.5 hours to complete the track.

While the path has ups and downs, the gradient is not very steep and the majority of the walk is along a flat path that takes you through a mangrove forest.

The walk is clearly signposted, but sturdy, comfortable footwear is recommended because the track can be rough or muddy in patches.

Can elderly people or young children do it?

At places along the path you’ll find benches where you can rest and take a breather. You are able to take the walk in your own time, but a moderate level of fitness is required. If you are elderly, travelling with young children or concerned about your fitness, we recommend making travel arrangements so you only need to walk one way and not make the return trip.

If you have a durable buggy or stroller suited for ‘off-road,’ this is a great walk for children, who will be able to see lots of wildlife and birds. Remember your bread for the roosters in the Haruru Falls carpark.

Walking essentials

While the track is well marked and not too steep, as with any hike around the Bay of Islands it pays to be prepared.

1. Walking boots

You will need sturdy, comfortable walking or hiking shoes. The track can be muddy and slippery in places, especially after it’s been raining.

Be prepared for the conditions to change, especially if you’re walking ‘there and back.’

2. Hat and sunscreen

Make sure you have a hat and sunscreen, as well as a waterproof jacket. The track is exposed in parts, and weather in the Bay of Islands can change incredibly fast.

3. Food & water

Bring food and water. Essentials on any hike. You may also want to pack some extra bread, as the Haruru Falls carpark is home to a brood of friendly roosters who would love a little snack.

4. Camera

Make sure you have your camera. From the mangrove forest, to views over the Waitangi River or the falls themselves, there are so many photo opportunities you will want to stop and appreciate.

Finally, follow all Department of Conservation signs you see along the trail. The Haruru Falls walking track will take you through precious natural habitats, and it’s vital we look after the plants and wildlife that call this place their home.

Can I swim at Haruru Falls?

Many holiday grounds and camping sites line the banks of the Waitangi River, and the base of the Haruru Falls is a popular swimming site in summer.

Swimming at Haruru Falls
Swimming at Haruru Falls (Image: https://passportnz.me/)

Along the walk you’re likely to find a few home-made rope swings tied to tree branches, but we strongly suggest caution before trying them.

The water at the base of the falls is quite deep, so only head out if you’re a confident swimmer. If you’re swimming in summer, you’ll also need to keep an eye out for the groups of kayakers making their way to the falls.

We suggest relaxing on a large flotation device and enjoying the sunshine.

Kayaking part of the track

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to take in more of the natural beauty of the Bay of Islands, you may want to kayak the first leg of your journey.

Kayaking Haruru Falls with Bay of Islands Kayaking
Kayaking Haruru Falls with Bay of Islands Kayaking

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to take in more of the natural beauty of the Bay of Islands, you may want to kayak the first leg of your journey.

You can hire a kayak from Paihia, and a tour operator will guide you from the mouth of the Waitangi River up towards the falls, pointing out the natural beauty and historical sites along the way.

You can then leave the gear with your guide and walk the return journey from Haruru Falls back towards the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, finishing back where you started.

Both Bay of Islands Kayaking and Coastal Kayakers can guide you up the Waitangi River towards Haruru Falls, and will take their gear back with them so you can enjoy the walk back. Prices start from $50 for children and $70 for adults.

Main sights

Whether you love local history, native wildlife, or natural scenery, the Haruru Falls walking track has something for you.

The mangrove forest

Mangrove trees are remarkable because they’re able to live in salt water. Because mangroves make their home in swamps, mudflats and estuaries, you’re not able to get up close to see them.

Haruru Falls Mangrove Forests (Best Travel Guide NZ)
Haruru Falls Mangrove Forests (Image: http://besttravelguide.co.nz/)

A highlight of the Haruru Falls Tracks is a boardwalk that takes you through the middle of a mangrove forest. At high tide, look for the ‘breathing roots’ that stick out of the muddy, salty water to take in oxygen.

At low tide if you stand really still, you may see small crabs scuttling around the mud looking for food. Be careful though, as they will scurry away at the slightest noise.

Native Animals

Shags

When you find the pohutukawa trees with white-stained branches near Haruru Falls, look for shags nesting and feeding their young.

New Zealand Pied Shag
New Zealand Pied Shag (Image: http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/)

Please stay on the path, and don’t try to approach these animals and their babies.

Shags are a New Zealand variety of cormorant that lay eggs all year round, but if you really want to see baby chicks, peak breeding times are February-April and August-October.

Even though shags dive into the water to catch fish, their feathers are not waterproof. You’ll often see shags standing on a warm rock, holding out their wings and waiting for them to dry.

Sacred kingfisher

A less common, but more colourful sight than the pied shag is the sacred kingfisher. Look for the white breast and the iconic bright bluey-green back and wings.

New Zealand Sacred Kingfisher
New Zealand Sacred Kingfisher (image: http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/)

Kingfishers love the little crabs that make the mudflats their home, and will also take bugs and small fish from the surface of the water.

Look for kingfishers in the top branches of the mangroves, or the pohutukawa trees lining the banks of the Waitangi River. Kingfishers lie in wait on their high perch looking for a tasty treat before swooping down.

Local History

Māori villages

Before Europeans arrived, the Waitangi River was New Zealand’s busiest with Haruru Falls home to the country’s first river port.

Haruru Falls was once home to a small settlement, while at least nine kaianga or villages dotted the riverbank between Haruru and Waitangi.

Haruru Falls provided the meeting place where inland iwi (tribes) stopped to trade with coastal iwi, gathering seafood or preparing for war. Early missionaries described seeing between 60 to 100 waka (canoes) pulled up on the banks near the falls, highlighting just how busy it used to be.

European Arrival

Early Europeans also saw the value of a river highway, using the river to float logs from inland downstream to the mission at Paihia.

The Reverend Samuel Marsden is credited with hosting New Zealand’s first church service, on Christmas Day 1814 in another part of the Bay of Islands. It’s said while exploring, he made camp in Haruru, and sat on the flat rocks near the waterfall and boiled a billy for a cup of tea. It’s been a relaxation spot at the end of the walking track for thousands of kiwis and visitors to the Bay of Islands ever since.

Haruru Falls Track checklist

The Haruru Falls Track is beautiful, whatever time of year you’re walking. But before you head out, here are a few tips so you enjoy yourself and make the most of your time.

  1. Double check the weather conditions before you set out.
  2. Pack a jacket. Even if it’s sunny, the weather can change fast.
  3. Follow all instructions you see along the track.
  4. Make sure your vehicle is locked in the carpark and you take your valuables with you.
  5. Bring food and plenty of water. While the Haruru Falls track is a fairly easy one, walking can still be thirsty work.
  6. Charge your mobile phone. There is pretty good coverage in this area, and you may need it to call for someone to pick you up once you’re done.
  7. Take your rubbish with you. We want the Bay of Islands to be just as beautiful for everyone else.
  8. Enjoy your walk. If you enjoyed the Haruru Falls Track, have a look at these other walking tracks with waterfalls.
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