Dawson Falls tumble over a solidified lava flow, which sped down the mountainside after an eruption 20,000 years ago.
The Dawson Falls Visitor Centre is signposted from Stratford along Celia Street, 500 metres south of the clock tower. This merges with Opunake Road and after 13.5 km Dawson Falls are signposted on the right. The national park boundary is 3 km from the junction, 5.8 km from the carpark by the visitor centre.
The start of the track is signposted on the left just below the entrance to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre parking area.
Head down the true right of the Kapuni Stream to the second signposted junction, which leads left down concrete steps to the base of Dawson Falls. The 18-metre high falls plunge into a rocky base and shower the surrounding rocks with spray.
Back at the top, continue to the viewing area, which is rather disappointing, as it is so far removed from the falls, and cross Manaia Road. Head a little up the road to rejoin the track, which exits by Konini Lodge.
Dawson Falls were named after Thomas Dawson, a ‘queer mixture of a man’. He was a local Sunday school teacher with a heart of gold, who had an apparent knack of connecting with animals such as dogs, horses and tuis. From 1873 he was appointed telegraphist at Okato, before moving to a position as postmaster at Manaia in 1880. During this time, he developed a fondness for the mountain, which used up all his spare time, tramping the watersheds and bluffs.
The softly spoken man was a keen violinist and used to take his fiddle on forays up the mountain. On one excursion in 1883, he heard the sound of the falls and later returned with a party at Easter and cut a track towards the noise. They erected tents near the Kapuni River and later discovered the 18-metre high falls. EJ Ellerm, a member of the accompanying party, wrote of the discovery, “we dipped our pannikins into the small stream and drank to the health of Mr Dawson, thereby christening the falls. After three cheers for Dawson, we mounted our horses and rode home.” To Maori the falls were already known as Rene-A-Noke, in recognition of Noke, an escaped slave who once hid there.
Such was Dawson’s fondness for the mountain he would often spend his entire weekends exploring. On one such weekend however, he managed to get himself bushed, only rematerialised from the depths of the forest late on a Monday morning. His tardiness in opening the post office resulted in a transfer to Wanganui. This however caused him much pain, both mental and physical, as when he wasn’t on the mountain he suffered from rheumatism.
The Dawson Falls Hostel was built from 1894 to 1896 and initially managed by Harry Graham. Today the establishment is also a private accommodation house, which serves light lunches and refreshments. The atmosphere is in keeping with the mountain feel of the place.
North Island ▷ Taranaki ▷ Stratford
Janneke van Krieken
Lovely lady at the DOC office. Helped us choose a hike that would offer us beautiful views and sunshine opportunity in between the forest jungle. Amazing flora everywhere and the volcano itself is superb!
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Nice easy bush walk for the most part. Highlighted by a great spot around Dawson Falls.
Access savings worth hundreds of $$ on Top Ranked NZ Accommodation and Activities for just $1 per day.
Beautiful flora. Walk gives an overview about the vegetation.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍