Waikāretu Bush Walk

A delightful bush and farmland walk to a magical waterfall.

The Waikāretu Bush Walk near Nikau Cave may be short, but it delivers all the elements of a great walk in a small but mighty track in Waikato karst country.

The intermediate grade trail starts with a swing bridge over the Waikāretu Stream, then wends its way past an impressive example of fluted limestone karst rock and through lush native bush and picturesquely positioned ponga (tree ferns), ti kōuka (cabbage trees) and nikau palms.

The palm-fringed trail follows the Waikāretu Stream, named for its “ever-flowing, cleansing water”, then climbs – a short ascent – to the bush line and a fence.

Providing an easy access to a grassy paddock is a stile.

Follow the trodden path on the left across this short stretch of farmland where another stile and fence hop await.

From here the trail gently descends, passing through a naturally formed arch created by a curved tree branch resting on a rock.

Moments later your eyes will alight with delight on the Waikapakapa Stream waterfall which gracefully drops 90m over an impressive limestone cliff face that overhangs the pool beneath.

You can walk to the base of the waterfall, as well as behind its veil without getting wet, though the rocks here are slippery so take care.

Access to this hidden gem is thanks to local farmers and custodians of the nearby Nikau Cave, Philip and Anne Woodward. Nearly three decades ago they identified this area on their farm as one of environmental significance and secured a QEII open space covenant for 6.5 hectares.

The tracks have been created by the Woodward’s to extend to the waterfall in an additional adjacent 2.5 hectare bush remnant which was covenanted in 2008.

You can book a tour of the nearby 1km Nikau Cave, which has limestone pillars, stalactites and stalagmites, at the Nikau Cave & Café (nikaucave.co.nz).

The start of the Waikāretu Bush Walk is a five-minute walk / one-minute drive from the café and there is a small carpark.

This walk is a wonderful activity to do in the area if you’re not keen on caving.

It’s generally considered an easy route, though its intermediate grade status accounts for picking your way over tree roots and uneven ground. It also gets muddy after rain so good walking shoes are recommended.

The walk takes an average of 23 min to complete each way but allow an hour so that you can spend time at the waterfall.

And because it’s off the beaten track, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter many other people while exploring.

The walk can be done in two sections. There’s an 800m bush loop track and the 500m waterfall track which connects to the bush loop track.

There’s a sign at the beginning of the track that shows key points of interest, another sign further along that explains how limestone karst landscapes are formed, and small signs throughout that inform about the flora and fauna.

Afterwards, you can take a pit stop at the café which dishes up most excellent house made pizzas, bread, slices as well as good wine, craft beer and coffee.

Trail notes

Access: Start of the trail is a 5-minute walk or 1 minute drive from Nikau Caves Café, 1770 Waikāretu Valley Road.

Distance: 1.6-km out-and-back

Difficulty: Intermediate

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