Waikato Family Adventures: Towering black sand dunes, dancing fairies and skyward waterfalls

Waikato Family Adventures: Towering black sand dunes, dancing fairies and skyward waterfalls

Feeling the urge to surf down towering black sand dunes, or peer through forests looking for elusive dancing fairies? These adventures will entice even the most screen-hungry kids out adventuring these school holidays. 

#1 Surf down towering black sand dunes
Port Waikato Sand Dunes

Are the kids looking for vast dunes to clamber up and roll down before heading home exhausted with sand between their toes? Don’t miss exploring these towering black dunes just one hour from Auckland. Choose from acres of rolling dunes beside the Waikato River before it exits into the wild Tasman Sea.  A great place to start your adventure is from Maraetai Bay Reserve before reaching Port Waikato; keep an eye out for the sign on your right. There are picnic spots galore near the car park, or grab a blanket and head into the dunes.

Time: From 10 minutes to a few hours
Difficulty: Easy
Location: Port Waikato  

#2 Climb into the tree tops
Yarndley’s Bush | Te Awamutu

Step back in time to when vast swamps covered the region and flying dinosaurs swooped down to nibble on the fleshy seeds of kahikatea trees during the Jurassic period. Let the kids race along the boardwalk beneath towering kahikatea trees – some more than 35 metres tall. Approximately halfway along the loop, a viewing platform pokes through the treetops. Clamber up the stairs for a bird’s-eye view of the ancient trees – the swaying trees are mesmerising on windy days. The small seating area allows younger kids a chance to relax and soak up the views. This walk is suitable for dogs and buggies, although you may need to negotiate a tight entrance gate.

Time: Allow 30 to 45 minutes to complete the loop
Difficulty: Easy
Location: 1.5 km on Ngaroto Road, off SH3 near Te Awamutu. 

#3 Walk across a wobbly scary bridge
Arapuni Suspension Bridge | Arapuni Village

This short loop highlights the small hydro township of Arapuni and its mammoth suspension bridge dangling over a dramatic gorge. The wobbly bridge is perfect for kids to peer down at a working hydroelectric dam, although the height may test out everyone’s nerves! If you look downstream, you can see exposed volcanic cliffs on the right. At the end of the bridge, turn right, then there’s a short road section on the quiet Powerhouse Road before you connect with the trail on your right – all well signposted - to pass under towering pines en route to the Village where there’s also a café. This walk is suitable for bikes, dogs and buggies.

Time: Allow 30 minutes for the loop
Difficulty: Easy
Location: Arapuni Village 


#4 Peer through forests for dancing fairies
Wairēinga | Bridal Veil Falls | Te Uku 

Surrounded by lush farmland, this island forest has an idyllic waterfall in its midst – and is home to mystical fairies! There’s a leisurely stroll beside mature nīkau trees and the meandering Pakoka River to the top of the falls from the car park. But don’t just loiter at the top two viewing platforms. Make the trek down because the view from the bottom of the falls is worth it. Be prepared for the steps! 135 steps to the midway point and 261 in total to the bottom. Along the way, look out for pīwakawaka/fantails and take a breather at the midway viewing platform. Māori legends say patupaiarehe/Māori fairies are kaitiaki/guardians of the surrounding landscape. Allow 10 minutes one-way to the buggy-accessible upper viewing platforms and 20 minutes to the bottom of the stairs. No dogs or bikes allowed.

Time: Allow 60 minutes return
Difficulty: Easy
Location: From Hamilton travel west towards Raglan SH23 and turn off onto Te Mata Road after Te Uku. Follow the signs. 

 

#5 Watch a waterfall be blown skywards
Wairere Falls Lower Lookout | Matamata and Te Aroha

Walk past mammoth moss-covered boulders tossed down an ancient river and clamber up steep stairways into gorges where you wander through groves of nīkau and pūriri. This walk is not for the faint-hearted; it can be slippery on the rocks, steps, and exposed roots, so allow extra time for kids and enjoy a few snack breaks on the way up. It’s worth it. The trail climbs steadily from the car park to the tiered waterfall that drops 153 metres off a steep escarpment formed by the Okauia fault line. Along the way, there are bridges over water holes that would be perfect for exploring in summer. On windy days, the waterfall is often swept skyward. Only suitable for walking and no dogs are allowed.

Time: Allow 80 minutes return
Difficulty: Medium
Location: 10 min from Matamata or 25 min south of Te Aroha on Goodwin Road off Old Te Aroha Road.

 

Looking for more family-friendly walks? Our Hamilton & Waikato guidebook has 100+ outdoor adventures including adventures for walking, bikes, buggies and dogs. 

 

 

 

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