Even if you’ve never been to New Zealand, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen the beautiful Tawhai Falls before! This stunning waterfall in the Tongariro National Park has become famous due to The Lord of the Rings movies.
However, even if you aren’t a big LOTR fan, this waterfall is still worth visiting! To be honest, we didn’t even know that Tawhai Falls was in the movies when we went there – we just found it on a map and thought it looked really pretty!
Now that you know though, if you’re planning to go to Tongariro (to do the Tongariro Crossing, Tongariro Circuit, or just staying in Whakapapa Village), this short waterfall walk is a must do!
We stopped by Tawhai Falls right before sunset and got the place almost to ourselves with incredible lighting. We felt really lucky and just enjoyed the views and captured photos with some friends!
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What to know about Tawhai Falls aka Gollum’s Pool
As we mentioned above, if you are a Lord of the Rings fan then Gollum’s Pool will probably ring a bell! This is where Frodo and Faramir capture Gollum. This little gem is a part of the set and was used as a filming location for the movies.
But of course, not everyone is a LOTR fan so this post isn’t going to be all about Lord of the Rings (as this waterfall is beautiful enough to visit whether you’re a fan or not). However, since the movies are SO iconic, it’s pretty cool that a scene was filmed here!
The spot itself is stunning and depending on how much travelling you’ve done around Aotearoa New Zealand, you’ll soon figure out this country is covered with beautiful waterfall spots. Tawhai Falls is another prime example!
This short “hike” is easy to get to and very beautiful – but it’s also super easy to miss if you’re planning on doing one of the big hikes in the Tongariro National Park.
We only found it because we were actively looking on our maps for a shorter trail near Whakapapa [pronounced: fa·kuh·pa·puh] the day before we went to do the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
If you’re planning on stopping by Whakapapa Village then take 15-30 minutes to visit this beautiful waterfall.
Practical information about Tawhai Falls
Distance: 0.8 km return / 0.5 miles return
Elevation: 22 m / 72 ft. elevation gain
Type: In-and-out trail
Length: 15 minutes return (you can easily spend much longer taking pictures)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Here’s a picture from the Tawhai Falls walk trailhead
Walk down to Tawhai Falls Viewpoint
There are so many short walks to stunning viewpoints in New Zealand. While we do love a good hike, sometimes when it’s only a 5-10 minute walk to something incredible like this, it’s pretty awesome.
The trail down to the first Tawhai Falls viewpoint is super easy. We’d recommend it for the whole family and even grandma could make her way down to the viewing platform where you get an awesome view of Tawhai Falls.
It really is only a few minutes down a well-maintained path and short staircase. You’ll turn around one of the bends and all of a sudden you’ll see this body of water crushing down into a little pool area below.
Where the waterfall comes down is actually the bit in Lord of The Rings where Gollum is sitting on a rock pondering his thoughts! So that’s why another name for Tawhai Falls is Gollum’s Pools!
Hiking Tip: Look up the trail on AllTrails before starting your hike 🗺️. You can find important trail information such as recent wildlife sights and trail closures. Check out the free version here or get a 7-day free trial of AllTrails Pro here.
Continue down to the waterfall
Since it’s such a short walk it’s worth going “all the way” down to see the 13-foot waterfall from eye level. The walk from the viewing platform down to the waterfall is just another few minutes downhill!
It’s definitely a lot easier to get to this waterfall than Taranaki Falls (which is another beautiful waterfall nearby).
Once you’re at the bottom, you can snap some cool shots of the waterfalls or even replicate the scene of Gollum crouching on one of the rocks.
You are allowed to swim in the pools here. We spoke with a local who shared some information about the local land and iwi (tribe) who said that even though all the land is sacred to the Māori People, they are also very hospitable and want visitors and travellers to have a good time.
So while there are plenty of sacred spots that the local Iwi wish for people to not visit, hike up (such as Mt Ngāuruhoe aka Mount Doom), and swim in, this spot where Gollum’s pool lay is fine to swim in from what we’ve been told.
Enjoy your time at this special spot! Maybe you’ll get lucky and it might not even be that busy. We’d say it’s worth visiting Tawhai Falls right before sunset. Especially if you’re staying in Whakapapa Village for the night since it’s just a few minutes’ drive down the road.
Once you’ve taken some photos and maybe dipped in the pools, you can make your way back up the same way you came from back to the car park at the trailhead.
As we said, it’s really just a short walk down to the falls and then a little bit of a hike back up to the top. You can easily do it in about 15 minutes but we spent probably close to an hour in total.
It’s a great spot to just relax and admire the beauty of the place for a while.
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Before you explore Tawhai Falls
Check the weather for Whakapapa
Weather in New Zealand is one of those things that truly is unpredictable. Especially in the Tongariro National Park where the weather is constantly changing due to its alpine climate! So it’s good to check the forecast beforehand.
I’m guessing if you’re heading this way you may also be doing the Tongariro Circuit or the Tongariro Crossing so you’ll be coming this way regardless of the weather.
But at least you can see the weather for Whakapapa Village here to give you an idea of what it’s going to be like.
Rain or shine though, Tawhai Falls is stunning and well worth the short walk down to the falls. If it’s been raining, the trail might be a little slick and muddy. It is a short walk and it’s a well-maintained trail so it shouldn’t be a problem – just something to keep in mind.
Leave no trace
When you go hiking (and do other outdoor adventure activities), always remember to follow the 7 principles of leaving no trace.
Especially since the Māori People are allowing us to hike, explore, and enjoy this land it’s good to be extra respectful of it. So the least we can do is to be respectful and do our part and leave no trace wherever we go.
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize the effects of fire
- Respect wildlife and farm animals
- Be considerate of others
When is the best time to explore Tawhai Falls?
We’ve only done this hike in the evening and I don’t know if we got lucky with not many people and excellent lighting but it seems like on a nice sunny day it’s worth going to Tawhai Falls before sunset.
Every day is obviously going to be different based on weather, etc. Since the falls is surrounded by trees and forest and the direction it faces you won’t see much of a sunrise or sunset from the falls – but the soft lighting around this time of day is very pretty and good for photos.
Since Tawhai Falls is connected to Lord of The Rings and Gollum’s Pools we can see it getting pretty busy during the day although the trail is so short that people often come here for a short period of time.
In our opinion, the best time to go check out the falls is in the evening right before sunset.
How to get to Tawhai Falls
The waterfalls are a bit out of the way unless you’re coming to Whakapapa Village to hike and explore the Tongariro National Park.
If you’re coming from Taupō, you can also do it as a day trip but it’s best if you’re planning to camp or stay the night in Whakapapa Village. Since it’s such a short walk, the drive from Taupō would be longer than the actual walk.
As you turn off the Volcanic Loop Highway (47) onto Highway (48) towards Whakapapa Village, the trailhead will be on your left-hand side. There is a little car park on both sides of the road where you can leave your car and make your way down to the waterfall.
If you’re coming from Whakapapa Village, it’s a 4-minute drive down the road and the trailhead will be on your right-hand side.
From Taupō to Tawhai Falls:
- It’s a pretty quick 1 hour and 20-minute drive south from Taupō to Tawhai Falls.
- You can find the directions here.
From Auckland to Tawhai Falls:
- The drive is a bit further (4 hours and 15 minutes) but can still be done in a day.
- You can find the directions from Auckland to Tawhai Falls here.
Hiring a car in New Zealand
The easiest way to get to the famous Tawhai Falls is if you have a car since it is located somewhat remotely and not many buses and tours go here.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you can check out the price for getting a rental car on DiscoverCars. This is the platform we use both in New Zealand and in Europe and it’s where we’ve found the best deals (we paid $50 nzd a day during peak season) as it compares the price between all the different rental companies.
A good tip is that, usually, the further you book in advance the better deal you’ll get. Also, if you’re travelling outside of peak season (which is December through February), car hires will be cheaper.
Other related questions about Tawhai Falls
How high is Tawhai Falls?
Tawhai Falls is a 13-meter waterfall located in the UNESCO Tongariro National Park.
What river is the Tawhai Falls on?
The bit right before Tawhai Falls is called the Whanganui River but the water itself first starts up at the the top of Whakapapa Ski Field on Mt Ruapehu!
Can you swim in Gollum’s Pool?
The short answer is yes, you can swim in Gollum’s Pool. The water is very cold though but if you’re up for a chilly dip, then you can definitely swim in the pool!
If you decide to go in the water, please be respectful of the land and the local iwi (tribe).
Where is Gollum’s Forbidden Pool?
The scene from the Forbidden Pool in Lord of The Rings takes place by the Tawhai Waterfall near Whakapapa Village, New Zealand.
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Recap of visiting Gollum’s Pool aka Tawhai Falls
Tawhai Falls is one of many beautiful waterfalls in the Tongariro National Park but arguably the most famous thanks to Smeagol aka Gollum from Lord of the Rings!
If you’re a fan you then definitely have to rewatch the Forbidden Pool scene before you come to the falls!
Whether you’re just a lover of the outdoors and New Zealand’s nature like us or a big LOTR fans you’re in for a treat because it is a special and beautiful place.
If you have questions about this specific hike, the area, or some of the other hikes (like the North Tongariro Circuit or the Tongariro Crossing) then feel free to leave a comment below. You can also reach us on Instagram @redwhiteadventures.
We hope you have the best time exploring Tawhai Falls and Tongariro National Park. This volcanic landscape area is stunning and one of the coolest places on the north island!