The Tarawera River starts with a roar, literally bursting out from a hole in the cliff and plunging 50 meters or so through large volcanic rocks before starting a 65 kilometer meander towards the coast.
While trout fishing is allowed along the full length of the river, it is restricted in this extreme upper section of 350 meters. It’s still worth a look however, as the falls are extremely impressive and you can take a dip in the crystal clear pools or even shower beneath lower sections of the falls if you’re looking to get the blood pumping. The walk only takes 20 minutes return, and you’ll certainly get to experience one of New Zealand’s hidden gems.
Below this top section, the river has carved a path through native and pine forest before hitting the town of Kawerau. Here it meets civilsation and continues through farmland until it reaches Thornton beach on the coast near Whakatane. This lower section (below Kawerau) is effected by effluent from a pulp mill and not known for its fishing.
The river above Kawerau is where the trout fishing is outstanding. There is a very high density of Rainbow trout in this 20 km stretch of the river, averaging 1-1.5kg, and much larger specimens lingering in the deeper pools.
The Tarawera River has some of the best trout fishing available in the world.
Forestry access roads track alongside the river for most of this section (for vehicle access during a fire), and make fishing it pretty easy. There are still a few spots that are tough to get to, and those who make the effort to crunch through the blackberry and scrub can reap the reward – BIG trout have been hooked in the pools that are more difficult to reach. Often ending with a good yarn about that ‘one that got away’, but if you can keep them on for the first minute or so you’re odds of landing a big one are greatly improved.
While access is relatively easy along the Tarawera River, the number of anglers fishing it these days seems to be low and I’ve come to see it as somewhat of an untapped resource. This is of course fantastic for those of us who make the effort to get out the spinning gear and have a crack. On that note, it is very much a spinning river due to the thick vegetation along much of its banks, although there would be half a dozen or so decent spots to flick the fly if you had your heart set on it. If you take some waders up you’ll get access to another few spots on the wide, sweeping corners.
Here are a few photos from a recent trip up the river with my old man, Paul Robin. Growing up in Kawerau, he’s been fishing this river for over 50 years now and still loves a day out chasing the trout.
What you need to know
Access to the top section of the Tarawera River / Falls is from the township of Kawerau (off SH30 between Rotorua and Whakatane) via private forestry roads. These roads do require permits, so before heading up drop into the Kawerau Information Centre on Plunket St, Kawerau. Permits are around $5 for a vehicle and you’ll be able to get a map and directions – which are straight-forward.
Office hours are 9 am – 4 pm in the winter and 8 am – 7 pm in the summer, although it might be worth giving them a call on +64 7 323 6300 to check.
You’ll also need a Trout Fishing licence when fishing fresh water in New Zealand, which you can buy online from Fish & Game New Zealand.
If you do make it to the Tarawera River, keep an eye out for patches of watercress (pictured below) growing along the banks (note: please pick carefully to ensure the remaining plant continues to flourish). Add it raw to a salad or steam it quickly and serve alongside your smoked/baked trout for a delicious meal. You beaut!