Anna is a reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Omanawa Falls internet fame spreads across the world, tourists unaware of risk

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One of the Bay's most dangerous scenic spots is being splashed across websites and social media as a must-see attraction - even though it is off limits to the public.

Residents near Omanawa Falls say tourists are regularly risking serious injury or death by descending to the scenic spot - with many being pointed to the falls via posts on the internet.

Resident Warren Dawson said Omanawa Falls was a globally recognised "hot spot", but accidents at the falls were "inevitable".

"It's becoming a regular occurrence to have helicopters buzzing around fishing somebody out of the falls. It's amazing we haven't had a fatality and it's sad to say but probably one day we will. It's unsafe where people are going now, just totally unsafe."

He said the number of people visiting the falls had increased in recent months.

Warren Dawson fears someone will die, with increased tourist numbers to the Omanawa Falls. PHOTO/George Novak.
Warren Dawson fears someone will die, with increased tourist numbers to the Omanawa Falls. PHOTO/George Novak.

"It's obvious they're well prepped to visit Omanawa Falls before they even arrive in New Zealand.

"It is a wonderful spot, you can see why people are basically breaking their necks to get there."

Another nearby resident, who did not want to be named, said lost tourists turned up weekly at her house telling her that the spot was a popular destination.

Three people turned up at her house last week, with two French women saying the attraction was, "famous in France" and "all over" social media outlets.

A search on Instagram of #omanawafalls showed 691 public posts of photos at the falls, and three location tags each with hundreds of pictures.

A YouTube search of "Omanawa Falls" yielded about 323 results.

The falls feature on various websites and personal blogs.

Traveller Ailis O'Neill discovered Omanawa Falls through a website about North Island waterfalls.

"For me it probably was one of the most dangerous things I've ever done," she said.

"The way down is pretty much vertical and we had to hang on to tree roots to crawl down."Safe access way or not, people are still going to try and find their way down there."

Another visitor from Holland discovered the falls on Instagram, making their way to the bottom using the track and holding on to trees.

For years the Tauranga City Council, which owns the underground power station and its access down from Omanawa Rd, has unsuccessfully tried to stop people reaching the falls.

Gates and fences erected by the council were no barrier to determined visitors.

Recently a 32-year-old French man was rescued when he fell 10m down the cliff, catching a tree which prevented him from falling 40m further to the rocks below.

Last July, Omanawa locals put a plea for a safe access way to the Tauranga City Council.

Tauranga City Council parks manager Mark Smith said staff would seek funding through the Long Term Plan to make the park safe to open.

He reminded people that until then, the site is not safe to enter.

Tourism Bay of Plenty head of marketing Kathrin Low said photos of the falls were naturally appealing to share on social channels.

"We are very lucky to have these hidden gems, however their locations, which ultimately make them so stunning often present intrinsic risks. We will work with council on the processes they need to follow in mitigating these risks," she said.

PARADISE: Traveller Ailis O'Neill said she discovered Omanawa Falls through a website about North Island waterfalls. Photo/Justin van der Moezel
PARADISE: Traveller Ailis O'Neill said she discovered Omanawa Falls through a website about North Island waterfalls. Photo/Justin van der Moezel

Tauranga City and Western Bay Councils

Tauranga City Mayor Greg Brownless said although the large social media presence of the falls "confirmed" Omanawa Falls would be great to open up as an attraction, the current issue was the people crossing barriers putting themselves in "considerable risk".

"If there was a way of opening it up and allowing people to go there, perhaps a tourism business, that would be fantastic."

He said he wanted to see if private funding was possible.

"We also need to work closely with Western Bay."

Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber said if the area was a tourist attraction, either safe access or "really good signage" which showed the risk was needed.

Tauranga City Councillor Gail McIntosh said those who needed rescuing should be paying for it.

"I'm all for making the fence electrified."

She said initial indications were it would cost about $2 million for a safe access way.

"That's why we put it on the 10-year-plan in 2018, it could be brought forward to the Long Term Plan in 2017."

Councillor Bill Granger remembered visiting one of the tracks a few years ago - "even then it was very, very unsafe".

"If anything does happen the first finger gets pointed at council. We have to make sure it's safe."

He said it was a matter of looking at "all options" when it came to funding safe access.

Terry Molloy said he thought the spot was beautiful and historic.

"I think we should open it to the public to make sure they can get in there safely. Telling people they shouldn't go won't help."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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