GREAT WALK: LAKE WAIKAREMOANA TRACK
The Lake Waikaremoana Track winds around the shores of Lake Waikaremoana, known as the Sea of Rippling Waters to the Maori people, in the rugged bush-covered Te Urewera National Park in the central North Island.
The national park encompasses the largest expanse of untouched native forest in the North Island, and the 4-5 day 46 kilometre track provides a good introduction to this remote area, as well as offering plenty of opportunities to swim and fish for trout in the clear waters of the lake.
The Department of Conservation's Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre in the tiny settlement of Waikaremoana has a dual role, acting both as a source of information on the park, and a museum housing historic taonga (treasures) from the area, including the Urewera Mural by one of New Zealand's most celebrated artists, Colin McCahon, which hangs in the Maori Hall. The painting was stolen by a Maori activist in 1997, but was later returned to the Visitor Centre.
The park's remote nature and dense vegetation has for centuries cloaked and sheltered the local Maori Tuhoe tribe (the Children of the Mist) and protected the area from exploitation by farmers and timber millers. The area now provides a habitat for rare New Zealand birds, including kereru (wood pigeon), kaka (forest parrot), kakariki (parakeet), and the nocturnal morepork and North Island brown kiwi, as well as a host of native bats.
To get to Waikaremoana, take state highway 38 from Rotorua to the north of the park, or from Wairoa to the south. The Department of Conservation Visitor Centre stocks maps of the area, or you can buy the relevant topographical map, Waikaremoana W18 or the Urewera National Park map online.
The two track ends, at Onepoto and Hopuruahine Landing, are some distance apart, but there are shuttle buses and ferry services which provide transport to both ends of the walk. You can drive to either end of the track (Onepoto is six kilometres south west of the Visitor Centre and Hopuruahine Landing is 12 kilometres to the north west at the end of a two kilometre access road) but neither are safe places to leave vehicles, so most trampers leave their cars at the Waikaremoana Motor Camp.
The track's five huts and five campsites need to be booked in advance, and you must take a portable stove and fuel as there are no cooking facilities in the huts. In peak season, from December 20 to January 31, and again at Easter, the track is particularly busy, and although it can be walked year-round, the cold and rain in winter make it significantly more challenging. There are 2, 3, 4, or 5 day guided walks available outside the peak summer season, and you can also arrange to walk short sections of the track by using water taxis for pick-ups and drop-offs.
The track can be walked in either direction, but this track description follows the Department of Conservation guide by going clockwise, beginning at Onepoto and ending in Hopuruahine.
Onepoto to Panekiri Hut (5 hours, 9 kilometres): Walked in this direction, the first day is the most strenuous, with a steep climb up to the top of Panekiri Bluff. From a shelter by the lakeshore, the track leads through the historic Armed Constabulary Redoubt, built in 1870 to counter the activities of the Maori warrior Te Kooti. It then climbs steadily up to the top of Panekiri Bluff and follows the undulating ridge line before reaching the Panekiri Hut, in a dramatic location astride the ridge with panoramic views of Lake Waikaremoana. You must carry plenty of drinking water for this section of the track.
Panekiri Hut to Waiopaoa Hut (3-4 hours, 8 kilometres): From Panekiri Hut, the track leads south west down the range and then drops steeply down through rolling forested valleys to the lake. The Waiopaoa Hut is at the mouth of the Waiopaoa Inlet and there is a sandy lakeside bay and campsite five minutes away.
Waiopaoa Hut to Marauiti Hut (4-5 hours, 12 kilometres): The track largely follows the lakeshore, dipping in and out of bush-clad bays, and offering plenty of opportunities to go fishing. After 2.5 kilometres there is a junction where a side path (one hour return) leads to the pretty Korokoro Falls, which tumble down a 20 metre drop between dense bush. The Marauiti Hut is on a grassy flat beside the lakeshore.
Marauiti Hut to Waiharuru Hut (2-3 hours, 6 kilometres): Leading across the swingbridge, the track heads around the rocks into the sandy inlet of Te Kopua Bay, a popular spot with anglers. The track goes inland and across to Te Totara Bay before following the lake around to the Waiharuru Hut and campsite.
Waiharuru to Hopuruahine Landing (3-4 hours, 11 kilometres): From Waiharuru the track follows the lake and then heads inland and across to Tapuaenui Bay. The track winds around a series of small bays to the hut at the end of Whanganui Inlet. The Whanganui Hut is only four kilometres from the western road end, however, and most people continue on to Hopuruahine, the track skirting the lake and following the grassy flats beside the Hopuruahine River, and across a suspension bridge to the end of the track.