Discovering Lake Waikaremoana
A few resting days after of our last walk up the volcanos of the Tongariro National Park, we are back on tracks. This time we picked a not-so-famous Great Walk, going around legendary Lake Waikaremoana… Andy, our austrian friend we met in Auckland, is joining us on the trail.
By the end of the afternoon, we arrive at Big Bush, a family owned business managing the water-taxis picking up people after the hike. Indeed, the track goes around the lake for 46km but is unfortunately not a full lap.
We enjoy a very good coffee there, then a nice local fresh beer. It really is a welcoming and colourful kind of pub, where one would enjoy spending rainy days chatting, playing or reading. We talk a little bit about the walk that awaits us tomorrow. We need to get organized. Indeed, we’ve planned to do it in 2 and a half days instead of 4. Annie, the boss, is also an incredible good cook, and some delicious smells of curry coming from the kitchen fill up our noses while we talk with Nina, a charming girl from Brittany, France, who is working there for a few months. Unfortunately for us, the menu tonight will be instant chinese noodles. We spend the night for free on their land, under a wonderful sky full of stars.
Climbing Mt Panekire
At 8am the next morning, Annie drops us at the starting point of the hiking trail. We start the walk with a little 20mn detour, to warm us up, which leads us to the little and peaceful Lake Whakamarino. Then serious stuff is coming with the climb of Mt Panekire that looks over lake Waikaremoana from its 1180m high.
The air is fresh (3°C)… A thick cloudy blanket fly over our heads covered by our new beanies. They are way too big, and ugly with that, but do the job of keeping us warm. We are now entering an extremely dense forest full of moss and lichen, which gives to the twisted trees a look of old bearded grandpas…
We progress on a tricky track made of treacherous roots. The silence is stunning. Only the sound of our steps in the mud or the sweet whistling of a single bird, dare break this perfect calm. We are in the heart of a Magic forest. Dark and mysterious, but incredibly wonderful. The track goes up and up in a very steep slope, heading to the summit. We walk on the edge of a cliff that dives in one step into the deep steel water of the lake, hundreds of meters below. Each time we find a window in the tree-wall, we allow us to take a view over the landscape. After a few ascending hours we finally pierce the canopy: we are at the highest point of the mountain. An impressive panorama lays right there under our feet. We can see the whole lake Waikaremoana. From this promontory, we witness the crazy weather that rhythms the country. Above the water, some scattered rainy patches share the sky with large sunny openings.
This amazing scenery delights us for a long time, before the track goes down on the other side of the mountain, and back in the forest. The temperature stays below 10°C. Hail falls on us without any warning and covers the red and brown forest ground with a white carpet. Bad weather passed, allowing us enough time for lunch break.
The descent is even more dangerous than the ascent, and we are risking a twisted ankle at every step on those damn roots and wet rocks. Quentin’s right knee starts giving him some troubles. A strong and sharp pain is stabbing his knee at each step. The more we go down, the more the ferns are growing up, the air becomes humid and the temperature goes up. The forest becomes tropical. At least, after 8 hours of walking we arrive at the end of our first day: a lovely campsite on the shores of the lake Waikaremoana, close to a hut. Just after struggling to quickly set up the tents, a heavy rain start falling! Perfect timing. We run to find shelter into the hut where a wood fire is warming the atmosphere. Soon, the room is full of hungry hikers preparing their meals. A lot of smelly shoes are piled around the fireplace. The ambiance, lit on candlelight, is warm and joyfull. We watch the rain falling through the windows, bathed into confortable warmth. It is very hard to leave it for the cold of our tents.
Disappearance at Korokoro Falls
In the morning a fine pellicule of ice covers the top of our tent! However we didn’t suffer from the cold, thanks to our amazing new sleeping bags! We have breakfast facing a thick wall of moving fog, slowly revealing the shape of lake Waikaremoana. Moment of perfect serenity.
The rain from yesterday transformed the path into a mudpool. We start walking in thick mud sticking to our shoes and slowing down our progression. Quentin still has pain in his knee. He walks like a crippled, and pain shows on his face at each step. Mariette kindly provides him with a wood stick which will be a providential help for him.
After two hours walking, the track divides and one side offers to take a look on the Korokoro Falls if you accept a 1 hour return walk. We decide it would be nice and set our feet on the waterfall track. The falls are reputed to be very beautiful. The path is smaller and more difficult than the one we just left and goes deep into the rainforest. Andy, probably tired of our crippled rhythm decides to walk ahead. We finally reach the falls, and we can confirm the reputation! Amazing! But Andy is not there. Strange… Where is he? It’s impossible that we’ve missed each other, the track is 30cm large, and he was ahead. We wait a little bit, and start to be worried. And if he had fallen somewhere on the path?
Quentin, anxious and boosted with Nurofen pills, leads the walk back shouting our friend’s name in the forest. No answer, but we spot a fresh footprint in the mud. He should be ahead, then. As we are not so sure, we decide to walk as fast as possible to the next hut, and if our friend is not there, we’ll call for help. After 2 hours, we finally reach the hut, and Andy is there! But we still don’t understand by which subterfuge we didn’t see each other on the little path.
We start walking again, feeling safe, but not too slow. We still have 5h of hike to do today, and it’s already 2pm. The track that people describes us as flat and easy is in fact steep and tricky! We never walked in so much mud! We start to feel a lack of energy due to yesterday and this morning walk, but the landscape is definitely worth it! At one moment we’re walking along the limpid waters of the lake on the shores, and the next we’re lost in a dense tropical rainforest. The noise of water running on rocks is everywhere. A little bit further on the track, we pass through a forest made only of those famous fern trees, looking like they were coming straight from Jurassic period. The sunset is now dipping the lake and Mt Panekire in orange and golden light. A last effort. Here we are! After 10h of tramping today, we’re at the campsite! We set up our tents on the shore of lake Waikaremoana, then process to a blister healing session and a few stretching exercises. We didn’t see anyone on the track today, it’s incredible. Absolutly peaceful.
Return by water taxi
We wake up in a frozen world once again. The hardest part of it is to re-wear our clothes still full of cold sweat from yesterday… We feel like we smell very bad. Is it really only a feeling? We think that we still have 4 hours of hiking to do today before we reach the water taxi meeting point. But 2 hours later we’re there. So we enjoy a few resting hourson a wonderful paradisiac beach. We deserved it!
Then far away, a little boat breaks through the horizon line, surfing on the turquoise waves of the lake. On the way back, we are shaken by big waves creating by powerful wind. Our little boat disappears in an impressive high swell. We finally arrive in one piece on the other side, and we realise that it’s done. Finished ! We walked 46,5km in 20h over 2 days and 2 hours ! We’re proud to have managed this challenge, and amazed by those 2 days spent immersed in this fantastic area!
See you soon
Tintin & Riette
Big Bush pub/accommodation/water taxi
- Situated on the top of a lovely little hill, with a view over a beautiful lake and the tropical rain forest, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a fresh beer and spend a wonderful night before (and after!) the Great Walk. You can also park your car safe there for free while you’re on the track.
- Situated between Rotorua and Wairoa, the road pass along the shores of lake Waikaremoana, and is among the Top 10 of the most beautiful roads in New-Zealand. Though it’s an unsealed road from Rotorua and all around the lake. There is only 25km of unsealed road between the lake and Wairoa. It will take you 3.5h from Rotorua and the same time from Taupo via Wairoa
- There is two free campsites in Wairoa along the river but they are not really nice spots. Another campsite is situated along the lake north of Big Bush at Rosie Bay. On the road between Rotorua and the lake there is 4 free campgrounds