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46 kms - 3 to 4 days
A mystical green world
The Lake Waikaremoana track has the largest area of native forest in the North Island. This region is the ancestral home of the Ngai Tuhoe - the ‘Children of the Mist’. It is also home to the mythical fairy creatures patupaiarehe, who have been known to spirit away the wives of Maori warriors. Fall under the spell of the forest and you can almost hear the sound of fairy flutes and mischievous laughter.
Entirely within the boundaries of Te Urewera National Park, the Lake Waikaremoana Track mostly follows the shores of the great lake. Over three to four days, it leads you through pristine rainforest, regenerating shrubland areas of wetland, rush and herbfield and a magical ‘goblin forest’. You will also discover magnificent rivers, waterfalls and ghostly valleys of mist.
The climb to the Panekire Bluffs is the hardest section of the track, but it reveals the greatest reward - long-range views across the lake, forest and seemingly-endless mountains.
Lush native forests and diverse plant life
Small-leaved southern hemisphere beech forest blankets much of the area surrounding Lake Waikaremoana. As the altitude increases, red beech gives way to silver beech. It is a special moment when you first encounter the ‘goblin forest’. Weathered by wind and winter snow, the bent and twisted silver beech trees are adorned with lichen and moss.
As you cross the headlands between the arms of the lake, you’ll see rimu trees towering above the lower canopy of red beech. Rimu have drooping branches and long, prickly leaves. Other native species that dominate the upper canopy include miro, matai, totara, rata, tawa and a range of tree ferns. If you are botanically-inclined, hike with a book about New Zealand’s native trees so that you can identify each species.
In semi-sheltered places around the edges of the lake you will discover areas of wetland, rush, sedge and herbfield. Between the wetlands and the forests, low shrubs and flax flourish.
The Sea of Rippling Water
More than 2000 years ago, long before humans settled New Zealand, an enormous landslide blocked a narrow gorge. As a result the Waikaretaheke River backed up to flood a network of ancient valleys. The resulting lake, Waikaremoana, is the largest and deepest lake in the North island with a surface area of 54 square kilometres and a depth of 256 metres.
Waikaremoana translates from Maori as ‘sea of rippling water’. During the walk you can capture the moods of the lake - brisk and textured when the breeze is blowing; as reflective as a mirror in sheltered arms.
In summer, the lake provides a refreshing swim. And because it creates a significant break in the landscape, long-range scenic views to the misty forest-clad mountains will keep you entranced for most of the walk.
Birds of every feather
Te Urewera National Park gives you a glimpse of the avian culture that once flourished in New Zealand. It is home to nearly every species of North Island native forest bird.
You will often meet kereru (wood pigeons), recognisable by their white-singlet fronts and metallic green plumage. Sometimes kereru dine on over-ripe berries and get drunk, resulting in erratic flight paths, missed landings and the occasional fall off the perch.
The melodic call of the tui will follow you everywhere. This medium-size bird has dark, metallic plumage and a tuft of white feathers at its throat. Playful fantail will flit about on parts of the trail, pursuing tiny insects you have disturbed with your feet. Grey mallard and paradise ducks live around the lake edge, while kingfishers and white-faced herons are found in sheltered foreshore areas.
At dawn and dusk, every bird in the forest joins the birdsong orchestra; at night your lullaby is the "more pork" call of ruru, our native forest owl. Another night sound to listen for is the call of the kiwi. The Department of Conservation and a local Maori conservation group have been working together to control introduced predators and increase the local kiwi population.
Other activities in the Te Urewera National park
There are a number of shorter walks in to Te Urewera. They range from the challenging six-hour Ruapani Circuit to a gentle 20-minute stroll to view the beautiful Aniwani Falls. For an underground adventure, take the Onepoto Caves track.
At Lake Waikaremoana, you can hire kayaks and canoes. It is also possible to get a fishing license - brown and rainbow trout live in the lake. At the smaller Lake Waikareiti, the Department of Conservation has row boats for hire.
Children of the mist
The Tuhoe people have lived in the Te Urewera region for centuries and they have deep spiritual links with the land.
Maori legend tells us that a celestial mist maiden, Hine-pukohu-rangi, came to earth from the sky and enticed Te Maunga, the mountain, to come with her. Their son, Tuhoepotiki, was a mortal being and his descendants are the Tuhoe people.
When European settlers began to arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand, Tuhoe felt less threatened than other tribes because their land was so remote and rugged. Eventually the area became a shelter for two prominent anti-colonial government campaigners - the Maori guerrilla leader Te Kooti and later the prophet Rua. The last shots fired as part of the New Zealand land wars, between Maori and Pakeha (European), are thought to have taken place in Te Urewera in 1872. There was no public road into the area until 1930 and the national park was established just 24 years later.
Isolation and the Tuhoe’s respect for their forests, mountains, rivers and lakes have kept foresters and farmers away from Te Urewera. It is a living treasure where nature is totally in charge.
Booking a walk with a tour provider
There are a number of specialist tour operators who can aide you in bringing your walking experience to life. Whether you are looking for a guided tour or accommodation along the track browse through our business listings to find the walkin experience that is right for you.
Booking a walk independently
If you want to walk a Great Walk independently you will need a Great Walks Pass. The fees for this vary between each Great Walk, but all prices are very reasonable as they are heavily subsidised in order to foster participation by many people.
For some Great Walks you may need to make a booking, for others simply purchase a Great Walks hut or campsite pass before your trip
- For the Milford, Kepler, Routeburn, Heaphy and Abel Tasman the online system allows you to check availability and pay for your booking. Book online
- Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centres national wide can make hut or campsite bookings on your behalf. A booking fee applies.
- Call on +64-3-249 8514, fax +64-3-249 8515, email firstname.lastname@example.org