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Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana
 
   
   
   
   
 
 

Day 1

MY MUM and I reached the mouth of Lake Waikaremoana. Here the eastern side of the Panekiri Range collapsed about 2200 years ago filling the gorge of the Waikarehahake River damming over five cubic kilometres of water. This created the pristine lake we were hiking around set deep in the rainforests of Te Urewera.

Sunrise in Wairoa

Sunrise in Wairoa

It was already after midday, having been delayed an hour and a half along the only road leading over the mountains. Four days we will be spending hiking along the west coast of the lake, with today’s hike scaling the edge of what is left of the Panekiri Range.

Passing a small shelter we started the moderately steep climb along the ridge. The well formed track was covered in the splaying roots of the goblin beech forest covered in mosses and ferns from a forgotten age hundreds of millions of years ago. The forest swept down the range in a moderate slope to the left of the track. To our right the near vertical bluff plunged into the grey lake under overcast skies.

Road to Waikaremoana

Road to Waikaremoana

Although it was a north westerly, there was almost no wind or rain as we climbed towards the top of the range about five hundred metres above the lake. It was surprisingly humid though, but expected for the North Island’s biggest forest, stretching along the upper end of the dividing range that sweeps along the east coast from Wellington through to East Cape.

The track in the most part followed the relative safety and shelter of the ancient forest. Occasionally it would divert out to the edge of the cliff from where we had spectacular views down to the lake almost directly below.

Track up Panekire Range

Track up Panekire Range

Eventually we reached a small trig station set in amongst the toi toi and scrub. This marked the start of a long traverse through the forest following the edge of the cliff above the lake.

Eventually we reached a junction where a short side trip led to the top of Bald Knob, one of the highest points on the range. From there we had spectacular views across the lake six hundred metres below for about two minutes before a bank of thick cloud suddenly enveloped us. The wind picked up strong and very cold. This was a southerly front that will no doubt bring a couple of days of rain. With the view a complete white out, we pressed on towards the hut, conscious that darkness will be falling soon.

View from Bald Knob

View from Bald Knob

After quite a long trip through rising and falling ridges and gullies behind the cliff, darkness was just beginning to fall when we reached a rather steep staircase climbing a bluff. We trudged up the stairs to the top of the bluff to see a small clearing at the top. As we approached the small hill crest, we saw the most welcome sight of Panekire Hut, just a few metres below the trig of the summit of Panekiri Peak.

The old weathered hut had a fire burning inside. Five people were already here, having all arrived earlier today travelling in the same direction. Tired from the long climb with darkness quickly falling, we had dinner before everyone turned in for the night, secure in the weather fast hut sheltered from the southerly storm swirling outside.

Day 2

The southerly storm was still blowing as thick cloud swirled around the hut in the morning. No one was keen to head out into the elements, so we all took our time with breakfast. Five of us were all heading in the same direction today. Two young ladies who had planned on coming with us were hardly equipped to deal with this weather, and after much convincing from the rest of us, were walking back out today.

Panekire Hut

Panekire Hut

It was mid morning when we finally left the hut, all roughly at the same time. The track continued through the goblin beech forest. Fortunately it was in good condition giving us a good surface to walk on against the strong cold cross wind. The track did occasionally reach the edge of the cliff, but there were no views at all through the thick swirling cloud. The wind chill made it too cold to stop for any length of time.

Thick cloud in the ravine

Thick cloud in the ravine

Eventually the track dropped off the edge of the range down the steep side. A long twisting wooden staircase provided a reasonably easy descent through what would otherwise have been a treacherous drop down a contortion of bluffs. As we descended off the range, the bluffs provided complete shelter from the wind.

After climbing down the stairs for nearly two hundred metres, we reached a well graded metre wide track moderately dropping through the stunning beech forest. In the shelter of the range the forest had a spectacular subcanopy of tree ferns and the mossy ground was covered in lush crown ferns. We were below the level of the clouds now, but a light drizzle continued to fall.

Long staircase down the mountain

Long staircase down the mountain

After a long descent through the forest we reached the edge of the lake, from where a short side track led to Waiopaoa Hut.

The hut was set behind a calm bay in the lake. The facilities here were quite modern, much more so than Panekire Hut, but not of the standards of the super modern huts of the Heaphy Track. There were several people who had arrived from both directions, including the three who had stayed with us at Panekire. A very friendly Maori ranger was playing the guitar creating quite a nice atmosphere. He had lit a fire in the wood burner earlier this morning making the hut very cosy.

caption

Waiopaoa

As the afternoon continued, several other groups arrived, mostly coming from the other direction, the only exception being one couple who arrived in the late afternoon having hiked over the entire Panekiri Range. By now the rain had stopped falling, but the sky remained overcast and still over the calm lake.

Day 3

Rain was falling again the next morning, so we didn’t set off from Waipoaoa until about 9:30. The big hill was behind us now, so the remainder of the hike will be following the edge of the lake, with a few low saddles to cross. The track had been in very good condition so far, but heading around the back of the Waipoaoa inlet the track was rather narrow and a little overgrown from the thick golden grass.

Morning ripples

Morning ripples

Once we were back in the bush the track was in good condition passing through scrubby forest. An hour passed before we reached a junction where a side track followed a river towards Korokoro Falls. The side track was a little rough, but quickly returned to the enchanting moss and ferns we had seen over the past two days.

After about half an hour we reached a crossing over the river. A wire hung above the boulders making the traverse a lot easier than it initially looked. Once on the other side there was a short moderate rise to a viewpoint looking over the falls. As we arrived at the viewpoint, the rain suddenly stopped falling.

Korokoro Falls

Korokoro Falls

The twenty metre high Korokoro Falls tumbled down evenly through the spectacular forest. It was one of the prettiest waterfalls I had seen in a long time, and the rain over the past day and a half had swollen it to an optimum level. Fortunately the rain stopped falling just before we arrived,, so I was able to get some good shots.

We returned to the junction and continued following the track for about five minutes before reaching the Korokoro campsite where we had lunch in the shelter before pressing on towards the next hut at Marauiti.

Wairaumoana

Wairaumoana

We had until now assumed the most difficult part of the track was done with the Panekiri Range behind us. That was not the case at all. The track steeply rose and fell undulating between forested spur and gully. At times we were quite high above the lake. This made for progress a lot slower than we hoped. On one occasion we had to clamber on all fours up a short steep rock face.

After what seemed like an eternity of bluffs we finally reached the entrance to Maraunui Inlet. After a few steep rises and falls the track quality began to improve, particularly after we passed a couple of private huts at the back of Maraunui.

Maraunui

Maraunui

Shortly after the huts though, the track quality deteriorated again as it negotiated its way around a couple of streams where flooding had eroded the track quite severely. Thankfully the track did improve following a junction as we approached the Marauiti Campsite. From there it was just a short climb over a rough saddle to Maraunui.

We were very relieved to finally reach the Marauiti Hut. The five people who we had been travelling with in this direction had all arrived, but they had found this leg very slow as well. The hut was rather old and had an absolutely ghastly pastel green colour scheme inside. The water’s edge at the little bay of Marauiti was about a hundred metres away.

Marauiti

Marauiti

Tomorrow was going to be our final day on the track, and we had a boat to catch in the early afternoon. This meant an early start, so we turned in as soon as it got dark outside.

Day 4

We were all up just before first light. There was still some cloud in the sky, but it had mostly cleared with a little mist hanging over the dark waters of the lake. The southerly had finally blown itself out and the rain had cleared for several fine days ahead.

Early morning mist

Early morning mist

We all set out just after sunrise heading back to the main track to cross a swing bridge over the Marauiti Stream. From there the track followed a succession of bluffs and gullies. Thankfully this part of the track was in much better condition than the obstacle course we had hiked along yesterday, so we were able to maintain a reasonable pace. The other groups were a little faster, gradually pressing on ahead.

The sun shone brilliantly on the lake bringing out the deep blues, purples and greens which on previous days were muted by the overcast conditions. We crossed a low saddle into a series of inlets, one of which had a campsite and a new hut where we all stopped for morning tea.

The weather clears

The weather clears

From there we continued around the inlets until reaching the start of the Tapuaenui Saddle. The moderate climb through beautiful forest bypassed an enormous peninsula splitting the lake in half. Tapuaenui Peninsula was a fenced off kiwi refuge free of predators, which had elsewhere in the park all but wiped out the bird populations that had once proliferated here.

Upon crossing the saddle we reached the sparkling waters of the Whanganui Inlet. From there it was about an hour’s hike along the track to our pickup point just short of the Whanganui Hut. Having arrived about an hour early, we relaxed on the small headland at the back of the inlet looking into the crystal clear waters of the lake taking in the spectacular scenery.

Forest near Tapuaenui Saddle

Forest near Tapuaenui Saddle

The boat arrived about twenty minutes ahead of schedule, speeding across the rippled lake surface. Upon beaching itself we climbed on board and were whisked away across the lake back towards the point where we had started.

By now the sky was almost completely clear as we scooted across the Whanganui Inlet with thick bush covering the hills right down to the waterline in every direction we looked.

Whanganui Inlet

Whanganui Inlet

It was not long before we were out of Whanganui Inlet into the main section of the lake. The towering cliffs of the Panekiri Range stood out majestically over the blue waters of the lake. From down here it was hard to believe we had climbed over it just a couple of days ago. The view from Panekire Hut would be absolutely spectacular today.

Panekiri Range

Panekiri Range

Eventually we completed the circuit reaching the end of the lake where we had started walking just over three days ago. Jagged rock structures stood amongst the dam unbroken from the enormous landslide that had come down 2200 years ago creating the crystal clear lake, considered the gemstone of Te Urewera.

Trek from today:
Waikaremoana Track (coming soon)

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29 Feb - 3 March 2016

 

Whanganui Nat. Park

New Zealand

 

38°50'S
177°00'E

2 - 1186m ASL

 

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Jeff

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