The island’s largest stand of virgin forest is contained in the peculiarly named Urewera Nat’l Park (it’s named after a burnt penis—true, ask a ranger!) The primary attraction for most folks is vast Lake Waikaremoana and all its “Great Walks” hype. As great as a “Great Walk” around this great lake sounds, be prepared, ’cuz it rains about 50% of the time. For people who don’t plan on multi-day bush and lakeshore walk, there’s still plenty to do. Actually, there’s more to do in the park if you don’t go on the “Great Walk.” There’s waterfalls galore, day walking tracks, viewpoints, caves, and springs. There’s swimming, camping, hire boats and kayaks, fishing…and the neat Lake Waikareiti experience. I won’t detail the Great Walk here…it gets publicity elsewhere. Investigate Urewera’s virgin forest and varied attractions…they may be better than “great.”
Here’s a rundown of options:
Lake Waikareiti. Lake Waikaremoana is big, but Lake Waikareiti is The Best! A superlative lake—the clearest, the highest, the most islanded…the best. Ace photographer Craig Potton knew what he was doing when he featured this lake in his photo-poster for the park. The water is deliciously clear—like a bowl of emeralds and sapphires. At 892m, Waikareiti is the island’s highest swimmable lake. Wait though, there is a higher swimmable lake, and it’s on an island in the middle of Waikareiti. It’s little Tamaiti Lake, perched a few meters above lake level on Rahui Island. Super cool! You’ll need a hire boat to get over there…and bring an air mattress so you can float around like an island on a lake on an island in a lake—it’s like being in an MC Escher drawing!
There’s a track around Waikareiti, but the best way to see the lake is by boat. Wonderfully, there are 8 rowboats parked at lake’s edge and available for hire when arranged at the Aniwaniwa Visitor Ctr. These boats are the perfect way to explore the islands, coves, and swim spots (from the track you don’t see much of the lake.) The boats cost $15 per 4-hour session (8:30-12:30, 12:30-4:30, or 4:30-dark.) You get a key and a life jacket at the VisCtr, walk up to the lake, unlock your boat, and have a row. Since the walk up and back takes 1.5 hours, that leaves 2.5 hours to row—enough to find Rahui and Tamaiti, but not enough to leisurely row to the Sandy hut and back. Thus, to cruise the entire lake and swim and picnic and frolic, you may want to hire a boat for two sessions. Holidays are packed and you’d better call ahead to make a reservation.
The Track to Lake Waikareiti. The wide, groomed track ascends 300m and takes 42 minutes one-way. The walk is a pleasure. The forest is a primordial green and the track is so manicured that you can gaze up into the epiphytic heights as you walk. At the lake you’ll find the boats, a sandy cove, and the enclosed day shelter. This shelter makes a good rainy-day destination…pack coffee/ tea fixings and watch a storm over the lake from the warm dry shelter. The Sandy hut is another two hours around the lake, sitting on a small beach fronting a pleasantly sandy and shallow cove.
The Waterfalls. There are three picturesque waterfalls clustered around the visitor center. Two are just downstream on easy tracks, and one is upstream 1.5km (drive or walk there.)
Mokau Falls is 11km northwest of the VisCtr. on the Murupara road. Most people just take a photo from their car, but adventurers can rockhop and scramble up the streambed from the camp area (and maybe find a hidden falls too).
Korokoro Falls is a long way into the Great Walk track.
Lou’s Lookout. Definitely worth the twelve minutes of steep tramping. This is the only quick track to a viewpoint. It’s about 150m straight up from the carpark (or 200m above the lake itself.) Fabulous view of the Panekiri Bluffs rising above the lake!
Fairy Springs/ Green Lake. Wow, a big spring-fed pool of crystalline clarity! From Lake Kaitawa’s outlet an easy 15- minute bush track circles this gem-like lake and it’s outlet stream. To get there drive south of Onepoto. Turn left at the signed road and go .7km, then right at the Kaitawa Power Station sign. Head 1km around the lake and then left at the gate (signed for Ngamoko track.) Drive down to the lake outlet, hop the stile and follow marks to the right.
Onepoto Caves. (Bring a torch) This is a half-hour (one-way) tramp through a boulder garden of overhanging slabs, tunnels, and gullies. Good views over the lake at a couple of points. This is a fun exploration tramp. Near the north end look sharp for the “cave entrance” sign and fork which leads through a dark tunnel passage. At the north end of the caves cross the road and find the 15-minute “Alt. track” that loops back, allowing you to avoid all the JAFA drivers on the road.
When it’s raining, maybe bring a cook stove and coffee and sit the storm out under the overhang viewpoint (near the south spillway end). Good stormy cuddling.