Lake Waikaremoana Circuit
Situated in Te Urewera national park the 256m deep Lake Waikaremoana is the deepest in North Island New Zealand. Circumnavigating the 54²km waterbody is a 46km long trail operated by the Department of Conservation. Rising across a steep rocky bluff before traversing the shores of the lake itself the trek leads through pristine natural woodland interspersed with gurgling waterfalls, beaches and shoreside views.
Distance: 46km Recommended time: 3-4 days When Best to go: October - April
Loaded under heavy pack I scrambled through thick fern scrub. My hands clung to muddy branches, cheeks were red and out of breath panting in the humid forest air. Setting out to complete a circuit around the deep blue lake which glinted through the dense canopy at my side I was not alone. Hiking at my side was a friend who had worked as a fellow hut warden in Tongariro just a few weeks before. Birgit was german, she had packed efficiently. With purposeful stride she was far faster than I who had loaded my pack with three kilo box of pre-cooked pasta as an experimental trail dinner. The idea had been to save weight on fuel but simply meant more weight in damp flaccid pasta.
Chasing a fantail which skipped ahead through the ferns with graceful flight, we soon rose to top of the Panekire bluffs. Our small trail which had wound steep and wide through the woods suddenly levelled and narrowed. We were tracing a thin line across the very precipice of a tall cliff. Now free from woodland Birgit and I could gaze down from our 1180m perch to the lake far below. We would sneak into the hut which stood at the very top of the rise above thousands of wooden stairs tilted onto the rocks. Under a trig point we had watched the evening fade from blue to orange in a spectacular sunset across the distant lake.
A long cold night was spent shivering in the open hut. With only electric heater which automatically turned off every 20 minutes I had lay awake spooning what heat I could from the tepid metal box. In a summer sleeping bag I had watched barely able to sleep as snow fell outside and the water dripping from a nearby tap slowly froze into an icicle.
Eager to warm up we started our next day at a jog. Our feet soon soaked in slush and mud we neither worried nor cared for the many pools across the trail. Simply splashing our way forward we chased the orange markers so familiar on every great walk trail. Travelling through a misty woodland we were immersed into a gnarled world of ferns, mosses and a sense of tolkienesk mystery. Here I could believe in the existence of mythical monsters lurking in the many nooks between the curled trunks.
As the trail wound steeply down from the ridge line we walked together into sunshine. The light danced in dappled gold between the canopy, our world now became alive with the chirp of cicadas and warbles of bell-birds, tui and fantail once more. As we grew closer to the lake many gurgling rivers tumbled past stained brown by the leaf litter and painted green in a thick luminous moss. Curtains of pristine white rumbled from cascades close to the rocky walls we were leaving behind.
Reaching the water we had climbed most of our ascent for the journey. Although only half way we were treated to the comfort of a largely level route to complete the circuit. Detours to swim in the refreshing waters between the swans cooled us down by day, shivering dances in the huts kept us warm by night. As the pasta diminished and fitness rose we made quick pace along the tranquil shores.
Often sheltered beneath thick palm trees we would escape passing showers and on one occasion we were forced to run to the safety of a nearby tree to escape a wild boar. Every kilometre seemed to pass into a slightly different wood, some dense and gnarled while others lay sparse and filled with wild flowers.
As we approached our return to civilisation we stopped to take one last bath in the brown pools of a nearby river. We had found a journey not so much to see a lake but to live and breath the forests of New Zealand, as we left their muddy legacy would cling to my boots for days to come.