Tackling a New Zealand Great Walk

A GOOD DAY: Standing at Bald Knob lookout, 116m, admiring Lake Waikaremoana's raw beauty.
A GOOD DAY: Standing at Bald Knob lookout, 116m, admiring Lake Waikaremoana's raw beauty.

I was eight-years-old and my father - a man who is at his best in the most dense and remote parts of New Zealand's bush - was employed by the Department of Conservation to trap possums on Lake Waikaremoana.

The heart of the Urewera National Park and home to one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, Lake Waikaremoana is a living, breathing entity. The energy is palpable. Its beauty, undeniable.

I spent the summer of 1998 camping on the lake's peninsula, opposite Onepoto Bay. The campsite was only accessible by boat, cocooned by water and forest and far from prying eyes.

Back then, I didn't understand how rare such an experience was. Sixteen years later, I had a inkling of how lucky I had been - even more so after walking around the lake recently.

The expedition was unexpected. My boyfriend and I had planned to tick off the mountains in the Waikato and surrounding areas before tackling a four day tramp but a text message from his father set the ball into motion.

Extra spaces were booked in the DoC huts, a must on a Great Walk.

On the day we began the walk, we left long before sunrise. We departed from Fort Galatea, where my parents live, in a borrowed 4WD, to meet the rest of our party who had stayed at the Waikaremoana Holiday Park. 

We made good time and arrived to a cuppa and toast before we were ferried to our destination - Hopuruahine landing. The more popular route is to start from Onepoto and make a five hour uphill climb but hut availability meant we would start from the other side.

To my dad, this is the more sensible way - why walk up Panekiri with four days worth of food?, he says. "Ludicrous". 

With our heavy packs shipped off via the water taxi to Marauiti Hut for a hefty price and a karakia spoken softly at the shoreline, our group of six set off.

Spirits were high despite the rain and the mud created by an unexpected heavy downpour.

The clearings were picturesque, the swing bridges a thrill and we covered 17km in about six hours to reach Marauiti, where our packs waited. The food was plentiful, as was the wine, and we fell into our beds that night.

Day two, from Marauitu Hut via the Korokoro campsite to Waiopaoa Hut, was a different matter entirely. Headaches and packs in tow, we left Marauiti about 9.30am.

Although this part of the walk is not overtly hard, it is long and weaves itself along the shoreline. The sudden ascents and descents irked and my patience thinned.  

It was three and a half hours before we reached the Korokoro campsite. After a lengthy break, we took a detour to the Korokoro Falls - an hour return and the highlight of the, despite failing to negotiate a river crossing and falling into the water. I trudged through mud with wet feet for an hour before we reached Waiopaoa.

The walk's end was a blessing and we celebrated with a quick dip into the lake's chilled waters to ease our aching limbs.

On the third day, we tackled Panekiri. At 1180 metres, it was a daunting prospect but by far the most exciting aspect of the trek.

The rain had cleared, revealing sunny, blue skies.  A member of the group was struck down by badly blistered feet and made the reluctant decision to forgo the final two days.

For us, it was an opportunity to unburden ourselves from any unnecessary gear - I had packed too much, as had some of the others. Things were repacked and reshuffled and handed over to the injured party, who returned to the motorcamp on the water taxi.

The track from Waiopaoa to Panekiri hut begins with rolling valleys of forest before a steep ascent to the range. After several hours of climbing, and many stops to catch my breath,  the track flattened out to reveal gnarly, moss-covered trees that accompanied the track right up to the hut.They had a haunting beauty and were unlike any I had seen before.

We followed the wide track for what felt like an age before we reached the hut, where we were met with breathtaking view.

But we had saved the best for last.

After a broken night of sleep, we left Panekiri and embarked on a five hour descent through undulating ridge-line and steep decline to Onepoto. The views from above the clouds were stunning. And high. So very high. Did I mention I have a near paralysing fear of heights?

Parts of the track, particularly the bluff, left me shaking in my not-so-clean boots but there was only one way off Panekiri. I kept going. And going. And going.

Reaching the bottom of the range was a glorious moment not soon to be forgotten, surpassed only by the moment I removed my boots.

And I'd do it all again.


Take hand sanitiser - seriously

Girls - try a pair of mini bike shorts. It will make the uncomfortable moments of getting changed less awkward

Pack light - take only the bare necessities. The more you take, the heavier your pack.

And lastly - merino, merino, merino.

MORE INFORMATION Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk

Four days | 46 km

Day 1: Hopuruahine landing to Marauiti Hut 4-6 hours, 17 km.

Day 2: Marauiti Hut to Waiopaoa Hut 5 hours, 12 km.

One hour return walk up the side track from Korokoro Campsite to Korokoro Falls.

Day 3: Waiopaoa Hut to Panekire Hut 3-5 hours, 8 km.

Day 4:  Panekire Hut to Onepoto 4-6 hours, 9 km.