Awakeri to Waiora North Island 16th to 18th May 2008
15 Jun 2008
It was time to leave these lovely hot springs and get on the road again. Our intended journey was to drive through the Te Urewera National Park to Lake Waikaremoana. We left the campsite on SH 30 and after a short drive we turned on to a minor road to cut across country to join SH 38 at Murupara. We had been recommended this as a nice drive, and not long on the road we came across a dam with a lovely boating lake. As it was another wall to wall blue sky day there were a couple of boats out on the lake. After a quick stop to take photos we were on our way again and driving through some lovely country with the vibrant autumn colours looking great in the sunshine. A little further along the road we found a lovely spot by the Aniwhena River to stop and put the kettle on. We thought we were parked by a lake until Jeff got talking to a gentleman who was camping on the site. It was such a nice spot that we sat about just enjoying the peace and beauty of the place. It would be a lovely place to camp and only £2 per night would not break the bank.
After spending longer here than we had planned we were back on the road again. We now had to make a number of road changes, all on minor roads and with no signposts, so the inevitable happened. We turned on to what we though was SH 38 and were happily travelling along when the road got narrower and eventually came to a dead end. So out came the map books and we scanned them with no idea where exactly we were. Eventually a farmer drove along and stopped to offer assistance. He pointed out to us where we had gone wrong and then asked if we wanted any of his cargo of rotting pumpkins. Declining his generous offer we turned the van around and set off back the way we had come until we reached the correct road.
The SH 38 goes right through the national park but when it reaches the park it changes from a sealed road into a gravel road until it leaves the park at the other side. This is the second state highway we have travelled on that crosses a national park as a gravel road. Te Urewera National Park protects part of the North Island’s largest untouched native forest, and much of what we would see in the park is how NZ once was. It has lots of walking tracks ranging from 30 minute short ones to the longer 4/5 day tramps. It is also home to the Lake Waikaremoana track, on of the ten great NZ walks, and the last one we had to get out on to have spent a day walking on each of the tracks. The area was home to the Tuhope people. The army of Te Koote took refuge here during running battles with the government troops. Te Kooti’s successor, Rua Kenana, led a thriving community beneath the sacred mountain Mangapohatu (4,478feet) from 1905 until his politically inspired arrest in 1916. Maunagapohatu never recovered, and today only a small community remains.
On reaching the park we found a nice place to stop for a late lunch and then continued our journey. Once again we found ourselves on a twisty, hilly and sometimes narrow road that it was hard to remember this is SH 38 until we passed some small posts with the road number painted on them. We were hoping to make the main camp at the lake tonight, but by 4pm when we arrived at the settlement of Ruatahuna we realised that we still had 38 miles of unsealed road similar to the one we were presently on to travel, so would not make it. We stopped at the small shop, bought some supplies and then drove to one of the small DOC campsites for the night. This little camp was right on the banks of the Okanghikoia River, in a lovely spot but with no facilities. Good job we are fully self contained.
During the night it rained very heavily and when we woke in the morning it was still raining and everything was shrouded in patchy mist, it looked quite stunning what we could see of it. After breakfast we were once more on the road but with very restricted views due to the rain and mist. What we could see of the road, with its twists and turns made us glad we had stayed put and not attempted it in the dark. The road followed the river for most of the way and we saw some waterfalls tumbling down the hill side on occasions. Eventually the road arrived at the northern shores of Lake Waikaremoana and stayed with it until we reached the Aniwaniwa Visitors Centre. Our guide book says that from the road there are stunning views over this lovely lake, not today. We were lucky in some spots to even get a glimpse of it through the mist. It was worse than a Scottish mist and no it did not make us homesick. What we could see left us with the impression that there would have been some stunning views out there.
As we were nearing the visitors centre the road went into a large horseshoe bend and across the way there was one of the most stunning waterfalls cascading down over 122 feet to the valley below. We pulled into have a look and take photo’s and could hear another waterfall close by, here the smaller Tauwhare Falls pass under the road to drop 147 feet to the valley below. We got better views of these falls when we driving out of the bend at the other side. Shortly after this we arrived at the visitors centre. The centre is registered as a museum which allows it to ensure that both Maori and European artefacts found in the park remain in the park. Today there were only a few on display as there is building work going on to improve facilities. The ranger was very interesting to listen to telling us about the area and he also told us of some of his life living in the North of England. It amused me to hear this Maori young man putting on his Geordie accent. We asked about the weather and he said it would rain all day and then be lovely tomorrow. He did inform us, that in his belief everyone should see the lake for the first time in the mist. We decided to sit it out today so drove around to the camp site on the edge of the lake.
Lake Waikaremoana (Sea of Rippling Waters) is encircled by the Lake Waikaremoana Track, which is 29 miles long and takes about 3 to 4 days to complete. The lake is 1967 feet above sea level, with a cooler, wetter and more changeable climate than lower altitudes. It is surrounded by rugged bluffs which drop away to reedy inlets and was created some 2,200 years ago after a land upheaval. When we asked the lady at the camp site if she had a power site for the night she said that she had 60 and we could take our pick. We settled for one on the side of the lake with some views of the water, and as there was nothing much to do today indulged in some washing of clothes, (not in the lake). By mid afternoon the rain had stopped so we went out for a walk. Close by to us was a father and son doing some repair work on their boat. During a chat with them we learnt that a lot of people visit the area in the summer and spend days out on the lake visiting the many small coves and sleeping in their boats. That explains the sign informing boat owners that trailers can only park there for 10 days. We had a walk along the edge of the lake and had a good view of Panekiri Bluff, the large bluff that dominates the area. This is the part of the great walk we hope to do tomorrow if the weather fines up. Looking up at it I did wonder if we should give it a miss but then I thought that was being a bit of a wimp. The lake looked lovely in the falling dusk with the steam rising from it and a couple of small boats returning from a days fishing trip.
We awoke to a lovely bright sunny Sunday morning and knew it was just a perfect day for a walk. So we packed up and drove around to the site where the walk began. The great walk is rated as a moderate walk with the only difficult section being the Panekiri ascent. The path was not any easy track as we had to climb over lots of tree roots and it was very steep in parts. It meandered up through red beech and silver birch trees and many of the lovely fern trees. As is usual when walking in the bush over here we had the songs of the Tui and bellbirds to accompany us and the small fantails flying around us. The walking guide said it would take us 1 hour to reach the summit and we did it in 1 hour 15 mins, not bad for a couple of old ones. The guide book also said that in the summer the trail resembles a queue for tickets to an All Black Match. Today we had it all to our selves and only met one other tramper when we were heading down and he was on the way up.
Once we reached the top we could see the full magnificence of the lake and the many arms it had leading into small coves. No wonder boaties could spend 10 days just sailing around it. After a short break, just sitting taking in this scenery, we started our descent. Near the bottom we took the track to Lake Kiriopukae. This was a 10 minute detour that I had wanted to do and Jeff did not. It was downhill all the way, which meant uphill all the way back, and with Jeff moaning most of the time I strode out in front. We arrived at a small lake with a perfect mirror image of the trees surrounding. Close by was a cemetery with five graves from a very old settlement that had once stood close by. I thought it was well worth the extra trip and although he never would admit it I’m sure Jeff also thought so.
Once back in our van we had our lunch and continued our journey passing by Lake Kaitawa, an artificial lake formed in the 1920’s as part of a system of delivering water to the Tuai hydro electric power station. Not far passed here we were back on the sealed road and the last 40 miles we drove along side the Waikaetaheke River to Wairoa and a site we had stopped on two weeks ago when travelling up the coast road.