Like all the best places in New Zealand, Lake Waikeremoana is a little tricky to reach. East of Lake Taupo and sitting pretty in the tangled forests of Te Urewera National Park, the drive to this large lake is an entirely exhausting, but oh-so-worth-it hour long slog along dusty, unpaved roads.
So, why go? Well first off, the Lake Waikeremoana circuit is one of New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks, but overshadowed by the more popular Abel Tasman and Tongariro Circuit. Second, it is astoundingly beautiful here, although I found my camera ill-equipped do this lake justice. So, you’ll just have to trust me.
A plaque on our cabin door indicates our room is called Green Orbit (which google tells me is a trout fishing lure), but feels appropriately alien for this remote and exotic land. I wrote this post while sitting in the window nook of this fisherman’s hut, a little five bed cabin that goes for an astonishing $60NZ per night. I have the electric heater on full blast; it’s chilly, even though we have only just touched on Autumn. My window’s view is full of the lake and I have to force my eyes away from such a humbling sight, or I’ll never finish this post.
It feels like it’s perpetually 5am here. The air is still and undisturbed, there’s nobody about, no roaring of car engines, no neighbours having a disagreement, no Wi-Fi, no phone signal. Just you and nature. It feels like a retreat, like a throwback to school camping trips. Sit down, drink a cup of tea in your little wooden hut and decide how you want to spend the day. Do you want to swim or kayak? Would you like to explore caves, or seek out lookout points? Or would you rather just sit and chill, and watch the fog roll in and mould itself to the hills.
Like much of New Zealand, Lake Waikeremoana was formed by a huge earthquake. The existing river was blocked by an enormous landslip and the waters smothered the forests, committing them to a watery grave. In the perfect light, on just the right angle, it’s possible to see the enormous petrified trunks just below the surface. None of which were visible to me, the cloth of water remained frosty and impenetrable, but I wish you luck.
Part of Te Urewera National Park, Lake Waiweremoana isn’t owned by the government, nor is it owned by the local iwi (tribe) Tūhoe, instead it belongs to the people, while the iwi are the guardians. They have a saying, ‘Ko Waikaremoana te wai kaukau a ngā tīpuna’ which means ‘Waikaremoana, the bathing waters of the ancestors’ and like most kiwi landmarks, has an origin story. The visitors centre is an architectural delight, all clean lines and modern, and in stark contrast to the wilderness surrounding.
So, when you find yourself sighing at the sight of the crowds, or rolling your eyes at the idea of joining yet another day tour, then perhaps it’s time to get off the beaten path, and travel New Zealand the way the locals do. Te Urewera was here long before us, will remain here long after us. But if you have a spare second, Te Urewera can be yours too.
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