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October 2015 Issue
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A turbulent past

Morning mist of Hot Water Beach
The lakes and hills surrounding the imposing Mt Tarawera are fascinating both geologically and geothermally. Matthew Pike spends a weekend in this wild environment.

There’s much about Mt Tarawera that should make us angry. Its 1886 eruption not only destroyed homes and killed up to 120 people, it also drowned the pink and white terraces, which surely would have been one of the world’s top attractions if they were still above water.

Today, the mountain looks gargantuan, yet placid. Its rounded exterior masks the deep, violent craters that run almost the entire length of the summit.

To local Maori it’s a sacred mountain and climbing it independently is not allowed. But a weekend exploring its majesty and history, and enjoying the surrounding lakes and bizarre geothermal activity, is enlightening.

We all know the region’s covered with volcanic happenings, but there’s more to experience than bubbling pools. There’s also a wild serenity about the place with hectares of forest and dozens of hill-hugged lakes.

These two walks encapsulate all of its offerings. Though very different in nature, the one thing they have in common is drawing the eye to Mt Tarawera and imagining what it would have been like on that winter’s day in 1886.

Hot Water Beach, Lake Tarawera Reserve

The Tarawera Trail winds along the shoreline of Lake Tarawera to Hot Water Beach. It offers plenty of viewpoints and constant temptation to take a dip. The walk has made Hot Water Beach accessible by foot for the first time. But making the return trip in one day is a long slog so organising a water taxi for the return leg makes good sense and is a fun way to end the day.

It’s best to start at the café at Punaromia Beach because it’s where the water taxi returns to. But parking is limited and, at busy times, you may have to start at the trailhead and endure a 30min uphill stretch at the end.

From the southern end of Punaromia Beach, head along the path that hugs the lake front. This goes past a secluded little bay and over a small concrete bridge. Then five minutes along a rougher, overgrown path leads to the main trail. Turn left here and follow the path as it undulates along the shoreline of Lake Tarawera.

Hawaiki Bay and Twin Streams are good spots to stop for a break – both have easy access to the lake. Shortly after the latter, you start to climb over the peninsula from Oneroa. The grade’s good and you’ll never have seen as many ferns as on the hillside opposite on the descent.

Just beyond Wairua Stream an unofficial path leads to a lovely hot pool in a relaxed, shady spot, shortly past Wairua Hut.

Now comes the big climb to Rotomahana lookout before the track meanders down to Te Rata Bay and Hot Water Beach campsite where it takes a certain amount of skill to enjoy a hot dip without burning your bum!