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July 2016 Issue
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Waikaremoana walkabout

A rare find - an empty Waiharuru Hut on the Lake Waikaremona Great Walk. Photo: Meghan Waler
Total Ascent
2-3 days
Panekire Hut, $32, 36 bunks; Waiopaoa Hut $32, 30 bunks; Korokoro Campsite, $14; Marauiti Hut $32, 26 bunks; Waiharuru Hut $32, 40 bunks; Whanganui Hut $32, 18 bunks
Park at Onepoto and hike from there, or take a water taxi to Hopuruahine landing

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, Te Urewera

When trying to make a last-minute booking for a Great Walk over a long weekend, one has to be flexible. But with its plethora of huts and campsites, Lake Waikaremoana offered a perfect choose-your-own-adventure circuit for our four-day tramp.

The 46km Te Urewera Great Walk can be walked in either direction: the popular option is clockwise, starting from the Onepoto car park and heading straight up the hill to the 1180m Panekire Hut, catching a water taxi on the last day from Hopuruahine landing back to Onepoto. Or, one could opt for counter-clockwise and take a water taxi from Onepoto to the other side of the lake, which saves the uphill slog for the end.

It seems most people choose to tackle the hill first, because Panekire Hut was completely booked out the first two nights of our chosen long weekend. So, our late booking meant we’d be walking against the flow and staying at Panekire on the last night of our trip.

After a six-hour drive from Auckland, we left the car in Onepoto and jumped in a water taxi. We were losing daylight and wanted to get to our first destination, Waiharuru Hut, before dark, so the boat driver dropped us on the beach near Whanganui Hut. We began our lakeside stroll, pleased by the rather moderate grade and seemingly empty track.

Waiharuru Hut is right next to a large rocky beach, and although the hut is one of the largest on the circuit, was nearly empty when we arrived. We shared the 40-bunk hut with a couple from Auckland, who left before dawn the next day. Our group, on the other hand, was taking the more leisurely approach, and we carried our hot coffees down to the beach to watch the sun rise over the lake. We finally set out around mid-morning, stopping for a brief lunch at the 26-bunk Marauiti Hut, which was already filling up with trampers who had come from Panekire that morning.

Our brilliant morning sunshine was quickly deteriorating, so we carried on briskly toward Korokoro campsite, eager to arrive before the ensuing rain and darkness.

Most of the track is a well-balanced mix of bush-laden tunnels and striking lake views from rocky outcrops above the shore. The 248m deep lake was formed 2200 years ago by a massive landslide which blocked a narrow gorge along the Waikaretaheke River. A hydroelectric station lowered the lake level by 5m in 1946, and the tops of large drowned podocarps are now visible in some parts of the lake.

Our casual pace carried us 12.6km to the campsite in five hours, which to our surprise was far busier than the spacious, warm and dry hut the night before. We pitched the tent and joined a half dozen other groups in the small cooking shelter and around the fire before ducking into the tent to avoid the quickly changing weather and impending raindrops.

We were met by a very wet morning, and bypassed Korokoro Falls in anticipation of our 8km walk up the hill.

It was a waterlogged tramp to Panekire Hut, but the green-cloaked forest made for an enchanting, misty journey through dense ancient podocarp and beech canopy. The climb is relatively benign, with a series of mild ascents and descents near the top.

A blanket of thick cloud obscured the famed views from Panekire Bluff, but we relished spending the afternoon drying our boots and drinking hot tea by the woodstove.

Walkers slowly drifted into the hut throughout the evening, with several families and couples eventually filling all 36 bunks.

There were sparkling clear skies the next morning and a spectacular sunrise. We left early, aware of our long drive back to Auckland, however, we made a worthwhile detour to Panekire Bluff for stunning views of the lake which we had missed the day before.

The descent to Onepoto car park was full of side-tracks to vantage points overlooking the lake, which tempted more drink breaks than was probably necessary on the 9km walk down.

Listen to our podcast Hut Life: A night at Panekire Hut