Te Urewera National Park, 65km northwest of Wairoa, straddles the North Island’s mountainous backbone and at 2120 square kilometres encompasses the largest untouched expanse of native bush outside Fiordland. Unusually for New Zealand, it is almost completely covered in vegetation; even the highest peaks – some approaching 1500m – barely poke through this dense cloak of primeval forest, whose undergrowth is trampled by deer and wild pigs and whose rivers are filled with trout. One road, SH38, penetrates the interior, but the way to get a true sense of the place is to hike, particularly the celebrated Lake Waikaremoana Track encircling Lake Waikaremoana, the “Sea of Rippling Waters” and the undoubted jewel of the park. The lake’s deep clear waters, fringed by white sandy beaches and rocky bluffs, are ideal for swimming, fishing and kayaking.
Habitation is sparse, but the Tuhoe people, the “Children of the Mist”, still live in the interior of the park (the largest concentration around the village of Ruatahuna). Most visitors make straight for Waikaremoana, the visitor centre and motor camp on the lakeshore, but immediately south, the quiet former hydroelectric development village of Tuai provides some additional basic services. Otherwise you’re on your own.Read More
Shrouded by bushland, Lake Waikaremoana fills a huge scalloped bowl at an altitude of over 585m, precariously held back by the Panekiri and Ngamoko ranges. The lake came into being around 2200 years ago when a huge bank of sandstone boulders was dislodged from the Ngamoko range, blocking the river that once drained the valleys. The Maori have a more poetic explanation for the lake’s creation. Hau-Mapuhia, the recalcitrant daughter of Mahu, was drowned by her father and turned into a taniwha, or “water spirit”. In a frenzied effort to get to the sea, she charged in every direction, thereby creating the various arms of the lake. As she frantically ran south towards Onepoto, the dawn caught her, turning her to stone at a spot where the lake is said to ripple from time to time, in memory of her struggle.
Lake Waikaremoana Track
The Lake Waikaremoana Track is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”. It is also the most popular multi-day tramp in the North Island and often compared with the South Island’s renowned Routeburn and Milford tracks, although, with the exception of an exhausting climb on the first day, this is a much gentler affair, with plenty of opportunities to fish, swim and listen to the plentiful and melodious birdlife.
About sixty percent of walkers prefer to travel clockwise around the lake, getting the challenging but panoramic ascent of Panekiri Bluff over with on the first day, though if the weather looks bad there’s no reason why you shouldn’t change your bookings (through the Aniwaniwa visitor centre) and go anticlockwise in the hope that it will improve.
Three days is enough for fit walkers, but it’s normally done in four, spending nights in the five Great Walk huts or five designated campsites scattered around the lakeshore. When tackled clockwise, as outlined below, the first leg is the toughest, so carry plenty of drinking water.
Te Kooti Rikirangi
Te Kooti Rikirangi
Te Kooti Rikirangi was one of the most celebrated of Maori “rebels”, a thorn in the side of the colonial government throughout the New Zealand Wars of the late 1860s and early 1870s. An excellent fighter and brilliant strategist, Te Kooti kept the mountainous spine of the North Island on edge for half a decade, eluding the biggest manhunt in New Zealand’s history.
Born near Gisborne around 1830, Te Kooti was not of chiefly rank but could trace his ancestry back to the captains of several waka (canoes) that brought the Maori to New Zealand. By the middle of the 1860s, he was fighting for the government against the fanatical, pseudo-Christian Hau Hau cult that started in Taranaki in 1862. The cult spread to the east coast where, in 1866, Te Kooti was unjustly accused of being in league with its devotees. Denied the trial he demanded, he was imprisoned on the Chatham Islands, along with three hundred of his supposed allies. In 1867, he was brought close to death by a fever, but rose again, claiming a divine revelation and establishing a new religion, Ringatu (“the uplifted hand”), which still has some sixteen thousand believers today. Ringatu took its cues from the Hau Hau, but developed into a uniquely Maori version of Catholicism, drawing heavily on the Old Testament. Some say Te Kooti saw himself as a Moses figure – apparently given to dousing his uplifted hand in phosphorus so that it glowed brightly in the dim meeting houses.
After two years on the Chathams, Te Kooti and his fellow prisoners commandeered a ship and engineered a dramatic escape, returning to Poverty Bay. He sought safety in the Urewera Range, with the Armed Constabulary in hot pursuit. Te Kooti still managed to conduct successful campaigns, exacting revenge against government troops at Whakatane on the Bay of Plenty, Mohaka in Hawke’s Bay and at Rotorua. With the end of the New Zealand Wars in 1872, Te Kooti took refuge in the Maori safe haven of the King Country. He was eventually pardoned in 1883, and in 1891 was granted a plot of land near Whakatane, where he lived out the last two years of his life.