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.