There is magic at Lake Waikaremoana. An intangible mysticism permeates the forested hills, jagged rock faces and shimmering waters. From the first view, your imagination is immediately captured by the lake’s ethereal beauty. Your gaze can be tunnelled into a dream-like trance, staring longingly at the sublime waters, as if searching for a lost loved one.
The different moods of the lake are spellbinding Whether clear skies are tinting the water to a deep blue, or whether wisps of mist are lingering on the ridges and shafts of brilliant light illuminating patches of the lake, Lake Waikaremoana is a place to reflect and enjoy, fuelled by the majestic scenery and powerful aura of the place.
Storm clearing gives this landscape power.
The shelter at Onepoto is 12.7 km south of the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre
From the shelter at Onepoto, take a look at the ridge to Panekire Bluff. This is where you will be climbing. Pass the junction to Lake Kiriopukae, at the grassed section of the former Armed Constabulary Redoubt (10 minutes), and follow the staircase of roots leading ever higher up the edge of the ridge. Glimpses through the foliage are rare, the best being after 45 minutes where there is a clear gap looking right into Rosie’s Bay with Ngamoko towering high in the background. The forest is predominantly red beech, with an understorey of rimu seedlings, broadleaf coprosma and towai. You are passing through open forest, with the sounds of the waves lapping the shores below.
The heavenly stairway continues on the edge of the escarpment. Mountain neinei appears in the forest assemblage, the striking leaves dangling in delicate whorls like Christmas decorations. An even more magnificent viewpoint appears after 45 minutes, perched right on the cliff edge. This is one of the places that DoC tell you not to go with their signs advising you to stay to the track. Venture at your own risk and linger on the view of the entire lake. All three major inlets radiate from the main body of water and pleasure craft are mere white specks in the expanse of blue. The Number 2 trig (964 metres) is just past the lookout, from where the track opens to another spectacular vantage point, although views east are obscured by a rock face.
Over the next 45 minutes, the track narrows from a highway and the gradient evens out a little. With the increased altitude a cloak of mosses drapes over the mountain beeches. Branches and twigs dangle with bushy green adornments and larger ferns and mosses encrust the trunks.
Panekire Bluff could easily be missed as there is no actual viewpoint or lookout. On the edge of the exposed bluffs the trees are denuded of foliage, scoured off by vicious winds that rise up from the cliffs below.
The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk continues another 3-4 days and Panekire Hut is a further 2 hours 15 minutes.
Panekire Bluff is the dominant feature of the landscape, towering above the lake’s southern shore. This is a ‘lovers leap’, falling in a steep cliff to an apron of forest above the lake. The Panekire Range curves around the apex of the bluff and dwindles either side to lower forested hills.
The main body of the lake splinters into three arms. To the west, the hidden recesses of Wairaomoana (Wairau Arm) are secluded behind Te Kauangaomanaia (The Narrows). Whanganui Inlet explores the northern reaches, while Whanganuioparua Inlet is the smallest of the three to the east. The Waikaremoana Motor Camp lies alongside its shores and the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre is perched a little above.
The Ikawhenua and Huiarau Ranges of Te Urewera are part of the North Island mountain axis, forming the plate boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific Plates. The deeply entrenched valleys form a complex system of dissected upland terrain and are cut through greywacke rock 190-140 million years old.
Lake Waikaremoana is underlain by a thick mass of younger sedimentary rock of Tertiary age (20-30 Million years old). The bands of sandstone, siltstone and mudstone dip to the south and east, away from the uplifted greywacke valleys further into the park interior. The tilted block of sedimentary rock has an exposed edge exhibited in the Panekire Range and it is this geological feature which dominates the lake views.
Early geologists postulated that Lake Waikaremoana was volcanic in origin, undergoing similar formation to Lake Taupo. Later research discovered that a major landslide, triggered by massive tectonic upheavals 2,200 years ago, caused an intact block of rock, 3 km long and 1 km wide, to slide off the south western edge of the Ngamoko Range, blocking the gorge of the Waikaretaheke River. This formed a dam, behind which the river valley began to fill. The Taupo eruption of 186 AD smothered the entire area in a thick layer of ash and pumice.
Since construction of the hydro electric power scheme in the 1920’s, the lake’s altitude now fluctuates between 580 and 583 metres above seal level. The high rainfall replenishes water stocks, some of which is siphoned off for power generation. There are up to 120 frost days per year and these can occur at any time, including Christmas Day, as in 2004. Snowfalls are common in winter. The frequency of high wind also means you should be well prepared for any trips into the wilderness around Lake Waikaremoana.
The forest is a massive storehouse of botanical treasures, with over 650 plant species being recorded in the park boundaries. Around the lake, the forest is dominated by northern rata, rimu, tawa and hinau. Red and silver beech are associated with rimu below 900 metres with tanekaha and toatoa growing in the canopy layer.
Submontane forest extends down to 910 metres and is dominated by red and silver beech with kamahi, tawari, rimu and miro also prevalent. This is a common forest type around Lake Waikaremoana. On the Panekire Range, rocky outcrops exhibit an unusual vegetation assemblage, including herbfields, scrub and flaxlands. Lower level montane forest merges to subalpine higher than 1190 metres, where stunted silver beech is festooned with mosses.
Over 48 bird species are recorded in the park. These include the rare or threatened North Island brown kiwi, North Island kokako, whio, North Island fern bird, yellow crowned parakeet, New Zealand scaup, North Island robin, North Island kaka, and North Island rifleman.
Lake Waikaremoana’s clear waters have been modified by the introduction of exotic aquatic weeds. However, native characean meadows still flourish, with species including Chara urallina and Chara globularis, growing to a depth of 14 metres. Native fish species of note are koara (Galaxias brevipinnis) and the short jawed kokopu (Galaxias postuectis). The completely forested catchments ensure a high water quality with minimal flooding risk and low rates of surface erosion.
The construction of the Lake Waikaremoana hydro-electric power scheme since the 1920s has altered the lakeshore ecology significantly. The level is now 5 metres below the previous mean, thus wave-cut terraces are exposed and form a shallow littoral zone. The increased lake levels in the summer and lower levels in the winter have reversed the natural periodicity, which has affected the breeding patterns of life forms further up the food chain. With a higher lake level in summer there is more erosion of the papa mudstone on the shore. This increases the silt content, which reduces the clarity and the ability of the aquatic plants to photosynthesis. At the time when their growth rates should be at their highest, growth is hindered. This has significant repercussion up the food chain, as the herbaceous material is the primary food source.
To Maori, the legend of Lake Waikaremoana’s formation relates to chief Maahu and his eight children, who lived by the shores of the lake at Wairaumoana. Two nearby springs served them with water. The more distant, Te Puna A Taupara, sprang water suitable for domestic use, but the waters emanating from nearby Waikotikoti were tapu. One day, Maahu sent his children to find water, and as children do, they followed the easiest path to accomplish the task. Six children returned with sacred water, which so incensed Maatu with rage, he turned them to stone. A remaining daughter, Haumapuhia, he later found by Waikotikoti and fearing she would also take from the sacred well, drowned her. She turned into a taniwha, and overcome with the urge to return to the great ocean of Kiwa, she thrashed about wildly, creating the arms of the lake. At Te Wharawhara Bay near Onepoto, she finally managed to carve a course along the Waikaretaheke River, but was struck by daylight. Like all taniwha, she turned to stone on contact with light and blocked the course of the river, forming the lake.
Evidence of Maori settlement stretches far back into the known period of human occupation in New Zealand. Planted cabbage tree groves, remnants of fern gardens, past burning of forested areas for settlements or cultivation and old forest trails all show the areas where Maori lived.
The first people to live near Lake Waikaremoana are said to be the Ngai Tauira. The strongest spiritual associations however are with the Tuhoe. They claim to be descendants of Hine-pukohu-rangi a celestial mist maiden of the mountains. The high frequency of mist and fog in Te Urewera has shrouded Tuhoe in legend and earned them the title ‘Children of the Mist’. Toi, a notable commander of the Arawa Canoes, is said to be a distant ancestor. The Ruapani and their descendants are also linked with Lake Waikaremoana at one time. Many wars were waged over the years between Tuhoe, Ngati Ruapani and Ngati Kahungunu.
Life for early Maori was tough, especially being so far removed from the abundant resources of the coast. Diet revolved around a harvest of eels, kokopu, forest birds, kiore, wild dogs (kuri), fern root, mamaku shoots and hinau berries. The scarcity of flax hindered the making of mats and bags.
The Tuhoe’s long history of isolation has fostered a fierce sense of independence and pride. Living far from the coast, contact with early Pakeha settlers was minimal and little trade took place. The harsh Urewera environment contained little worth trading and the large distances through untamed country were a barrier to effective trading relations being established. It was no surprise that Urewera thus became a hideout for Maori activists during times of rebellion and resistance to Pakeha rule.
The first Pakeha to sight Lake Waikaremoana was Reverend William Williams in 1840. In his journal, he wrote “…it is a romantic lake surrounded by rough mountain scenery”. He probably stayed at Onepoto, and was then rowed across the lake to continue his journey to Ruatahuna. He later made other visits.
Reverend Father Claude Baty and William Colenso arrived within days of each other in 1841. Bad weather delayed their passage across the lake, but they found their hosts at Onepoto convivial and forthcoming with food and hospitality. In 1843 Colenso returned on the request of Bishop Selwyn and found the Tuhoe in demand of books. He made a long journey through Te Urewera and discovered many kainga. These foundations of missionary work continued into the 1860s, when the rise of the Hauhau movement suspended such evangelising ambitions.
The Hauhau were an extremist group of Maori who espoused the beliefs Christian Missionaries were trying to impress on them. Hauhauism was based on complete faith, not only in their leader Te Ua Haumere, but in their preservation through battle. This faith fuelled some fierce skirmishes, often culminating in loss of life. They perceived the missionaries as thinly-veiled emissaries of the land-grabbing Europeans and revolted, starting their own movement loosely based on the Old Testament.
The most noteworthy Hauahu was Te Kooti Rikirangi, known as Te Turuki to his followers. He originally fought for the government, but was arrested in 1866 and exiled to the Chatham Islands without trial. In 1868, he stole the Rifleman, and sailed back to the mainland, later arriving in the Urewera. Huge support for his ideas led to a devoted following and his raiding parties visited Whakatane and many other settlements in the region. When the Taranaki Wars ceased in 1869, the Government forces decided to turn their attention to the capture of Te Kooti. Led by Colonel Whitmore, who employed a scorched earth policy in his pursuit, they decided to organise an attack on three fronts - from Whakatane, Fort Galatea and Onepoto. The Armed Constabulary Redoubt at Onepoto served as a base for 500-600 troops. Te Kooti evaded capture and lived out his final years in peace.
Lake Waikaremoana is the second largest lake in the North Island, after Lake Taupo, but is the deepest at 246 metres. It’s name means ‘sea of rippling waters’. The 5,400 hectares support a diverse population of predominantly native aquatic plant communities. It is a significant freshwater habitat for native species and is the icon of Te Urewera National Park. Any visit, whether for boating, fishing, walking or tramping, will confirm the lake holds a special quality, rarely encountered with such depth of feeling.
North Island ▷ Out East ▷ Lake Waikaremoana
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍