End of May, early June is the ideal time for a winter holiday. The weather is noticeably cold but stable, with crisp frosts blanketing most of the countryside, and first snow of the season appearing in higher altitudes. The roads are clear of angry yuppies racing to get to the as yet unopened ski-fields. Tourists have mostly retreated to warmer areas, and life is generally relaxed.
It’s the perfect time to go tramping. In snow.
We opted for the Lake Waikaremoana lake track.
Situated in Te Urewera National Park, accessed by a windy 120km minor road, 70km unsealed, Waikaremoana is perhaps the most remote and rugged of New Zealand’s 3820 lakes.
The lake was formed approximately 2000 years ago following a massive landslide celebrating a prophet’s birth, or something. The landslide blocked off a natural water course, and the valleys filled with water, forming New Zealand’s 16th largest lake. (Although at 54 sq km in size it is just a fraction of the 616 sq km of Lake Taupo, and a puddle compared with 117,702 km2 of Lake Michigan, the world leader).
But I digress.
The rugged country of Te Urewera National Park and seeming maze of valleys, give the lake a fractally complex shape, making it impossible to see in entirety at any given point (on land). This makes for a great tramping track along the shoreline.
The lake track is classified as a great walk by DOC. The 3 – 4 day tramp takes in 45 km, and winds its way closely along the lake front. There are five huts along the way.
In summer this is a popular destination, with the large huts fully booked, but at this time of year, we were the only ones.
Access to the track is via a water taxi from Lake Waikaremoana Motor Camp.
It’s a six hour drive to get there from Auckland, and from Rotorua, the last petrol stop, another two hour drive mostly on gravel road.
We headed down Monday morning, Queen’s birthday, just as Metservice re-issued stern cold weather warnings with snow storms forecast in many areas. As we ventured into no-man’s land, devoid of (structurally sound) houses or cell-phone coverage, we were greeted with wandering stock, and increasingly thicker snow. Unbeknownst to us, the road was closed shortly after we passed through.
It’s a rough journey even on the best of days, but in snow, with a growing crack in the windscreen not holding up to the sub-zero temperatures, it makes for a rather exciting drive. We arrived safely at Lake Waikaremoana motor camp, and from there it was off to a snow-covered water-taxi, and a rather bouncy boat trip to the start of the walk.
And then we were on our own.
The weather soon cleared, treating us to beautiful remote scenery, with a hint of ruggedness, allowing us to bond with our inner-cave-dweller. With the largest hill approximately the equivalent of two Mt Edens, it’s an easy relaxing walk.
Of course the biting cold followed us into the night, but Beau magyverized a mattress cave to compensate for the lack of insulation in the hut.
And slept we did well.
Following on from our success in mattress caving, we then of course had to investigate the real thing at Onepoto, the end of the track. These caves are much more complex having formed during the landslide.
The Onepoto caves are a remarkable labyrinth of passages comprising a jumble of boulders resembling my Lego box and are well worth exploring.
Definitely a great walk.
View all photos here.