Sprawling hills, turquoise blue lakes, white sandy bays and canopies of native bush aptly sum up the Waikaremoana Great Walk. Joe (my 12-year-old) and I had been planning this hike for 6 months and we were finally going to tackle it. The excitement was high as we wound our way down the dusty gravel road towards Lake Waikaremoana, stopping occasionally to watch the horses lazing on the grassy banks.

We decided to stay at the Waikaremoana Holiday Park the night before as it is a long drive out to the lake and we had an early start. Waikaremoana Holiday Park sits right on the lake edge and offered us a place to marvel in the expanse of the landscape we were about to undertake.

Sprawling hills, turquoise blue lakes, white sandy bays and canopies of native bush aptly sum up the Waikaremoana Great Walk. Get the low down including hiking guide, tips and more!

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Panekiri Bluff
One of the many views along the walk

Day One | Onepoto to Panekiri Hut

Waikaremoana Great Walk Day One | Onepoto to Panekiri Hut
Onepoto to Panekiri Hut

Hiking Quick Stats

Time 5-6 hours, depending on your fitness and if you take the side track to the lake

Difficulty The track itself is not difficult, it is well marked and well maintained. However, the elevation gain often makes for some hard climbing. Especially with a heavy pack

Access Contact Te Kura Whenua, they provide a shuttle service to and from either end of the track. You can start at Onepoto or Hopuruahine Road End. We started at Onepoto to get the steepest day out of the way first.

Fitness You will need to be fairly fit for the first day as it is primarily climbing

Panekiri Hut Stats

Sleeps 36

Facilities bunks, outdoor loos, wood burner, tank water (can run dry during the summer though)

Fees bookings are required. Adults $32 per night, under 17 free but still require a booking

This was our hardest day, mainly due to the relentless uphills that start as soon as you step on the track. I was also unused to carrying such a heavy pack. My last overnighter was in August to Kapakapanui Hut. Agggesss ago.

Lake Kiropukae
Lake Kiropukae

The Side Track to Lake Kiriopukae

We stumbled upon a side track that goes down to Lake Kiropukae about 10-15 minutes in, as we were still fresh and Hiking Ready we decided to take it. The track wound down through overgrown ferns, long grass and tree roots to our ‘secret lake’.

There we sat and watched the dragonflies hovering nearby while having morning tea. We chose a large rock jutting out of the ground on the shore that overlooked the lake to sit on as black swans drifted serenely and the frogs providing us with a musical soundtrack. What a great way to start our journey.

Top Tip: Leave your bag at the top of the track and pick it up on your way back past. It will save you carrying it up and down the 45-minute detour. Suffice to say, we didn’t do this. Rookie mistake.

The view up to Panekiri Hut
Couldn’t get enough of these views

Back into the Bush

From this point, the track heads up, rather steeply. Poor ole Joe had to keep stopping and waiting for his unfit Ma to catch up. Darn those energy-filled young legs that children tend to have! Bless his cotton socks though, he never complained once and encouraged me up the steeper parts of the hills.

The shade of the trees gives away every so often to magnificent panoramic views across the lake. We perched upon the rocks at Panekiri Bluff and gazed at the blue, blue lake surrounded in lush green bush, dotted with crystal clear bays. Trying to forget how much further we actually needed to go over the next few days.

Panekiri Hut | Waikaremoana Great Walk
Panekiri Hut

Panekiri Hut

We finally arrived at Panekiri Hut, roughly 6.5 hours from when we had started. I blame the stop to Lake Kiropukae. Not the many (many) other stops we took on the way up to the hut.

Panekiri hut was a welcome sight. The last push up the stairs (who the heck puts stairs so close to the end?!) nearly undid me. We had drunk all our water long before the end, I was starting to get a headache from lack of water and felt very dizzy from the stairs. Joe ran ahead and announced he could see the hut.

We were there!

Joe and I made our way through the lounging hikers lazing on the warm grass, soaking up the last of the days’ rays and happily threw off our packs and boots. Bo,y that felt good! As we were the last ones to arrive we got the last two bunks, luckily they were next to each other, we had our own little alcove at the top of the bunk which was rather cosy.

Top Tip: For this day, pack more water than you think you will need.

Day Two | Panekiri Hut to Waiopaoa Hut

Waikaremoana Great Walk Day Two | Panekiri hut to Waiopaoa Hut
Panekiri Hut to Waiopaoa Hut

Hiking Quick Stats

Time 3-4 hours

Difficulty This was not a difficult day for us, it was mainly downhill, the track was very well-maintained and easy to follow

Fitness You will not need to have a high fitness to hike from Panekiri Hut to Waiopaoa Hut. Unless you do it the opposite way.

Waiopaoa Hut Stats

Sleeps 30

Facilities bunks, outdoor loos, wood burner, tank water (can run dry during the summer though)

Fees bookings are required. Adults $32 per night, under 17 free but still require a booking

In the morning everyone from the hut dispersed their different ways, we would catch up with some of them later on that day at Waiopaoa Hut but others were on their way to Onepoto or further afield to Marauiti Hut. We said our goodbyes then packs were repacked, boots tied, we said goodbye to Panekiri Hut and set off down the track.

Between Panekiri Hut and Waiopaoa Hut
Huzzah for downhill!

Downhill we went

Day two was our easiest day. The DOC sign said it would take us four hours to get to Waiopaoa Hut so we set off early in order to make the most of the long afternoon stretching in front of us with nothing to do other than relax.

It took us 3 hours to get to Waiopaoa Hut, 1 hour less than the DOC sign stated even with a few stops so we were well pleased with ourselves. After a quick explore of the hut, it was togs (swimsuits for non-kiwis) on and into the lake.

Waiopaoa Hut sits right on the water’s edge and with the whole afternoon ahead of us we were perfectly happy to have a lazy arvo.

Waiopaoa Hut
Waiopaoa Hut

Many rounds of cards

Joe decided before we left Onepoto that his mission was to convert as many people to Exploding Kittens as possible. A feat he was determined to achieve that afternoon.

We found an Exploding Buddy in the form of a German tourist who was hitchhiking around New Zealand. He was then introduced to Kittens in a Blender and Unstable Unicorns. Turns out German Guy played to win, annihilating both of us after a couple of rounds. No holds were barred and in the end, it was gang up on the girl for the rest of the night.

The beach at Waiopaoa Hut | Waikaremoana Great Walk
The view from our beach at the hut

Day Three | Waiopaoa Hut to Waiharuru Hut

Waikaremoana Great Walk Day Three | Waiopaoa Hut to Marauiti Hut
Waiopaoa Hut to Marauiti Hut on foot
Waikaremoana Great Walk Day Three | Marauiti Hut to Waiharuru Hut via Water Taxi
Marauiti Hut to Waiharuru Hut via Water Taxi

Hiking Quick Stats

Time 5-6 hours, depending on your fitness and if you take the side track to the waterfall

Difficulty This is the part of the track that we got warned to not underestimate by the hut warden as well as Tina, the volunteer who drove us to Onepoto. It is fairly undulating and the last hill before Marauiti Hut was a killer

Fitness Moderate

Waiharuru Hut Stats

Sleeps 40

Facilities bunks, outdoor loos, wood burner, tank water (can run dry during the summer though)

Fees bookings are required. Adults $32 per night, under 17 free but still require a booking

Before we set off on our third day, the hut warden reminded us not to underestimate the days hike. We set off at 730 to allow plenty of time to get to Marauiti Hut for the 2pm water taxi. A side trip to Korokoro Falls was on the agenda and we knew it would add an extra hour to our trip.

A false sense of security

The first hour of the hike was along a flat path winding around the edge of Lake Waikaremoana. The swing bridges provided much entertainment for the both of us (we both have a fond liking for swing bridges). However, it made for difficult photography with a 12 year old jumping up and down each time I went to push the shutter button. I guess that’s karma as I do the same thing to my mum.

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Korokoro Falls

The track to Korokoro Falls is just under an hour from Waiopaoa Hut. It winds up the side of the hill over boulders and tree roots. Not long from the start of the track is a small falls which Joe hopefully thought was the main one. Sorry, son!

There is one tricky part of the track with a wire tied across the stream to aid boulder jumpers to the other side. My pack got a good soaking in the middle but apart from that, we made it across without incident. Joe is much more of a mountain goat than his poor ole ma.

Korokoro Falls spills over the edge of a cliff surrounded in greenery. It was the perfect spot to tuck into morning tea.

Top Tip: Again, leave your pack at the start of the track. If you are going to have a snack at the falls, just chuck something in your pocket. We didn’t learn from our side trip to Lake Kiropukae and took our bags with us. Slow learners.

Swing bridge | Waikaremoana Great Walk
We heart swing bridges

Back on Track

From here the track undulates for the majority of the way to Marauiti Hut. It was a relief after our first day up to Panekiri Hut though, at least we were rewarded with downhills after the ups.

Swing bridges and little wooden bridges (perfect for trolls) were common, often it seemed as though we were going around in circles. Luckily we weren’t. That would have been devastating.

Eventually, we made it back onto flat land. This was rather deceiving though. We thought we must be near the end by then. Nope. Still one more hill to climb. That one was a doozy too. Thankfully, we spotted the roof of Marauiti Hut after this hill so we trudged on to await our water taxi under the shade of the trees.

Taking the water taxi from Marauiti Hut to Waiharuru Hut
Taking the water taxi from Marauiti Hut to Waiharuru Hut

Water Taxi 

The track is closed between Marauiti Hut and Waiharuru Hut so we had to catch the water taxi to our next hut. This was fine by both of us. We cut two hours off our walking time and got a boat ride. Win win!

The boat ride took about 10 minutes and during it, we could see the expanse of what we had already walked in just a few days. It also provided an awe-inspiring view of the lake. Plus, the wind on our faces was rather nice.

We arrived at Waiharuru Hut to an onslaught of sandflies

Waiharuru Hut | Waikaremoana Great Walk
Waiharuru Hut

Top Tip: Don’t underestimate this day, it is long and relentless, if you are going to visit Korokoro Falls (which I highly recommend), allow an extra on your day. Also, don’t forget the insect repellent. We did (facepalm) and I still have legs that resemble a dot to dot activity page.

Day Four | Waiharuru Hut to Hopuruahine Road End

Waikaremoana Great Walk Day Four | Waiharuru Hut to Hopuruahine Road End
Waiharuru Hut to Hopuruahine Road End

Hiking Quick Stats

Time 4-5 hours

Difficulty Another undulating day, however, much nicer than the previous day!

Fitness Moderate

Ah, our last day! It was bittersweet. We were both looking forward to showers and clean clothes but would miss the long uninterrupted hours of just chatting and walking together with nothing to worry about other than will our lungs survive the next hill.

View from Waikaremoana Track
Views like this were common

Undulating hills… again

Our fourth day started with yet more undulating hills and we had a sneaking suspicion this was how our day was going to pan out. We were right. The track does even out in places but be warned, you will be back up a hill again before long.

Waikaremoana Great Walk
Kicked off shoes and strewn bags. We needed the lake to cool our feet

The Great Lake

This was the day we got the most views of Lake Waikaremoana and even had a stop in a little bay to sit with our feet in the cool water. Eventually, we had to push on though as our shuttle was due to arrive at 2pm and we were cutting it fine as it was. Regretfully we pulled back on our dirty, sweaty socks and boots (lovely, huh?) and headed back up to the track again.

Waikaremoana Great Walk
Yet another fab view (sorry I am in the way to spoil it)

Mud Galore

This part of the track is also the muddiest, luckily the views made up for it. The trip from Whanganui Hut takes a bit longer than the 1.5 hours stated on the DOC sign due to rerouting after the track got damaged. Allow at least 2 hours to get to Hopuruahine Road End from here. It is mostly flat but there are still a few climbs though.

Soon enough the last swing bridge came in to view and we powered along. The end was near!

This day took us about 4.5 hours as we stopped for quite a while on the edge of the lake. We still made it with plenty of time (10 minutes) before our shuttle arrived to take us back to our car. Waikaremoana Great Walk done and dusted! Boom!

Tips for tackling the Waikaremoana Great Walk

  • Book well in advance, especially if you are going peak season. The huts fill up quickly and you don’t want to miss out. You can book the Waikaremoana Great Walk on the Department of Conservation website.
  • Take extra food + water. Joe powered through our snacks even though I packed more than he would normally eat. All those extra calories your burn will need to be replaced. There will normally be water at the huts but for the first day, I would suggest packing more than you need as it is a hard day. In the summer the tanks can run dry but will usually be replaced with lake water.
  • The water at the huts will either be rainwater or lake water. If you have a sensitive stomach it might pay to pack water purifying tablets. I was brought up on rainwater and have an iron clad stomach so it didn’t bother me. But if you aren’t used to it it may give you a wobbly tum.
  • Pack extra batteries for your camera. You are going to want to take a crap tonne of photos. Trust me.
  • Don’t forget the earplugs. Waiharuru Hut is completely open so you may be sleeping with 39 other people in the same room. Chances are, at least one of them will snore. Or 20 in our case.
  • Hit all the side tracks, you will find some unexpected and beautiful hidden gems. I highly recommend going to Lake Kiropukae and Korokoro Falls.
  • Contact Te Kura Whenua to arrange the shuttles and water taxi ASAP. They can be difficult to get a hold of but keep persevering
  • Take an extra night or two either side of the Great Walk to explore more of the area. The Waikaremoana Holiday Park has great facilities and is a fab stay.
  • Talk to the hut wardens. They know the area better than anyone
  • Sometimes the track between Waiopaoa Hut and Marauiti Hut is closed, don’t attempt to cross it if it is. It will be closed for a reason, check with the hut warden before setting off for the day.
  • Take your own loo paper, there are none in the huts
  • There is no cell phone service so be mindful of this.
Early morning at Waiopaoa Hut
Early morning at Waiopaoa Hut

Other Fantastic walks in the Te Urewera Area

There are many other hikes in the area. I have done a couple of them in the past but want to spend more time in the Ureweras exploring.

  • Rapanui Circuit Track – a 6-hour loop that takes you past Lake Waikareiti and through wetlands, forest and tarns.
  • Ngamoko Track – Climb up to Ngamoko summit to see the stunning panoramic views of Lake Waikaremoana and beyond.
  • Short Walks – There are a number of shorter walks in the area to caves, waterfalls and lakes.

More Information

The Department of Conservation has put out a PDF brochure with maps, information and profile.

Walking across the boulders to get to Korokoro Falls
Walking across the boulders to get to Korokoro Falls

Final Thoughts on the Waikaremoana Great Walk

Waikaremoana is a fantastic walk. It isn’t hailed as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks for nothin’. Joe declared during the Tongariro Alpine Crossing that he wanted to complete all the Great Walks with me so we have finally ticked one off. Next summer we will tackle the Northern Circuit in Tongariro National Park on our Great Walk mission.

The Waikaremoana Great Walk is often referred to as the ‘easiest Great Walk’, while it may be, it still isn’t a walk in the park so make sure you are prepared for hills, mud, tree roots, boulders and long days. It is worth it though.

On the way home Joe was well chuffed with himself and told me he loved the atmosphere at the huts ‘everyone is so nice!’. That is one of the best things about staying in tramping huts, you are around like-minded people who are there for the same reason as you are.

We met some wonderful people including German Guy and a lovely group of 6 who were hiking the same way as us. If we met up along the track they would check on Joe and played cards with us in the evenings. Lots of memories were made over those four days that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Jem

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Sprawling hills, turquoise blue lakes, white sandy bays and canopies of native bush aptly sum up the Waikaremoana Great Walk. Get the low down including hiking guide, tips and more!

Sprawling hills, turquoise blue lakes, white sandy bays and canopies of native bush aptly sum up the Waikaremoana Great Walk. Get the low down including hiking guide, tips and more!

2 Comments on Waikaremoana Great Walk | Te Urewera

  1. Hi, thanks for this detail, the track is all fixed now, we’re taking a 3 year old, so the photos of the tricky bits and idea of the hills etc is really helpful. Maybe we’ll see you on the Tongariro, my 12 yr old son might like to meet your Joe?!

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