Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk

I first did the Great Walk around Lake Waikaremoana back in early 2010. Being pregnant with my youngest at the time made it a bit more strenuous, as did having 10 teenagers with me! So when Matt did the hike last year, and had the most amazing weather, I had a bit of a “fear of missing out” moment. On a whim I decided I would go and do it again, with a few friends this time.

Packing for a four day hike is one thing, but trying to fit about 5kg of camera gear into the pack also is pretty daunting. On this trip I decided to take my smaller camera and only two of my lenses, along with my tripod and all the various accessories (such as filters, filter holders, cable release cable, spare batteries, cleaning kit etc). Thankfully I feel like I had the right items for the photography I wanted to do, but the added weight is never fun to carry.

Catching the water taxi to the start of the track, the skipper told us how the Lake had been experiencing very unusual weather, with lots of high winds – one day resulting in 3 meter swells on the lake! The first day was to take about 5 hours, from Onepoto to Panekiri Hut. This is the tough day of the walk, all up hill for the first half and then undulating but still climbing to the hut after that. Total elevation gain is around 700m. We arrived at the Panekiri Bluffs (the famous spot for lake views) before lunch. But the wind was completely crazy, which made photography almost impossible. The cloud was very low too, so views were almost non-existent.

We spent a very windy night at Panekiri Hut, and I put my faith in the weather forecast that said the cloud would clear around mid day, and I headed back down the track to the bluffs again, hoping for sunshine. For once the forecast was accurate and I got some great views over the lake, although the wind was completely crazy and I was not able to take any of the “selfie” shots I was after as when I let go of the tripod it would just blow over. I was able to wedge the camera in place for a couple though, but it’s frustrating when I have a photo in mind and the weather conspires against me. Anyone who knows me well knows how ragey wind makes me too!

After meeting back up with the girls, we headed down to Waiapaoa Hut on the lake edge for night two. Arriving late afternoon, and finally out of the wind, we were able to have a swim in the lake and do some sunbathing. After the 100% cloud cover at sunrise, I had 0% cloud cover for sunset – photographer’s curse! The next morning, I accidentally fell back asleep after my alarm went off at 5:45am, waking with a jolt to a vibrant pink sky at 6:10am. I threw on enough clothes to be legal and made a run for the lake (then a run back to the hut again when I found my camera battery flat). I was lucky to capture a couple of photos before the light disappeared, but I hate to think what I may have missed while I was sound asleep.

For day 3, we decided to change our plans and head to Waiharuru Hut instead of Marauiti Hut, which was a good call. Although it was 2 hours extra walking, we had our packs taken to the hut by water taxi so it was easy enough to go a bit longer without all the weight. Waiharuru is a lot newer and bigger than Marauiti too, and in the end we all agreed that the environment and scenery was far nicer at Waiharuru also. We hiked for about 7 hours, and the afternoon was again spent swimming, sunbathing and reading, followed with a camp fire  and “The Book of Questions” next to the lake under the stars. That day the weather was fantastic and the views stunning, so it’ll be remembered as one of the nicest days hiking I have had for a while.

I was up again early for sunrise for our last morning, though it wasn’t the treat of the morning before. We enjoyed breakfast in the sun on the deck of Waiharuru Hut before heading off for the short walk to the Water Taxi pick up point. We arrived several hours early, so there was no choice but to do a bit more sunbathing, swimming and reading. I’m really glad I went back to do this walk again, the amazing weather for three of the days certainly made it worth it, and there were a number of “pinch myself” moments taking in the gorgeous lake views.

Name of Hike: Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk
Duration: 3-4 days
Distance: 46km (plus side trip to Korokoro Falls)
Accommodation: 5 huts plus campsites to choose from, hut costs $32 per night