Some of the most attractive podocarp-beech forests in the country, a large lake set in the North Island’s biggest national park, and an excellent network of huts and campsites make the Lake Waikaremoana circuit a classic tramp. Although the 46 km walk is a bit ambitious over the course of a normal weekend, it does make a good option for long weekends. The track is one of the eight Great Walks managed by DOC and, owing to its popularity (especially over summer and Easter), huts must be pre-booked.
As the tramp only partially circumnavigates the lake, you must decide which direction to walk in. Initially, the track climbs steadily, but by no means steeply, through a mix of tawari, kamahi and beech. Quite quickly you gain height to emerge on top of the first viewpoint of the Panekiri Bluff, an impressive rampart overlooking Lake Waikaremoana. The lake spreads in many directions, its long fingers probing west and north, with the forests and crumpled ridges of the northern Te Urewera beyond. There’s nowhere else quite like this in the park, or indeed, the whole country.
Dawn at Panekiri Hut will hopefully reward you with a vista of the lake, although mist and cloud do often surround the hut and bluffs. From Waiopaoa Hut the track skirts the shore and changes character accordingly and the track begins to sidle around some steeper parts of the lake, often through beech forest. At Maraunui there’s a substantial DOC base, with the Maraunui campsite nearby. Marauiti Hut has perhaps the nicest location of all the lakeside huts, overlooking a rounded forest headland that projects into the lake, which is often clotted with black swans. The track climbs over another forested peninsula, passes Te Totara and Ahimanu Bays, then crosses to an inlet at Upokororo Bay and Waiharuru Hut, with 40 bunks the largest of those on the Great Walk.
After departing from Waiharuru, the track leaves the Wairaumoana Inlet, the largest of those in the lake. These long arms are actually old river valleys, drowned when the lake was formed. From here, a significant ascent crosses over a neck of the Puketukutuku Peninsula. The track follows the lake once again, brushing the fairly intricate shoreline of the Whanganui Inlet. Patches of kanuka intersperse with beech, and from some points you can see the road on the far side of the inlet.
From here, the track meanders around the shore for an hour or so, then crosses the Hopuruahine Stream via a footbridge to reach the road. If you are expecting a ride back in a water taxi, there’s a landing en route.