4 min read

Lake Waikaremoana Track: Day One

Lake Waikaremoana and the bluff as seen from the track of the great walk. © Leonie Wise
Lake Waikaremoana and the bluff as seen from the track of the great walk

It’s Christmas Eve and another one of those mornings that I’m glad we usually wake early – we have to be up, showered, breakfasted, packed, and ready to go by 8:00 am, to get to the pickup point for our Lake Waikaremoana track transport.

Nic and I are spending four days walking the Lake Waikaremoana Track. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to move back to New Zealand. I’d never done anything longer than a day walk and I want to do all the Great Walks over the next few years (as well as other NZ explorations). We did the Routeburn two years ago, and this is my newest challenge crazy idea.

This is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks (the second one for me, the umpteenth one for Nic). All the huts have to be pre-booked and they’re FULL. Four days of walking, four nights in DOC huts, pack everything in, pack everything out – no rubbish service, no cellphone service, no cafe’s, no TV. Heaven.

We spend the entire first day walking uphill to Panekire Hut. After an hour’s climb we arrive at a clearing at the top of the Panekire Bluff where there’s a fantastic lookout. But it’s not the top and, after another hour of steady uphill, I suggest to Nic that next time I come up with an idea to do something like this, that maybe he could suggest we go to a resort where the only walking we need to do is between our room and the pool where someone delivers us cocktails with tiny umbrellas in them. (I’m only half joking.)

We spend the uphill climb leapfrogging with other trampers who started the walk at the same time we did. And we spend all four days doing this. We stop to rest, they pass. They stop for a snack, we pass. I am feeling dreadfully unfit (certainly a lot less fit than I was when we did the Routeburn) so it’s nice to get to the hut at the top of the hill in 3.5 hours instead of the 5 that the sign at the start told us! But it wasn’t 8.8km, it was 10.8 (and felt like longer), but the view from the top is stunning and the beauty of the forest on the way up made it totally worthwhile. There’s already quite a crowd at the top when we arrive, but some of them are continuing on to the next hut, so we managed to grab two bottom bunks for the night. Other trampers kept arriving well into the afternoon and the bunk rooms ended up totally full. With three levels of bunks, and it all being first-come first-served, the latecomers ended up sleeping in the rafters – so glad it wasn’t us!

The hut here is very basic and turns out to be the least well maintained of all the ones we encounter on the trip. There’s a single working pump-style tap in the common area, a fireplace, two rooms of bunk beds with mattresses, a woodshed outside with firewood, and toilets. No cooking facilities though, so we needed to pack a stove and fuel, as well as all our cooking gear and food for the trip.

I have hopes of a starlit night and a stunning sunrise, but I should have known this wouldn’t happen… the local iwi here are the Ngaī Tūhoe (also known as Nga Tamariki o te Kohu – the children of the mist)… the top of the bluff and the mountains surrounding the lake are often obscured by clouds. A 5am peek out of the common room windows shows me mist and clouds and no visibility of the lake, or the sunrise, so I go back to bed for another hour or so.

Today we walked: 10.8km (all uphill) in 3h 30m
Elevation: 1,044m elevation gain