A woman walking through the ferns found on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk: Everything You Need To Know

by Jonny Marc Baker
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Are you looking to avoid the crowds that descend upon New Zealand’s premier Great Walk tracks each year?  If you are, then look no further than the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.  This 46km multi-day hike is by far the quietest of the country’s 10 Great Walk tracks.  It is set in the beautiful surroundings of Te Urewera, a protected area in the north-east of the North Island. 

The Lake Waikaremoana track is one of three Great Walks located on the North Island.  In this guide we will cover everything you need to know, including how to book the walk, where to stay, how to travel to and from the track, a track itinerary and most importantly, what to pack.

The Lake Waikaremoana track is one of the easier Great Walks, the total distance of the hike is 46km and will take 3 or 4 days to complete depending on which huts or campsites you choose to stay at.

The Great Walk is a one-way track meaning it starts and finishes in different places; because of this you will need to arrange transport to the start and from the finish of the track, and we will discuss this later on.  Although it is a one-way track, you can decide in which direction you’d prefer to walk.  You can choose to start the track in the south at Onepoto or on the north side of the lake in Hopuruahine.

From my personal experience I would recommend that you start the Great Walk in the south at Onepoto as this way you get the hardest day out of the way first.  The most demanding part of the walk is the ascent to Panekire Hut, which is on day one if you are travelling from the south and day three if travelling from the north.  The climb to Panekire Hut is gradual but is all pretty much uphill for the entire day, however the views from the top make it all worthwhile.  The rest of the track is either flat or downhill with some gradual elevation along the way.

A woman standing on Panekire bluff with a large lake behind her.
Views from Panekire bluff are well worth the effort during day one.

How To Book The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk?

Like all the Great Walks it is important that you book your huts and/or campsites well in advance.  The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk isn’t as popular as a lot of the other tracks so it is much easier to book.  It is still important to make your booking in plenty of time, especially during the summer months when the track is at its busiest.

There are five huts located on the track that you are able to stay at.  The huts cost NZ$32 per adult per night and are free for children of New Zealand residents under the age of 18.  Children of international visitors under the age of 18 will pay NZ$16 per night.

There are also five campsites located on the track that you can stay at.  The campsites cost NZ$14 per person per night and are free for children of New Zealand residents under the age of 18.  Children of international visitors under the age of 18 will pay $7 per night.

You can book the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk huts and campsites by visiting the bookings page on the Department of Conservation website.

How To Get To Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana is very much off the beaten track and unfortunately it isn’t accessible by public transport, so the best way to access the area is by car.  However, I have heard it is possible to access by private shuttle from Wairoa, so this might be worth looking into if you don’t have a car.  If you don’t have your own car you can always hire one, which is exactly what I did.

I have used a few of the rental car companies during my time in New Zealand and have found Ezi Car Rental to be my favourite.  They have very reasonable rates and their cars are normally brand new and in great condition.

In terms of the route, I would recommend that you access Lake Waikaremoana from the south using State Highway 38.  If you access the Lake from the north using State Highway 38 you will be driving on huge stretches of unsealed roads which makes the journey very slow and bumpy.  I was travelling from Wellington so accessed via the south, this route does have an unsealed road as well but nowhere near the length as from the other direction.

Another bonus tip, make sure you are well prepared with the food you bring.  As soon as you pass Wairoa there are no shops to buy food for the walk (other than the small shop located at the Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park).  So make sure you have all your supplies before you arrive at Lake Waikaremoana.

A beautifully still lake at sunrise with the golden glow of the sun.
Lake Waikaremoana on a beautifully clear morning.

Accomodation Before and After The Walk

If like me, you are not based near Lake Waikaremoana, you’ll probably want to find somewhere to stay the night before the walk and the night after you finish the walk.  There are a few options to choose from which you can see below:

Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park

This is where we decided to stay as it is just down the road from the start of the Great Walk which was much appreciated on the last day at the end of our walk.

The holiday park has chalets, cabins, unpowered tent sites and powered campervan sites.  If you have a campervan or tent I would recommend staying here as it is so close to the track and the most affordable option.

The Tree Lodge, Wairoa

Wairoa is the nearest town to the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.  If you prefer to stay somewhere a little more comfortable, this Tree Lodge is about a one hour drive from the start of the track.

Ohuka Lodge

Located just 30 minutes from Lake Waikaremoana, this is another good choice.  A bit more expensive than the other options but may be perfect if you have a group of three or four.

To see prices check: Agoda

Napier and Rotorua

Both are approximately two hours and 30 minutes from the start of the Great Walk track.  These two places are close enough to base yourself if you want to stay in a city.  You can search for accommodation using the forms below.

How To Get To The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk Trailhead

You can choose to start the walk either at Onepoto and walk north or at Whanganui hut and walk south.  If you have a car I would recommend you start at Onepoto as there is plenty of parking space to leave your car while you walk.  When you finish the walk you can catch a water taxi that will take you back to Onepoto so you can pick up your car.

If you are wanting to start at the other end of the track at Whanganui hut, you can catch a water taxi from either Onepoto or the Waikaremoana Holiday Park.  This will drop you off near Whanganui hut but this does however need to be arranged in advance.

Lake Waikaremoana Track Water Taxi

The Great Walk track surrounds Lake Waikaremoana so this makes travel by boat a perfect way to get about.  You can catch a water taxi to the start of the track and also from the end of the track.  The water taxi makes stops at Te Karetu which is right next to the Waikaremoana holiday park, Onepoto which is at one end of the track and Whanganui Hut which is at the other end.

We decided to catch the water taxi from the end of the track near Whanganui hut back to where we started in Onepoto to collect our car.  You could however do it the opposite way and catch the water taxi to Whanganui hut and walk towards Onepoto.

A water taxi speedboat a the edge of a lake on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
The water taxi dropping us back to Onepoto.

The service costs NZ$60 one way for an adult and NZ$20 for a child.  I found this to be good value considering it’s almost the only way to get back from the end of the track.

It is important to make sure you book this service well in advance and you can do this by contacting the Te Urewera Visitor Centre by email or phone.  When we were doing the walk, the water taxi was only operating five days a week but they were hoping to increase this to a seven day service.  The best way to find out the most up-to-date information is to contact the Visitor Centre directly.

Huts and Campsites on The Lake Waikaremoana Track

Panekire Hut

This hut is relatively small yet somehow they seem to fit in 36 bunks.  A word of warning about this hut, make sure you don’t arrive too late.  If you do arrive late all the good bunks will be taken and you might end up on the third level of bunks near the roof.  During the night we stayed in this hut it was so over crowded that a family of three decided to sleep outside under the wood shed rather than sleep in the cramped bunks.

The hut itself has definitely seen better days but because it is situated at over 1000 metres above sea level, you are treated to some pretty amazing views over the lake.

There are two long drop toilets and the water at the hut is not treated.  I chose to filter the water from the hut using a Sawyer Squeeze water filtration system so I could be sure the water I was drinking was safe.

Waiopaoa Hut

When walking the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk you’ll want to make sure you stay at Waiopaoa Hut.  Waiopaoa definitely stands out as the best hut we stayed in during the hike, it’s a sizeable hut and in great condition.  The hut has room for 30 people, which is less than Panekire, but it is so much bigger which makes it feel quite spacious.

The best part about the hut is that it’s right next to a little beach area of the lake, which is perfect to swim in.  The water was a little chilly but after a day of hiking in the sun, was extremely refreshing.

The hut itself has two separate sleeping rooms and a big communal area for cooking and eating.  There is a wood burning stove to keep you warm on those cooler nights and outside there are two long drop toilets.

When we stayed, we were hosted by a hut warden named Bill.  He was very hospitable and shared his vast local knowledge of the area, as well as sharing lots of interesting Māori stories from the region.  If you happen to meet him make sure to ask him about how Te Urewera got its name, it’s a story you will only be able to hear from someone local to the area.

Waiopaoa hut
Waiopaoa hut.

Marauiti Hut

This is the hut we stayed at during our last night on the Great Walk.  The hut is located right next to a beautiful part of the lake.  We woke up early when we stayed here and were rewarded with a glorious sunrise.

The hut itself is relatively old but is in a fairly good condition.  The hut has room for 26 people, has two long-drop toilets and a wood burning stove for heat.  The space is split up into two separate areas, a small cooking area and a sleeping area.  When we were at the hut there were only 9 people staying which was fine, but I can imagine at full capacity it would be a bit of a squeeze in the cooking area.  The sleeping area is a relatively good size for the capacity – when we stayed we were lucky enough to have the whole top bunk to ourselves.

Waiharuru Hut

Although we didn’t stay at this hut, we did get to walk right past it on our last day of the walk.  It looked massive from the outside, and so it should, as it sleeps 40 people.  The kitchen area and sleeping area are actually two separate buildings so I’m sure it has plenty of room for everyone.

Whanganui Hut

Again this was a hut we didn’t stay at but we did go to check it out while we were waiting for our water taxi to arrive.  The hut is pretty small but does however sleep 18 people, it looks relatively old but is in good working condition.

Campsites

There are also five campsites you can stay at along the trail if you have a suitable tent you can bring with you.  The campsites are located at Waiopaoa, Korokoro, Maraunui, Waiharuru and Tapuaenui Shelter.  Most of these are located near the huts so you can use the facilities at the huts if needed.

A woman crosses a swing bridge on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
A swingbridge that can be found during the last day of the walk.

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk Itinerary

If you are going to be starting the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk from Onepoto as I suggested earlier, then you have two options when it comes to an itinerary.  The Department of Conservation recommended route is a four day walk staying at four huts and this is the route we decided to take.  However, we did find out during the hike, that it is possible to walk the trail in three days staying at just two huts, which some other hikers were doing.

The journey from Panekire hut to Waiopaoa hut on the second day is fairly short, it’s just 7.6km and mostly all downhill.  If you feel up to it and like a challenge, then you can miss Waiopaoa Hut and head straight onto Maraunui Hut but this does however mean you will be walking 20km in one day. 

Although the trip from Panekire hut to Waiopaoa hut was relatively short, we liked the fact that we could chill by the lake at Waiopaoa and take the walk a little slower.  If you like hiking for the challenge, I’d advise you to definitely take the three day option.  If you however prefer to take it slow so that you can take in your surroundings, then the four day option will be perfect for you.

As I said earlier we walked the four day, three hut option, I will go into detail below what you will see each day and the highlights to look out for.

Day 1 – Onepoto Shelter – Panekire Hut

Starting from Onepoto we parked our rental car in the car park at the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk trailhead.  I felt a little apprehensive leaving the car in the car park, however my worries were eased when I saw how many other cars were parked there.

Something that you will want to be aware of before embarking on this Great Walk is that the first day from Onepoto to Panekire is the most strenuous day of the entire walk.  For the first 2-3 hours you will be walking almost entirely uphill.

Most of the day you will be under the cover of trees, which is a blessing if it’s a hot and sunny day.  You will be surrounded by trees for the majority of your walk, which means there are lots of tree roots and other hazards to watch out for on the floor.

The highlight of this day are the views from Panekire Bluff which definitely makes up for the effort it takes to get there.  Also after you pass Panekire Bluff, and on the remainder of the journey to Panekire hut, you will find there are many great spots to enjoy views of the lake.

In total the distance covered on this day is 8.8km and takes roughly 4-6 hours to complete depending on your group’s fitness.

A man and woman photographed with a lake in the background. This photo was taken at Panekire hut on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk
Enjoying the incredible views from the top of Panekire hut.

Day 2 – Panekire Hut – Waiopaoa Hut

On the second day of the walk we made sure we got up early so that we could catch the sunrise.  Unfortunately the sun was rising behind us so we weren’t able to get the best view of it.  It was however nice to look out at the views over the lake, with the lovely soft morning light.

Unlike the first day, you will be walking almost entirely downhill, which makes it considerably less challenging.  Most of the downhill is constructed of manmade steps which are very steep in places  There are a lot of steps to walk down and as we passed people heading in the opposite direction, I felt very fortunate that we were not heading up the steps!

Again, the walk is mostly under the cover of trees which means there is not a lot to see other than the trail and surrounding scenery.  The highlight of the day are the views of the lake at the start, before you start descending down the steps.  Also, when you reach Waiopaoa hut, a swim in the lake is a very refreshing way to end a day of hiking.

In total this day is 7.6km long and takes roughly 3-4 hours to complete.

Day 3 – Waiopaoa Hut – Korokoro Falls – Maraunui Hut

For day three, make sure you set out early enough so you can fit in the side trip to Korokoro Falls.  We made the mistake of leaving the hut late morning, which meant that by the time we got to Maraunui hut it was almost dark and we were exhausted.

This day is relatively flat throughout and will be the first time you will get to cross some swing bridges.  Again the walk is mostly under the cover of trees but unlike the other days you will be walking right by the lake’s edge.  There are a few clearings en route where you can stop for a little break right next to the water.

The highlight of the day is the side trip to Korokoro Falls which is a must see!  This is a 1 hour return trip which means you can leave your heavy pack at the start and this is what everyone was doing when we were there.

This day is approximately 14km and takes roughly 6-7 hours.  The reason I have given an approximate time and distance for this day is because of the side trip to Korokoro Falls.  Also it’s worth noting that this day was way longer than the Department of Conservation state on their Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk brochure, so keep that in mind.

Korokoro falls cascades to the rocks below. This waterfall is found on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
Korokoro falls in all its glory.

Day 4 – Maraunui Hut – Whanganui Hut/Water Taxi Pickup

The final day was definitely my favourite of the hike and this is another day that you have to make sure you set off early.  We were on the trail by 7.00am because we had to make sure we were at the water taxi rendezvous point for the 2.30pm pick up.  This early wake up also meant we were able to see the lake in the early morning light, which was one of the highlights of the day.

The majority of the walk is under cover much like the other days, however there are lots of clearings in the trees so you can see the stunning views across the lake.  There were a few swing bridges to cross, which was another highlight as it meant the cover opened up to give you a great view of the lake.

The day is relatively easy, there is some up and down but mostly the ground is flat.  In some places the terrain is a bit tricky which slows the pace down a little.  We also came across a broken bridge that looked like it had been damaged for a while, although fortunately it was still passable.  You will also pass Waiharuru hut and campsite which was a good place to stop for a little break.  The total distance for the day is 11.5km which takes between 4-6 hours.

The best part of the day for me was the water taxi journey back to Onepoto to pick up the car.  The water taxi pick up is well sign posted so you won’t miss it, it is located by the lake’s edge just before Whanganui hut.  The journey back takes approximately 30 minutes on a small speed boat.  It allows a great opportunity to see the beautiful Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk surroundings from a different perspective, which was pretty amazing.

What To Pack For The Lake Waikaremoana Track

With any hike, walk or tramp it’s very important to make sure you are well prepared, especially in New Zealand with it’s unpredictable and changeable weather conditions.  The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk is no exception, so it’s important you are ready for all conditions, whether it’s rainy, windy or it’s an absolute scorcher.

Although it’s important to make sure you’re prepared, you definitely don’t want to fall into the trap of overpacking; pack light, but pack right.  If you’re unsure exactly what to pack and need some guidance, check out my Great Walk packing guide.

There are a few things that you definitely need to take with you on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.  The huts and campsites that you will be staying at during the walk don’t have lights or gas and the toilets don’t have toilet paper, so it’s important that you bring a torch, a portable backpacker stove, fuel cannister and of course toilet paper or wet wipes.

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Final Thoughts on the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk

My experience of this Great Walk was on the whole very good, although there are definitely some improvements to be made.  The tracks are, in some places very poorly maintained, especially when you compare them to the other Great Walks.  Also items such as toilet paper, gas cookers and lights in huts which are common place on the other Great Walks, are very much absent in this case.  This is not too much of a problem though as long as you are aware of it beforehand.

The walk and its surroundings are absolutely amazing though and definitely well worth it.  One of this Great Walk’s strengths is it’s location, not only is it situated in an amazing place it is also well off the beaten track.  This means that it is so much quieter than the other Great Walks.  This is something I really appreciated; you could walk for hours without seeing too many others on the track and this is pretty uncommon on the rest of the Great Walk tracks. 

All in all I’d recommend this Great Walk – if you ever get the chance to experience this amazing place you’ll definitely enjoy it!

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The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk is an amazing multi day hike located on New Zealand's North Island. Want to find out more?

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