Camping at Lake Waikaremoana

The journey to Lake Waikaremoana was fairly uneventful, we left Rotorua on the 5th of December, early in the morning. It was a fairly calm day with a little drizzle and some rain. The roads were quiet and we drove on stopping occasionally to allow Diarmuid to stretch his legs. We knew however that the hard part lay ahead, State Highway 38 would soon start. It began well enough as we turned off from Route 5, it wasn’t quite as good as a motorway, but the roads were sealed. I began to think that maybe the horror stories we’d been told weren’t true or that major roadworks had occured. A sign soon put paid to that hope, “105km of Unsealed Road.”

Eventually we reached the gravel stage of the road and Diarmuid greatly reduced his speed to around 50kmph. SH38 winds through Te Urewera National Park and the deep valleys are quite spectacular. Unfortunately, it was quite a miserable day in the high places of the park but the clouds added their own mystique to the views. The road was a new experience for me as I’ve never been on a gravel road that continued for such a length of time, add to that the constant winding nature of it and the frequent hair pin bends with steep gorges just outside my window.
It was a lot of fun. Diarmuid didn’t find it as much fun but then he was driving and had to dodge the locals who though infrequent would come tearing round these hairpin corners at close to 80kmph possibly some of them pushing higher speeds. If cars were stuck behind us, Diarmuid would pull in and let them pass when he could and I’d watch in amusement as they tore ahead of us. New Zealand drivers are very interesting (read as dangerous) at times. Though I jibed Diarmuid at how slow and cautious he was driving, in truth I think he did an excellent job.

Shortly before we arrived at the Lake Waikaremoana Motor Camp we stopped at the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre, a DOC visitor centre for Te Urewera National Park. Diarmuid wanted to get as much information as possible about the walk and also had to confirm his booking for the Great Walk. While I was waiting I took a look around the place and there was a small display on the Maori who lived in the area during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The dominant theme of the display was their conversion to Christianity and the subsequent rising of one of the Maori from the area who claimed to be Jesus Christ come again. It was reallly quite an interesting exhibition with a few museum pieces and colourful displays about the history, geology and plants of Te Urewera. Seemingly Lake Waikaremoana is just above a fault line. I pointed this out to Diarmuid who is very hopeful that he’ll experience an earthquake while we’re here.

We checked in to the Motor Camp and picked a site. After taking a closer look at it, I suggested we move to another site. This is when we found that the car wouldn’t start. It had a problem in Rotorua and it had now reoccurred. Diarmuid still believed that the battery was to blame, I wasn’t sure. The battery seemed fine to me and it had been fully charged in Rotorua. I pushed the car most of the way to the new site I’d picked before it got stuck and I couldn’t push it any further. With Diarmuid’s help, we got it parked on a reasonably good site. We set up our tent and Diarmuid then took a look at the car. He wasn’t so sure about the battery anymore, he thought it was fine as well, though we still hoped a jumpstart would fix it when we needed to leave like it had in Rotorua. We were miles away from the nearest town and I didn’t fancy getting stuck at the lake.

The car was forgotten about for the time being as Diarmuid was heading on a four day hike the next day and he had to get his bag packed. A few hours later, he was eventually happy that he had everything he needed and that he had cut the weight of his bag down as much as possible. The next morning he got up early to catch his taxi to the starting point, I wished him luck as he left and then rolled back round in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep. I spent the next three days and three nights while Diarmuid was away, having a very pleasant time just resting up in my tent, reading a few books and occasionally doing some other things such as cooking.

For the first time on this trip I cooked some proper dinners. It was nice to be able to eat a simple dinner of some meat, potatoes and another vegetable. I had to be a little creative in the kitchen though as no cooking utensils were provided and I wasn’t bothered enough to go round to the office and hire out some pots and things. It worked out very well though, I would bake the potatoes in the oven and cook the meat under the grill and boil the carrot or brocolli in my steel mug on a hotplate. As an added bonus, it saved on the washing up.

Camping can be very restful, since it tends to be quiet and you don’t have to go rushing around doing anything. Unfortunately the silence of the lake was disturbed by two school groups on a trip, as its the time of year for school trips here in New Zealand. Indeed, Diarmuid when he came back complained about the number of school kids on the walk. All in all, they weren’t too bad, indeed compared to some scout camps I’ve been on they were exceptionally quiet. Mealtimes were a bit awkward though, since they tended to take over the kitchen and one night I didn’t get eating my dinner until 10 o’clock. For the most part, they were away on canoe trips or fishing. I meanwhile was quite content in my tent listening to the rain tapping on the canvas above my head. There is something very soothing and enjoyable about listening to rain falling on a canvas tent. When the tent was dry the first wave of drops would create patterns on the canvas that the sun would then shine through.

My appetite for books was voracious, I finished “Oliver Twist” on the first night and the next day I finished reading the third part of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.” Next I read “The Princess Bride” in 24 hours and started to read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I finished on the third day that Diarmuid had been away on the walk. I would occasionally grin evilly to myself as I thought of him out in the rain, while I was dry and warm in my tent.

As Lake Waikaremoana is in the middle of nowhere with no major urban centres for many miles around, light pollution is non-existent and one night in particular when there were no clouds in the night sky, the stars and moon were very visible and it was easy to pick out Mars and Venus in the evening sky. I also got one of my clearest views of the moon that I’ve ever had and the craters were extremely crisp with the aid of a pair of binoculars I bought in Auckland.

One morning I was eating my breakfast and there was a German couple sitting fairly close near by. As I was walking back into the kitchen I noticed that the man was videoing the man and I stopped, muttering “Entschuldigung.” He waved me on saying it was OK and I thought nothing of it. A few minutes later we were all in the kitchen, they were doing their washing up and I went over to the water boiler which was right above their sink and got some water for my mug of coffee. There were talking to each other in German when next thing I see the guy’s hand waving in front of my face and I suddenly realise that they’re actually talking to me. I then explain in English that I’m actually Irish and not German. The woman then says…”But, outside” and I finished the sentence for her, “Yes, outside I said Entschuldigung” and then explain that I know a little German from studying it about seven years ago. It’s fairly easy to be mistaken for English, Scottish, American or even Australian here but the fact that a German had mistaken me for a German really made my day.

I also went on some of the short walks in the vicinity of the motor camp. One evening I made up way up the Hinau walk to Whaitiri Point and the site where the Lake house Hotel used to be situated. It was a very pleasant walk along a light dappled track and some fascinating trees, including some mighty northern rata and many silver beech trees. I started up the Ngamoko track just acoss the road from where the Hinau walk ends and got some very good views of the lake from clearings in the trees.

The next day I made my way along the Black Beech walk which takes you to the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre. The Black Beech walk follows the old road which was replaced when the lake was lowered 5 metres in 1946. It was really clear that it was an old road and you could easily imagine a horse drawn cart coming round one of the many corners. The walk provided some more spectacular views of the lake and there were one or two points when I wished I hadn’t given my camera to Diarmuid for his walk.

When I reached the centre I followed the Hinerau Walk and the Aniwaniwa Falls Track which take you close to the three different waterfalls in the area which are collectively known as Aniwaniwa falls. I was able to climb down from the Hinerau walk to the rocks at the edge of the river and I scrambled over these huge boulders to get a better look at the roaring falls. The Aniwaniwa river was clearly deep and very fast flowing and it was exhilirating to clamber around and jump from rock to rock. I noticed a small beach on the other side of the river and I tried to figure out how I would get down to it. After clambering back up the slope to the track grabbing on to convenient roots and rocks I returned back to the track and then the centre. The Aniwaniwa Falls Track gives some better views from the actual viewpoints but was more difficult to climb down. I did find my way down to the beach and there was even an overhanging cliff face at the edge of the beech. I considered whether it would be suitable for camping and I think it might though DOC might frown upon that. I found a stick lying on the ground and used that to see how deep the water was, it would have reached well up to my waist and that was more than enough to keep me from even considering taking one step out in a more shallow part. Using the stick to help me back up the slippy slope I finished the walk where it reached a dead end beside the river bank. It was truly a sight to behold this huge winding river, I thought it would be fantastic for canoeing and possibly fishing if wasn’t too deep. Unfortunately, when I tested the depth right at the edge of the riverbank, it couldn’t reach the bottom and hence would at least have been up to my chest.

Speaking of fishing, I did try my hand again a couple of times but no luck, indeed I only saw one fish jump in my time at the lake and maybe one or two other rises. It was infuriating to see the hatches of flies but not a single fish was rising for them. From talking to another fisherman there, it just seemed that there was nothing happening with dry fly but that spinning out on the lake in a boat was worthwhile. This was proven to me when I saw a man come back from a day’s fishing on the lake with two fine trout in his hand. I saw him put the fish into a plastic bag in a freezer and when he actually left for home a day later, he collected two large plastic bags full of frozen fish that he’d caught.

Diarmuid back from his walk on the 9th and he had somewhere found Marcus along the way. It turns out that they’d met at the start of the track and Marcus and walked round the lake with Diarmuid. After having settled himself, Diarmuid then turned to business as he always does and got cracking on the car. He got talking to a man who worked round the motor camp and tried to jump start the car with the use of his tractor. This didn’t do a think like we had half hoped since it had worked in Rotorua, a few more attempts at trying to figure out the problem but to no avail. He told us about a local mechanic and Diarmuid rang him up. He promised to come by the next morning with a specialist electrician who happened to be visiting. Sure enough the next day around noon, the mechanic turned up with this electrician in tow. I was just about to head back to the waterfalls to take some photos when they arrived and decided to stick around. Within two minutes and about 30 seconds work, the electrician had got the motor running with a quick short tap at some part of the engine. It turned out that the brushes in the starter motor were worn and needed replacing. With the engine started, Diarmuid didn’t want to turn it off, so we quickly broke camp, packed our stuff away. (All of which had been taken out of the boot as Diarmuid wanted it empty in case the mechanics had to take the car away.) Within half an hour we were on the road and I never did get to take those photos.

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