My brother Matt had been heading down to the Ureweras for the last few months to manage a power station upgrade and bugging me to come down for a visit, this was his last week so it had to be done. With short notice I packed up my gear and my buddy Burton came along, with only 2 weeks in NZ from Perth I had convinced him that he needed to experience a bit of NZ beauty before he headed back to the Western desert.
We arrived after a long 6 hours from Auckland, dropping the family at the in laws in Rotovegas and dodging free running horses and cows on the gravel road into Waikaremoana. We met at Big Bush Holiday Park, just south-east of the lake 5 km from the track start. Matt was familiar with the establishment and served us up a cold lager from behind the bar. Matt knew all the locals and had jacked up a boat ride with Kerry the owner of the establishment for the morning. (Call him on 0800-525-392). I would run the full 47 km, clockwise from Onepoto tackling the Panekeri Hill at the start, Matt and Burton had elected to join me at Waiopaoa Hut (at the bottom of the Wairau Arm) which would leave them 30 km to run. (Matt hadn’t run more than 10 km in a year, Burt had never run more than 18 km in his life). Matt and Burton were driving the car to the northern track end where Kerry was going to pick them up at the beach at Hopuruhine at 830 am and drop them across the lake to the hut.
The following morning in rain and cloud the lads left me at the track start. It was 7 am as I started off alone up the Panekeri Bluff, we had allowed 3 hours for the 700 m or so climb and 17 km to meet me at the other end, with a rendevous of 10am at Waiopaoa Hut. I started off up the track in a fast march, it was a steep but well formed track and I made good time, the bulk of the climbing was done in the first 4 km. DOC had obviously done some work on this track since I tramped it in my teenage years, it was well formed and not technical, but a steep climb. I arrived at the hut with a log fire burning at the top in a time of 1:48, unfortunately in cloud and light rain and missed out on the epic views.
I set off down the track towards the Waiopaoa Hut. The track was as good as it gets, mint single track with few roots and rocks and a beautiful grade for an easy run down through stunning thick forest. I settled into a nice rhythm, The km fell easily, it was one of those beautiful times on the trail where you are alone, fulfilled and grateful.
As I approached the bottom of the hill Burton and Matt arrived around the corner. The timing had been perfect as they had just arrived 15 mins earlier and were meandering their way up the track, it had taken me just shy of 3 hours to get over the Panekiri Range. After my nagging insistence on bringing appropriate gear Matt had decided to play a practical joke and turn up in some old commando tennis shoes from 1980s he found in the back of the hut and told me he left the runners at home. I was too tired to care but thought we were going to be in for a big day ! The lads were a bit daunted with the numerous bays and inlets they had motored past on the way in and knew they had to tackle to get home that night.
Setting off down the flat easy run north out of Waiopaoa there was plenty of banter and kms ticked along nicely, it was great to be running with good mates. After Korokoro campsite at about 21 km we hit a section of roots and rocks and technical trail. The trail included plenty of ups and downs and we realised that despite the profile in the DOC pamphlet we were in for a tougher than expected last 25 km. This was the case, there were some easy sections but also some sections of more technical, all with plenty of small climbs and descents. I knew the track had a total 2400 m climb, now I could see where the rest of that vertical was made up !
We stopped for 20 mins for lunch at Maurauiti Hut, in a beautiful setting at the outlet of one of the many rivers feeding into the Lake. Setting off again spirits were high with some lunch in the tum and the weather had lifted and wind had dropped. We has stunning views across the lake and up to the Bluff.
As we hit the last third we had one more decent climb over Puketuketuke Range. DOC again had done a great job on this track and the track was superb with beautiful vistas through the tree and along the lake shores.
We were tiring as the kms climbed and new frontiers in distance and time on feet were reached by the lads. When we finally hit the final swing bridge at Horopuhine Landing there was relief and some tired excitement.
49 km and 2350 m in 8:58, it had been a mint day. Burt and Matt smashed out a PB length of 30 km and 1300 m in 6 hours. Im looking forward to them signing up for the Tarawera Ultra next year ;). The Waikaremoana is in a isolated spot of untouched NZ and I cannot recommend this highly enough as a stunning and runnable adventure. Im looking forward to hitting it again on a mint day.
PS – heres the Strava link https://www.strava.com/activities/291956990