Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Great Walk #2: Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana
This past weekend was the first National Holiday in some time. So in order to take full advantage of it, Beth booked a couple hut spots for us to tackle the second of nine Great Walks that New Zealand has to offer. We had opted to do Lake Waikaremoana over 3 days, which is situated just East of us.  We extended an invitation to the other ninjas (this is from Ninja Tortoises our team name for events) and a total of 7 of us took to the trail over Labor Weekend. We weren't the only people on the trail as the huts were booked out months in advance, but a few spots opened up the final week and Rachel was able to get a spot as she wasn't sure she would be able to go. She has gotten her work visa sussed for the time being though. For the full photo album go here.

Ginger Ninjas
The gang came down in 2 cars on Friday, which meant we were able to host again and let Banu see the house for the first time. In order to satisfy Peter, we ate at Pauly's Burgers in  Taupo. They have a sign that says best burger in town and we agree with that statement. Prior to the second vehicle showing up I made some Ginger Ninjas, gingerbread men in the form of ninjas, for the gang to snack on and I took some on the tramp. It was an early night for most of us as we had to be out of the house by 7:30 in order to make the shuttle time of 11am.

We woke early and had a breakfast of croissants with nutella and banana that were gently warmed in the oven and some French Press Coffee. We launched from the Kinloch pad early to get to the trail head where we would be dropped off. From there Beth and Banu would drive to the Big Bush Holiday Park, 3 km away, to leave the cars in the secure lot and then be shuttled back to the trail head. We were a few minutes late to the Holiday Park, but that didn't much matter as the shuttle driver was already driving to the trail head. Its Island Time at its finest. He started to ask us what our plans were and Peter responded I don't know, I'm here to walk. I broke down what we were expecting to do: 2 people drop off cars at Holiday Park and get shuttled back to Onepoto for the 9km up to the first hut which had an elevation gain of 600m. Next day we would do 20km and sleep in the next hut. On Monday, 2 of us were to be picked up by water taxi at noon, where they would then get the cars and drive up and meet us at the trail exit. He left thinking we didn't have a clue what we were doing.

While waiting for Beth and Banu, we ate snacks and stood under the starting shelter. There was another group of people doing the tramp as well, but from what I gathered they planned on camping each night. From the sounds of it, a few of the people we under prepared as they didn't have a sleeping pad or even a sleeping bag. Don't know how friendly they would be after a few nights camping on the ground with only the clothes they have keeping them warm. They aren't my responsibility so whatever. In preparation for the tramp, I was once again asked to provide a packing list. I had previously did it for a day hike. This makes it easy to pack in that there should be a minimum one needs to take in order to be self sufficient, but also can prevent you from missing vital items. You have to check the list verses what will be offered in the huts as well or you may end up eating cold food. More on this later.


The start of the tramp saw fits of light rain, but nothing that compared to the drive in. The weather forecast had said that it would be heavy in the morning and lessening after noon and then the next 2 days would be partly cloudy with a high of 18-20C. To start, we were all in our rain gear as the rain was just holding on, but would be shedding under layers fairly quick as day 1 consisted of gaining 600m of elevation over approximately 9km. We didn't get to see anything of the lake while slogging our way up as a dense fog settled over it. We did get to see some cool trees on the way up.

We arrived at the Panekire Hut around 5 after playing leap frog with a couple trampers throughout the day. We set off close together, but they liked to take breaks and eat snacks. We didn't do much stopping other than stripping layers, the odd photo, and eat a couple snacks. There would be no long tea breaks today with the cold rain. We would wait until we got to the hut to eat any substantial food. The hut is located on a bluff that over looks the lake and when we first got up there there wasn't anything to see as it was covered in a dense fog. One has to be careful as there isn't much keeping you from falling over in some sections. The drop behind us in the photo above would have been gnarly. At the hut, we quickly hung up wet clothes around the fire, claimed mattresses, unpacked gear, and cooked up food. Beth runs into a co-worker expectantly. We later played some wifi-free word feud, aka scrabble, and cards against humanity. As it neared night time, I broke away to do some studying. I've got to get my MSCE for work. Which consists of passing 5 exams. Since there is no power at most huts, trampers usually go to bed once the sun goes down and get up when the sun starts to peek out in the morning. Right as I was falling asleep, a group of trampers come in and start to grab the last few mattresses. I briefly hear that there is an 80 year old woman in the group. I was debating internally if I give up my bottom spot for a middle when I say to myself, she is doing the tramp she can probably do a ladder rung or two. With that I go to sleep.

I'm kicking myself now as it was such a cool image, but I woke up in the middle of the night to use the toilet, which is out back. I put on my jandals and quietly sneak outside. Bam, there is close to a full moon, pockets of dense fog on the lake, and just the tips of land cradling the fog in place. I doubt my camera would have captured the image as vividly as I remember it. So I guess you just have to experience for yourself. In the morning, I wonder out to the toilet again only to run into my friend Csaba as I'm entering the hut. We talk briefly, but he, Kirsty, and her mom (the 80 yr old) are doing the tramp as well, but over 5 days. New Zealand is a pretty small place, in that I frequently run into people I know while out doing things. I come to find that Csaba left his camp stove at home as he recalled that all Great Walk huts have gas stoves provided, which may be the case for newer huts, but most if not all on this one did not. Since we had 3 in our group, I gave mine to them for the duration of their trip so that they could have their morning coffee and hot meals. Always check what DOC provides in each hut/campsite. It pays to be prepared or you might be stuck eating cold food for multiple days after being out in the rain. We mucked about the hut for a long time on Sunday morning grabbing dried rain gear, repacking bags, eating breakfast, and running back down the trail for some scenic shots. We probably didn't get on the trail till after 9am. Seems early, but when you've been up since before 6. That is late.

Day 2 consisted of doing approximately 20km and losing all the elevation we gained the previous day. Spirits were good as we started down the trail, knowing that lunch awaited us at the first hut/campsite we would cross. We would also have ample places to use the toilet and replenish water on the rest of the tramp. The next stopping point just happened to be about 4 hours down the trail. I believe we made it in 2:45. During this section, Rachel and I started talking about how this felt like the Fellowship of the Ring. Not that we were in New Zealand or even in a place where filming occurred, but we there were 7 of us with packs walking in single file to a destination in the future. We then proceeded to give everyone a name from the Fellowship. I was firmly anchored in the back, so I took on Gimli. Beth was Gandalf as she lead, organized the trip, and as I said old and crotchety. Peter was Aragon. We both instantly agreed that Banu was Frodo. Mike was Legolas. But now I forgot what we determined the others, Rachel and Paula to be. We talked about Ents and trying to place different city names. We were asked if we read the books or if all our knowledge came from the movies. We were nerding out, but then someone would say 'gilly weed' and we would go on a Harry Potter tangent for awhile. Ah, the conversations you have when tramping. I often lagged behind to take photos and would catch up to the main pack. Hence, why most of the photos I took are of people's backs.
After a short sand fly anger induced lunch, we had the option of going to see the Korokoro Falls, which we were told is a must see even if you're dead tired. 5 of us decided to go see the 4m tall falls. It was a cool little spot with a river crossing where DOC gave you a braided steel cable to use for balance, but unless you plan on jumping in the water I may give it a pass if you plan on doing a 20km like we did. If you are doing a shorter day, absolutely do it as there are trout in the stream and campsites near by. As the day wore on so did the nerves. Its hard to be on your feet with a pack for over 9hrs. Right before we got to the hut for the night, there was another hill that wasn't shown on the map. This elicited a few choice reactions.
The 2nd hut, Marauiti, was situated right next to the lake. This had a slightly different design than the first in that the sleeping area had a separate entry than the kitchen area. This makes it nice for those that like to have a bit of a lay in as they don't have to hear the people making food. However, when someone sets an alarm for pre-5am, its hard to keep sleeping and when they proceed to pack up their sleeping bags and gear in the shared room nobody is sleeping through that. Time to get up and make some food. We had 17 km scheduled for the last day, but that number changed as the final bridge out to the recently broke. There is a cool French video of it happening. Beth and Rachel picked up the Water Taxi and were given a quick ride back to the other side of the lake. We ended up having an extra 45 minute hike out from the broken bridge. This was an older track that was quite steep and muddy. We seemed to keep climbing and climbing and sharply descending back to the road where we were greeted by a cleaner looking Beth and Rachel. Banu and Rachel drove right back to Auckland as they had to work on Tuesday morning. While Mike, Paula, and Peter came back to Kinloch.


  1. People really set out on on a 3-day w/out bags/pads? The only way to top that for stupid would be to reveal they were humpin' packs full of canned beer w/zip lock bags of breakfast cereal.

  2. Yeah it was a bit strange to hear that comment, but then again I've seen really stupid things by people on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which we are doing in December. If you are interested.