Lake Waikaremoana is the quietest of all the Great Walks and is perfect for those who love a back country style walk. It has a mountain climb, waterfall side trip and beautiful lake to circle. The forest is some of the best we've seen anywhere in the world.
This is a practical guide to the 46km walk, if you would like to hear more about our personal experience you can read it here.
Lake Waikaremoana Track Elevation and Difficulty
Lake Waikaremoana is one of the easier Great Walks of New Zealand, but it does have one of the biggest climbs.
We can only remember The Kepler Track having a climb that was nearly 1,000m on the first day, so you should give yourself plenty of time on day one at Lake Waikaremoana.
Otherwise the track has some gradual elevation gains along the way, but it is never too steep or difficult. We walked two sections on day one and two, and found it to be very manageable.
Booking the Lake Waikaremoana Track
Booking the Lake Waikaremoana Track is pretty straight forward as it tends to have good availability most of the year. We'd suggest booking in advance for public holidays, or if you have set dates.
Bookings for huts and campsites on the Lake Waikaremoana Track are required all year round. Huts cost NZ$32 per adult and free for children under the age of 18. Campsite places are NZ$14 per person and again free for children under the age of 18.
International visitors are not affected by the price hikes seen on other Great Walks including the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn.
Getting to Lake Waikaremoana
We strongly advise that you should arrive and exit Lake Waikaremoana south of the lake. The road north is an incredibly windy, unsealed, and narrow (the worst road we drove in NZ, including when we went off road). It is an arduous drive up until Murupara when the road is sealed and straightens again. It may take longer going via Wairoa, but you'll appreciate a much more comfortable journey with far less motion sickness!
The best way to get to Lake Waikaremoana to is to drive as it's a fair distance from the nearest town. Ensure you buy all your food at Wairoa as there are no supermarkets within half an hour of Lake Waikaremoana.
You can also get a bus transfer from Wairoa to the track if you don't have your own wheels. Big Bush also offer water taxi services to the beginning and end of the track.
Lake Waikaremoana in 3 days
Shortening the walk to three days is our preferable choice as the second day of the four day version is very short. We chose to extend day one and day two (both days were over five hours of walking), but it meant that we had a leisurely final day. Most people we met had knocked at least one day off the DOC recommended route and were managing fine.
We chose to stay at Waiopaoa and Waiharuru huts. Waiharuru is another two hours further on from Marauiti hut (where most people chose to stay). We chose to walk further because there was a chance of seeing kiwi at Waiharuru hut.
Although we didn't spot any kiwi we were still happy to have walked on. The hut at Waiharuru is much bigger and more modern than the one at Marauiti (which is older and more intimate), so this also might influence your decision.
Lake Waikaremoana Water Taxi & Pack Transfer
One of the great things about Lake Waikaremoana Track is that the water taxi service (run by Big Bush, linked above) means you can tailor the walk to suit you. You can start at either Whanganui Hut or Onepoto, and you can have you pack delivered to each hut, reducing the amount you carry (except for Panekire hut which has no water access).
The water taxi service means you can also do some day walk options as well if the whole Great Walk isn't for you.
The water taxi costs $80 per time you use it and $80 per two packs transferred. This makes it a pretty costly option but can make it a whole lot easier if you decide yo treat yourself!
Huts on the Lake Waikaremoana Walk
Panekire Hut has seen better days, but is a cosy hut (if the fire is going!) at the top of the mountain. The kitchen area and bunk rooms are separate. Although we only stayed for lunch, there is a slight air of neglect, people have left plastic bottles and graffiti. We can't fathom why any nature lovers would stay in this pristine area and then not look after the huts?!
Waiopaoa Hut was our favourite hut on the Lake Waikaremoana Walk. It was a good size, clean and had two decent sized bunk rooms. The communal area had a big wood fire that worked brilliantly to keep us warm, despite it being 3C outside. This one felt nicely looked after, as all other huts on the Great Walks have been.
This is a large modern hut, the kitchen area and bunk room are completely separate buildings. The bunk room sleeps 40 and the communal area is very large. We arrived late at Waiharuru Hut to find that it was dark (the lights didn't work) and the wood was wet (meaning no fire). On a cold night this wasn't ideal! However, we met some nice people and had a fun night despite the problems with the temperature.
Lake Waikaremoana Day Walks
Using the water taxi you could technically walk every section as a day walk (except for Panekire bluff, though you could do this one as an 18km return walk not needing a water taxi at all). We would suggest that Onepoto to Waiopaoa Hut is the best day walk to do as you will get the best view (in good weather), and see some of the most beautiful sections of forest. It takes 5-6 hours and has a challenging climb.
Alternatively Waiopaoa - Maranui via Korokoro Falls would be another picturesque choice. Just make sure you go when there has been little rain to ensure you can make it to the falls.
After extremely heavy rain we were unable to make it to the falls as the rocks you need to cross on were submerged. We would suggest avoiding this track in heavy rain as it becomes heavily waterlogged and muddy.
Accommodation near Lake Waikaremoana
Our Pick - Ohuka Lodge
We stayed at Ohuka Lodge, a homely choice, with the best equipped kitchen that we saw New Zealand, two bedrooms and a roaring fire. It's about 30 minutes from the start of the track and a great place to rest up beforehand.
The other alternative is the Waikaremoana Holiday Park. This is closer to the track, and cheaper, but a bit more basic. Some people like this option as they can leave their car in the holiday park rather than the DOC car park. We parked at the DOC car park and had no issues.
Lake Waikaremoana Weather
The weather on the track can have a big impact. It's an area that can get a lot of rain (even snow) followed by clear skies and sunshine.
The major issue with the rain is that some sections of the track can become flooded. On our hike, sections on all days (some were over 1km long) were either under two inches of water or had become deep mud slicks. The condition of the track can make your walks significantly longer as passing these sections become very difficult. It can also become very slippery and I fell into the mud several times, (something that didn't happen on any of the other tracks).
Other sections have eroded, meaning steps have disappeared and you'll have to start clambering over tree roots and climbing some steep sections. We advise bringing walking poles to make these sections easier.
Make sure you give yourself more time than the guides state if you have a forecast for rain as your days will become significantly longer. If you can, delay your walk for finer weather.
What to pack
Rain coats - as we found - are essential as you can get severe rain storms at Lake Waikarmoana. Pack liners and pack covers will protect your backpack too.
Thermals are a must as the temperatures can really drop. On day one and two of our hike, the temperature didn't get above 3C, even in the daytime. Also bring a dry set of clothes used only for the huts. You can warm up hiking, but you can't warm up when sitting still in a hut.
We chose our usual stock choices for the Lake Waikaremoana Track: Pesto Pasta for our dinners, cereal bars for breakfast and some snacks for lunch (bread rolls crisps, raisins, chocolate). Having a decent sized dinner at the end of a long hike really helps. You can bring some more luxurious food if using the pack transfer service.
Make sure you don't forget tea and coffee and little pick me ups for the evening.
Kitchen set - You'll need a pot, matches, cutlery, mugs and plates as none of the huts have any of these.
Gas burners - None of the huts have gas, so bring your own cooking stove.
Toilet paper - None of the huts have toilet paper, so bring your own.
A warm sleeping bag - A must as the huts can get very very cold.
Battery Packs - To ensure your phone and camera are fully charged. This can help in the snoring huts so you can listen to podcasts/music.
Flip flops - Something that can really help in the huts, especially if your boots get wet, you won't want to put them on again to make a trip to the outside toilets.
Suncream and Insect repellant - The sun can be intense at Lake Waikaremoana, so suncream is a must. Although we didn't experience sandflies, it makes sense to have repellant.
Torch - As the toilets are separate from the huts, you'll need one. Preferably a head torch.
Water bottles/bladder pack - There's nowhere between huts to stock up on water, so ensure you always have enough with you for the day.
Rubbish bag - Whatever you take in must go out, so you'll need a bag for rubbish.
Wet wipes - The only way to stay clean.
What you don't need
Water purification tablets - The water at the huts was very clean and didn't need treating.
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