Te Urewera is considered true toanga (a natural resource which is highly prized) to iwi. Once a national park, it was returned to Ngāi Tūhoe and now has legal personhood status. There is a strong connection of people to place in this forest filled with stories of romance, tragedy, and heroism. For more about the history of the place and Māori culture here, watch Rain of the Children.
Lake Waikaremoana (sea of rippling waters) is the central piece of Te Urewera. It was formed 2,200 years ago when a massive slip blocked the Waikaretāheke River, filling the lake. Shrouded in mist many days of the year, when the clouds part, the deep blue waters surrounded by old growth forest are revealed.
There is a four day great walk around the lake’s western shores, but with a weekend to play, we were only able to do a slice of this walk. After a night near the shores of the lake, we simply hiked up to the Panekiri Hut for the evening and retraced our steps the next morning. The hike up was cold and rainy, but simply magic walking through the moss covered beech trees weaving and dancing among each other. Their form was human-like and it was clear they were communicating with one another just as we do.
By the time we reached the hut we were both chilled to the bone, keeping warm with wood chopping and stacking chores. We chopped and dried enough wood for far more than our single night stay, because arriving to an empty wood stock was not the most welcoming greeting after such a cold hike.
With the hut to ourselves, we pulled the bunk pad to the fire rather than sleeping in the separate bunk room. A little twinkle lights and candles added to the ambiance as we sipped wine before an early slumber.
The sun through the windows woke us early and we were greeted by clear skies above and a thick cloud cover hovering below. It was magic! We were floating above the lake.
On the decent, it is important to look out for unmarked side tracks. These lead to rock edges (and usually) views of the lake. Today, rather than views we had the layer of white fluffy for quite sometime. If you squint you can see the tips of the central plateau volcanoes (tiny white peaks) in the distance.
As we neared the bottom, the lake exposed her beauty to us and we sat on the bluff to admire it for nearly an hour before returning to the trailhead.
The Māori legend of the land begins with Māhu. He and his family lived at Waikotikoti on the shores of Lake Wairaumoana. He told his daughter Haumapuhia (Hau) to go and fetch water from a certain spring, but she refused. Mahu became enraged and so he drowned her and threw her body into the waters, where she was transformed into a monster, or taniwha. Haumapuhia remained in the spring at Wairaumoana, but she longed to reach the sea. She tried to go northward, but the Huiarau range prevented her; she tried to go east but failed again. Her attempts to force her way to the sea gouged out and formed Lake Waikaremoana (sea of rippling waters). Her final effort formed the outlet to the lake at Onepoto. It was here that Hau was overtaken by daylight. She remains as a rock form with the waters of the lake running through her body.
The land that is home to the Children of the Mist is well worth the effort to reach. A beautiful cultural icon that gives back to tenga te whena each day.
* for smaller day hikes check out Lou’s Lookout, track to Lake Wikareiti, and Aniwaniwa Falls.