One of the nine and lesser visited Great Walks in New Zealand is Lake Waikaremoana. Located in the Hawkes Bay region, this stunning 44km lake walk takes you through native forest and grasslands, allowing great views of the phenomenal lake throughout. This Great Walk takes an average of 3 to 4 days to complete, but it is possible to take 2 nights and 3 days like we did, or longer if you want to enjoy the walk at a slower space taking in the views and freedom of camping as you go.
How to get to Lake Waikaremoana
Depending on where you are travelling from in New Zealand, there are many ways to reach the lake. Your end destination is Hopuruahine or Onepoto depending where you start your walk (scroll down for more information on starting the walk). If you are travelling without your own car the nearest town to the trail is Wairoa, from where there are shuttles on demand to the lake.
If you are driving and coming from the North (like we did from Auckland - a hefty 6 hour drive) you can drive two ways, the first being via Rotorua and along the north east side of the lake, taking you down a long gravel road through the countryside and hilltops. It is a good 1-2 hours down this road (depending on whether you park at Hopuruahine or Onepoto), however the gravel road was fine for our car, not bumpy at all and very much the scenic route - be sure to mind the cows and horses roaming the roads!
The second option is to drive down towards Napier and through Frasertown, it takes the same amount of time if you're coming from the North of the island (because it is highway roads and not gravel), however it is double the distance in Kilometers. We did not take this route after speaking with the Lake Waikaremoana information centre who told us the gravel road in from the North was in a good condition, plus we wanted to travel less Km's in our car.
Be sure to leave earlier in the day if travelling from Auckland. We departed around 2pm and arrived in Onepoto just after 8pm and prepared camping in the dark... not the best!
Where to stay before walking Lake Waikaremoana
If you are thrifty travellers/people like us, we opted for the free camp close to Onepoto. The camp is called Rosie Bay campsite, overlooking the lake with beautiful views. You can pitch a tent, sleep in the car (like us mad people) or rest in your camper. The campsite has a toilet, so you don't have to be self-contained. This camp is on a blind corner of the road, so if you reach it at night time watch our for the Old Maori Trail, which is opposite and more prominent.
If you plan to start your walk and park at Hopuruahine, there are free places to camp (use wiki camps, using our link at the bottom of the blog post) along the gravel road, 45 minutes before you reach Hopuruahine car park. Another alternative is to pay to stay at Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park in a hut or camp, make sure to call ahead when booking.
Where to park before walking Lake Waikaremoana
Before we began our walk we parked our car in Onepoto Bay Shelter. It is said online when preparing and booking this trip that there are various free (and safe) car parks at closeby campsites and leaving your car at Onepoto is at your own risk. We can reassure you this free public parking in Onepoto Bay Shelter is perfectly safe amongst the other cars parked there (who are also on the walk). We ensured nothing in the car was on show and it was in the same condition when we returned a few days later. Having our car parked at the finish line was great for us to be able to leave at our own leisure and not wait for further transport or walk a further few hours to reach our car.
Walking Lake Waikaremoana from the South or the North
There are two ways to walk Lake Waikaremoana, North to South or South to North. Both requiring transportation via local speedboat costing $80 per person, unless you have lots of time and can walk back on yourself. We parked in Onepoto (after camping the night in Rosie Bay) in the South of the lake and booked a speedboat to take us to Whanganui at 8.45am (the most Northern speedboat destination) to start the trek and walk back on ourselves to end in Onepoto where we parked our car.
By returning on ourselves and taking the speedboat first, meant we were not rushed to arrive on our last day in time for a speedboat to collect us, or wait around for a speedboat to come and pick us up. This way meant we could take our time on our last day and return to our car at whatever time we wanted.
Walking North to South means you have the majority of flat walking days on the lakeside early on. finishing your penultimate day with a climb up to the final hut in Panekire and your final day walking down slowly towards your car saving the best views of the lake until last!
How we walked Lake Waikaremoana
We walked the lake within 3 days, spending 2 nights camping/in huts and 3 full days walking. As previously mentioned we parked our car in Onepoto car park
Day one: Whanganui - Marauini Campsite (13.2km & 5 hours including breaks) an easy flat walk through the native bush and along the lakeside. We made several photo stops along the way, as well as a lunch break at Waiharuru Hut. When we arrived in Marauini we had the camp all to ourselves in a small bay, surrounded by hills and native bush. We completely lucked out and had the best morning, peacefully watching the sunrise alongside the local swans and ducks!
Day two: Marauini Campsite - Panekire Hut (16km & 7 hours including breaks) this was a longer day for us, taking plenty of breaks between the uphill climb. The slow climb up to the hut was tiresome (Sam had to lie down during!) as you are welcomed by quite a few (more than a few!) staircases, however it is all worth it as Panekire Hut boats the most incredible views of the lake and if it's a clear evening, the sunset is over Lake Waikaremoana is phenomenla.
Day three: Panekire Hut - Onepoto (8.8km & 3.5 hours) this walk has a few small climbs before reaching Bald Knob Lookout (amazing views!!) and then it's all downhill from there through the tree roots! Once at the bottom of the hill, it's a 10 minute walk to Onepoto Bay Shelter and the comfort of your car!
How to book Lake Waikaremoana
To book the Lake Waikaremoana speedboat head to the Visit Wairoa website and email or telephone the team who can advise you on the best speedboat for your route.
To book the campsites and huts go to the DoC webpage for Lake Waikaremoana. This PDF was also really useful to us when planning our route.
Walking Apps to use
During this camping trip (and other walks we do in New Zealand) we used a few apps that helped planning and during our trip. The first is Wikicamps NZ a free app which gives you everything you need when travelling in a campervan or camping out, including free camps, water, toilets etc. Once you have downloaded the map it works offline and still tracks your movements, great for when you need a little motivation on how close you are to your next camp and have no signal!
We also use All Trails app and use the free version to help us find out the length and difficulty of tracks. It also details your distance and elevation so you can understand how much higher you need to get (a negative or positive depending on how high you need to climb!).