Two bald headed men stood with their sisters on Bald Knob gazing out over the green New Zealand bush to the clear blue water of Lake Waikaremoana. Our family of four, all in our fifties, were holidaying together for the first time in 40 years while undertaking the four day three night Great Walk around what the local Tuhoe people call the bathing waters of their ancestors.
Muttering and cursing as we slogged over beech tree roots and up rock faces ascending the Panekire Bluff, the views from various vantage points made it all seem worthwhile. We diverted each other by laughing over childhood memories as we hauled ourselves and our packs to the first night’s hut. Nothing has ever tasted as good as that meal, cooked on a small portable gas stove and eaten by candlelight as dusk fell, warmed by a wood fire. Lying in the pitch black in our bunks we heard the morepork’s distinctive cry before falling asleep.
The following day, despite a few aches, we set off jauntily to descend the other side of the Bluff. By now we were settled into the routine of the tramp. After a hearty breakfast and with the anticipation of a new day and the thrill of the unknown before us we would leave the hut. Morning teas and lunches were enjoyed by the side of the track, sitting on the roots of a beech tree or a cushion of dead fern fronds. We boiled the billy for tea and ate our bacon and egg pie or sandwiches while reliving old, and creating new, memories.
The descent was severe with awkward wooden steps to negotiate and an uneven, steep track in places. The foliage had changed and the scrubby trees on the other side of the Bluff were complemented by more traditional native bush where tuis and bellbirds sang. There were brief patches of walking across flat, grassed track and swing bridges to cross. We loved the variety of the track as well as the scenery.
Always there was the beauty of the lake and we saw so few other people that most of the time it was just the four of us in our own green and blue wonderland. Clear and clean the lake’s water was so enticing that on our second morning we began the day with a quick dip, much to the astonishment of a duck family that lived on the lake’s edge.
On the third day the Te Urewera National Park lived up to its misty reputation and it rained. Trudging along in our wet weather gear we sheltered under the porch of a privately owned hut to eat our lunch. The considerate owner had provided shelter, seats, drinking water and information for trampers.
Braving the wetness again we welcomed the shelter of the bush canopy as we completed the 19 kilometres, our longest day, to Whaiharuru Hut. The rain had stopped by the time we reached it and that night, our last, we sat outside, despite the sandflies buzzing around, looking out at the lake and thinking how lucky we were to be there.
On our final day it was with a sense of accomplishment, but degree of sadness, that we laced our boots for the three hour walk to Hourphine Landing where we were collected by boat and taken across the lake to our car. As the boat whizzed along we sat tired but contented. It had been a great walk, with exquisite scenery and the best of company all helping to create wonderful memories.
About the Author: Clare Gleeson is a New Zealand historian, librarian and travel writer who enjoys exploring her own country as well as those further afield. She has a travel blog at thewanderinghistorian.com