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The last time we were in New Zealand's Urewera National Park was when we walked the Waikaremoana Lake Track, located on the east side of the North Island. We were
captivated by its beauty and magic, however, after stumbling across a group of trout fishermen at the Waiopaoa Hut and feasting on their fresh bread and ice cream,
we vowed that when we next returned it would be with a boat!
So it was only natural, when we overheard our friends Chris and Robyn Sheehan discussing their proposed five-day trip in sea kayaks, that we should invite ourselves
along. A Bay of Plenty Polytechnic tutor, Chris wanted to thoroughly explore the lake for future visits with his students. Taking Robyn and their three children,
Nick 15, Sarah 12, and Katie 9, seemed an ideal way to achieve this. For Greg and I, having an experienced paddler in Chris was a bonus, as although we are boaties from way
back, we haven't done a lot
of kayaking lately.
The drive from Tauranga to Waikaremoana took approximately hours, the last two being gravel and definitely not for the faint hearted, especially if you are towing
trailers. But, it's the price you pay for seclusion. Ask any of the locals and they all agree - keep the road unsealed, keep the area unspoiled.
After a safety talk, lessons on the paddle floats, throw bags and towlines and agreement on some paddle signals, we pushed off from Home Bay at Waikaremoana at 3pm
and followed the northern shoreline along to the Mokau Inlet. Chris and Robyn had hired Ecotandem kayaks for themselves and the girls while Greg, Nick and I had
singles - two Penguins and a Prijon. We were amazed at how much gear we could stow, with the Ecotandems being especially roomy and exceptionally stable in the water,
ideal for family trips.
We were paddling into a steady 15-knot wind and were heavily laden with goodies of all descriptions. Hang on a minute, wasn't this supposed to be easier than
tramping? By 5pm we were ready to call it a night, but hadn't found anywhere to camp. This is where the paddle signals were great. We sent off Greg, our scout,
who eventually signaled that he had found the perfect spot across the bay at Papua Point. It came complete with already trampled down tent sites, numerous
blowflies and thousands of mossies. Yep, heaven. By 5:30pm camp was struck and the G and T's were cooling lakeside. Now we remembered why paddling was going to be so
much more fun than tramping. Over the next five days we took to renaming locations and this first camp came to be affectionately known as Frog Croak Bay.
After a leisurely breakfast we headed up the northwestern arm or Whanganui Inlet, stopping to play at Waihirere Falls - renamed Dead Rat Falls - moving on to Hopuruahine
Landing for lunch. The afternoon was sunny and with a northwest wind gently pushing us from behind. We rafted up and headed across to Tapuaenui Bay to the DOC campsite.
A little hard to see from the wate,r but well worth the effort of dragging the kayaks up the bank for. Unbelievably for this time of year we had the campsite and the
whole bay to ourselves. We spent the afternoon swimming and the evening around the campfire. A magic place - renamed Camp Hideaway and Magic Log Bay. This camp is on
the edge of the Puketukutuku Range where DOC has established a kiwi sanctuary. We saw plenty of empty traps and no possums, stoats - really great to see and a far
cry from our last trip when the possums literally charged across the campsites at us.
The next morning after bacon and eggs for breakfast we were on the water at 10:30am and with the wind to our backsides we 'sailed' to Te Marumaru Point, where we
stopped for some lunch. The view of the Panekiri Bluff was breathtaking. We had a bit of a head wind through the narrows, but eventually got to Waikaruru Hut by
4:30pm. Once again Greg had been sent across the bay to scout for some likely campsites, but there wasn't anything suitable between Patekaha and Waikaruru Hut.
We had a couple of walkie talkies, and these came in really handy to stay in touch with each other in the search for possible campsites while the others took a
break at the hut.
At the hut a tramper had been having a look at Chris and Katie's kayak, and muttered, "I bet you can get heaps into those."
"Yep, quite a bit," replied Chris, not having the heart to tell him about the selection of cheeses, the bottle of red wine and the chocolate, and the whisky
birthday cake Robyn had stowed away for tonight.
We decided not to stay at the DOC campsite as we would have had to pay a penalty charge because we hadn't booked. But with a 10-minute paddle further around
Upokororo Bay, we had found a site. A perfect spot or so we thought until the DOC rangers paid us a visit at 11:30pm, announcing that we were within the 200-meter
limit of the lake track. We didn't have to move, but were told that 'Johnson' would be around in the morning and it would be best not to be there when 'Johnson'
arrived. Johnson became a bit of a boogey man for us and for the next two days whenever anyone saw a boat Sarah and Katie would joke that it was Johnson making
The birdsong at this camp was mesmerizing. We sat and listened as bellbirds, tuis, kakas and warblers serenaded us well past 9pm. We even heard a kiwi just as we were
heading to bed. This campsite became Birdsong Gully. With a well-brewed coffee and a rather large helping of his chocolate, whisky birthday cake, it was hard for
Greg to think of any place better to spend his 40th birthday.
On the fourth day we were on the water by 9:07am. The threat of a visit from 'Johnson' was all the motivation we needed to get going. We paddled from Te Puna Bay
down the western arm or Wairaumoana Arm around the tapu island of Patekaha to Ngahinaotepurewa Point. Ahead of us the wind was blowing up and by the time we reached
the point we could see an awesome display of willy waws further down the arm. Waterspouts of around 8 - 12 meters were being created and mini explosions like bombs
were blowing up as the wind was coming down off the ranges and hitting the lake.