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Te Urewera National Park
Te Urewera is New Zealand's fourth largest national park, and it protects the biggest area of native forest remaining on the North Island. The ancestral home of the Tuhoe people, the park's main attraction is Lake Waikaremoana, which draws hikers, canoeists, and fishing enthusiasts from around the world.
The remote park is rugged and mountainous. Lake Waikaremoana formed over 2,000 years ago when a massive landslide blocked the Waikaretaheke River. It's not easily accessible—the road from the north is narrow, winding, and mostly unpaved, and the road from Wairoa is still gravel in parts. However, both roads pass through spectacular countryside of high, misty ridges covered with silver and mountain beech. Waterfalls and streams abound, and on the lower levels the forest giants, rimu, rata, kamahi, totara, and tawa attract native birds like the New Zealand Falcon, Kaka, North Island brown Kiwi and the Kokako. The Lake Waikaremoana Track, one of New Zealand's great walks, is here.
BEST TIME TO GO
The best time to visit the park is in the summer months, October to March. But even then there are many misty, rainy days. Summer is also when local tourists flock to the park, so accommodations may be limited.
Legend has it that many years ago a Māori chief lay by the fire and his cloak caught fire. His injury is immortalized in the park's name: Ure means penis; wera means burnt.
Best Ways to Explore
For the nature lover who likes solitude, Te Urewera is paradise. Tracks by the lake reveal great fishing and bathing spots, and many follow old Māori tracks. Bird-watchers can catch glimpses of native species that are rare in other parts of the country, including the largest surviving population of Kokako. You might even spot native bats, green gecko, and skinks. The most popular walk is the Lake Waikaremoana Track, or Great Lake Walk, a three- to four-day tramp that mostly follows the Western Lake shore. The three- to four-day Manuoha–Sandy Track takes you to the highest part of the park where on a clear day you can see the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. Hikes are generally moderate to difficult.
On the Water
Take a canoe trip along the lake shore for a picnic or a spot of fishing. In this secluded green world birdsong and the insect chirps are often the only sounds. The adventurous can kayak to the remote spots around the lake. Kayaks and canoes can be hired at the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre. The walk to Lake Waikareti, a much smaller lake that stands a thousand feet higher and is 2½ mi to the northeast, is one of the forest's finest.
Horse trekking is a magnificent way to take in the park, but options are fairly limited.
Park accommodations are quite limited, and most people camp in tents or campervans. There are a number of designated camping grounds that have facilities—usually mattresses, cold water on tap, wood fires, a wood-fired stove (some), and toilets connected to a cesspit. Overnight huts on the Great Lake walk have similar facilities. Eco-friendly tourists will use and respect these amenities, taking away their rubbish, and leaving as little evidence of their stay as possible. Never leave garbage on the tracks, around the lakes, or in the water. In the forest areas walkers should stick to the marked paths in order to avoid trampling or damaging vegetation. Birds nests must never be destroyed or eggs taken, and it is better that they are not approached at all.
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