Waikaremoana in Winter. Why Not?


Published in Vegetarian Living NZ Magazine
By Dr.Toshala Elliott from The Blue Bird

Summer is a great time for bushwalks, hiking, camping, picnicking, going to the beach, and doing all sorts of fun outdoorsy things that take advantage of the nice weather and temperate climate. You have probably noticed yourself that many, many, many, many, many people agree with that. At the beach, for instance, you often have to pick a path carefully around browning bodies and groups of people, and get out of the way of little kids tearing down the beach desperate to get their little bare feet off the burning sand. And it is the season when famous tracks – like the Routeburn, the Kepler and the Milford – are trekked or jogged over by many groups of vista-loving enthusiasts, both national and international. One such beauty-spot that is visited annually by many overseas tourists as well as locals (usually when it is warm) is Lake Waikaremoana.

In the Sri Chinmoy Centre there are people from all walks of life, a fair sampling of cultures, and a plethora of tendencies. These range from those who like going to cafés for brunch, go shopping and take high tea, to those who are….. well, let’s just say ‘rugged’ and leave it at that. A group in the latter category, for instance, decided to go for a three-day trek around Lake Waikaremoana last July. Mind you, they had the place to themselves, and I mean completely – they met no one else for the entire trip. Which is 46km or so of scenic but mountainous rough track in the heart of the vast and largely trackless Te Urewera National Park – a wilderness of jumbled hills and mist-shrouded valleys in the central North Island.

Eleven intrepid Auckland boys set out on their perilous quest. (I would like to clarify here that eleven also came back!) “Gorgeous scenery,” commented one of the boys, Jogyata Dallas, “We followed a trail meandering through ancient forest clothed in lichens, mosses, tree ferns, orchids, coral fungi, then took a three day hike up onto a tilted limestone escarpment jutting 3,500 feet above the great lake.”

Their expedition leader was Dave Mason who has been vegetarian for 25 years and vegan for the last three.
Pic 1 Dave the intrepid expedition leader He is an outdoor education instructor and, with the Lake Waikaremoana Walk as part of his curriculum, he has introduced many groups of senior high school children to the walk. Not only do the children have the experience of the great outdoors, but whilst under Dave’s supervision, they also experience being vegetarian for three days. On this particular quest, though, our group of chaps were all experienced vegetarians.

They started off by taking a water taxi to Hopuruahine, then trekking 15km to the first overnight hut at Marauiti, situated beside the lake. Dave said that the best plan is always to eat the heaviest stuff for dinner on the first night to lighten up the main part of the load. So saying, on this trip the first dinner was brown rice and a curry made with tofu, chickpeas, fresh veggies (like mushrooms, broccoli and carrots) coconut cream and korma curry paste. In order to do the cooking they toted along little camping stoves with gas bottles. The vegan dessert was cocoa rice balls and fruit salad with soy milk.

In the morning they had porridge of rolled oats and dried fruit, accompanied by steaming mugs of delicious hot chocolate. On the second day’s march they had 21km to cover, and on the way they munched on snacks like muesli bars and self-selected scroggin of nuts, dried fruit, ginger and chocolate.

Because it was very cold, Dave had planned for all of the meals to be hot ones, so they stopped en route and brought out the camp stoves again for a lunch of hot noodles, cup-a-soup and Uncle Bens rice, all of which were selected because of their short cooking times. Which was nice because they were cold and not wanting to stop for too long, and it rained.

Nature-loving Jogyata was in his element. “There are hundreds of stunning places here, mostly unvisited, unmapped, unknown – caves and sinkholes, waterfalls, giant hardwoods dating back to the time of Christ, mossy streams filled with grandfather trout, places of great beauty that man has never seen,” he rhapsodizes. Pic 3 Day Two - they sidestepped off-trail to Korodoro Falls

“Snow fell as we reached Panekire Hut – just on dark two red deer hinds ghosted across the trail in absolute silence and melted away invisible into the trees. The water here is the elixir of life, mineralized by the earth, polar-cold and prana-rich, filtered down through mountainsides of mosses, Garden-of-Eden pure – even hardened aquaphobics stoop at every passing stream, fill their palmed hands in reverence.”
Pic 4 Day Two - a pause climbing up the mountain to their overnight hut

*1 While our boys suffered no ill effects from drinking this water, DOC recommends that all stream water is boiled before consumption.

At Panekiri Hut they fired up the woodfire stove to combat the extreme cold, tonight’s meal comprising Backcountry freeze-dried meals (which now have a choice of four vegetarian flavours, Dave says). As it was Dave’s birthday, one of the boys produced a birthday cake made at The Blue Bird.*2 They feasted with mismatching socks hanging limply over them, hopefully drying for the next day’s trek.

*2 Note from The Blue Bird’s head chef: “I would like it to be known that I had no idea that the cake – a medium-sized vegan chocolate – was going to be squashed into a backpack and hiked up a mountain. When they got back the boys assured me of three things regarding the cake: (1) It was incredibly battered; (2) It was delicious; (3) They enjoyed it.”

With the lack of hot water and amenities, the daily ablutions entailed a chilly dip in the lake. By the end of it, all eleven boys were malodorous, unkempt, sporting three-day beards and muddied socks, but singing the glories of nature and inwardly cleansed. Pic 6 Meditation on a rock edge, oblivious to the thousand foot drop directly beneath

After the trip, a swim in a hot river heated by volcanic underground magma.
Pic 7 The boys soaking in a geothermal pool - Heaven!