Where: Lake Waikaremoana, New Zealand
Plate of food: Seeing as we had to bring all of our supplies with us for our party of 15+, I don’t have a lot to say about the food. The area is very remote and the accommodation very basic. We brought everything in by boat: our food, the cooking fuel, and the two hot plates we used. I will say, however, that nothing tastes better after an 8 hour hike than a bowl full of instant noodles. In fact, that may be the ONLY time that instant noodles taste great.
Also, “scroggin” was along on every hike we did; this is the New Zealand word for trail mix consisting mostly of nuts and dried fruit. I decided my scroggin needed some pizzazz so I added wasabi peas. Do you know these? They are dried and roasted green peas with a dusting of spicy wasabi powder that will tickle your sinuses (that’s what we look for in a snack, right?). Needless to say, I was alone in my passion for wasabi peas. Wimps, I say! (Just not to their faces.)
The best: The New Zealand walking tracks. “Tramping” as it is called in New Zealand (hiking to the rest of us who don’t want to sound promiscuous) is very popular and there are well-maintained tracks to explore all over the country. Lake Waikaremoana (“Sea of Rippling Waters” in Maori) is special because of its 46 km track around the remote lake set in amongst spectacular native bush.
Our first hike was from where we left the cars to our hut which would be home for the next few days. There was no road access. Some of our group went by boat to bring in the food while the rest of us ambled across a swing bridge and through marshes to reach the lakeside hut. It was composed of two modest wooden buildings, one with a communal cooking/eating area and one with 40 bunk beds. It was surrounded by dense forest and flax bushes with views out over the lake.
No cars. No electricity. No cell phone coverage. The real New Zealand. Unspoilt.
From there we had a number of day hikes which were incredible in their variety: some tracks climbed up great rocky bluffs while others forged through long golden grass near the water’s edge. At times it was all moss and shade, at others it was slabs of rock and sun glinting off water. All the hikes we did were satisfyingly lengthy and just demanding enough to make it a huge relief to tug off your boots at the end of the day. And tuck into those instant noodles.
Story that needs to be told: On the final day, 4 of us decided to take a boat across the lake to another point along the track. The motor boat picked us up bright and early – most of the hut had not woken up yet – again, I say wimps. We had to wade into the lake to get on board the boat. I gasped as my feet plunged into the icy water (I heard you whisper “Wimp”).
We jetted across the silvery water to the distant shore. The air was cold and damp, but the sun was shining. The water taxi dropped us off, assuring us that he would be at the pick-up point at the pre-arranged time that afternoon. It was imperative that he pick us up before dark.
From the shore, we climbed up through dark, mossy, otherworldly forests with trees twisting and towering above us. Ferns and fungi luxuriated in the misty undergrowth. At the highest point was a trig marker (1180m) next to a small hut where we rested for a bit before continuing down along the bluff. This rocky outcrop allowed us breathtaking views out across the shimmering lake in one direction and , in the other, views across the green hills of the North Island. The path was steep and the bluff dropped off suddenly to the bush below carpeting the ground all the way to the water’s edge.
We finally descended off the bluff back into the forest and the track widened. After 8 or so hours of hiking, we reached the lake shore and looked around for the boat. It wasn’t there, but we were a bit early so we sat on some rocks and took inventory: sore feet, one grazed knee, not much scroggin left, but absolutely exhilarated by our day’s adventure.
Still no boat, so we took some photos. Took our shoes and socks off and dipped our toes into the cool water.
Still no boat, so we took turns peering out across the water. Raise hand to your brow, squint, repeat.
Still no boat. Now we started to worry. With no cell phone coverage, we had no way of reaching anyone. We had no way to walk back to the hut because that would take days. Where was the boat? What happened to the boat? Where’s the bloody boat?!
More than anything we were aware that the rest of our group, including some of our parents, were expecting us. Or rather had been expecting us half an hour ago. We realized with dread that each passing minute was another minute for them to think the worst. As spellbinding as the isolation is, it also poses a real threat if something goes wrong.
With growing concern and darkening shadows as the sun set, we stood and paced along the shore. Suddenly we heard voices and saw the boat bobbing next to a pier, not even 200m from us.
I’m not sure if the water taxi guys wanted to hug us or wring or necks (ditto for our parents), but they were pleased to see us, and perplexed as to how we missed each other. They had been moored there for the entire time and we had sat just on the other side of some bushes from them for an hour at least. It sounds unbelievable, I know. They were only able to wait another 5 minutes before they were going to leave for the night. Now THAT would have sucked.
Relieved and exhausted, we arrived back at the hut to a mixed welcome; of course, there was great relief that we were okay, but there were a fair amount of frayed nerves, too. Fair enough. We were pretty frayed ourselves.
It had been magical to be separated from the world for the day; alone with our thoughts, the fresh air, the inspiring views. It was as if we were the only 4 people in New Zealand. Fantastic. But the truth is that at the end of any great experience, you long for your people, for that boat to safely return you to the candlelight and the warmth of the camp stove, to the well-deserved glass of wine and charades by torchlight.
Both the remoteness and the company are sweeter because of the existence of the other.
Take a moment and watch this video as it gives a great sense of the Waikaremoana track, and even shows the hut we stayed in. Plus, you can snigger/swoon over the Kiwi accent.