Summer on the Tarawera Trail

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It was a fab day for a 50th! A group of us joined our friend the birthday girl on a warm, late-Summer’s day to walk the Tarawera Trail on Lake Tarawera in Rotorua, followed by a long soak in the warm lake water and a restaurant dinner to complete the celebrations. A simple plan and it worked brilliantly.

The 15km Tarawera Trail is a real gem. A great mix of lakeside ambling, grunty hills, picnic spots, historic sites and picturesque scenery – it’s the perfect one-day hike. Plan to take around five hours, depending on how many rest stops, swim stops and photo stops you make.

Setting off…

The trail begins at Te Wairoa car park off Tarawera Road, near the Buried Village, and ends at Te Rata Bay at the Hot Water Beach campsite. You can walk the track in either direction, and most people make use of a water taxi service for a drop-off or pick-up. If you leave from the carpark and plan to walk the return journey as well, pack your tent for an overnight stay at Hot Water Beach, otherwise you’re in for an extremely long day.

If you opt for the one-way version, like we did, make sure you factor in plenty of time at the end of the hike to enjoy a swim and soak in the hot water lapping the lake shore – it’s a fantastic reward after the effort to get there!

Our group started the trail at the car park and planned to meet friends at Hot Water Beach for the return trip via boat. Before leaving we shuttled some vehicles to The Landing at Lake Tarawera so we wouldn’t have to walk the 2km back to our cars at the end of the trip.

The first part of the trail meanders through lush bush with lake views around Kotukutuku Bay until we arrived at Hawaiki Bay at about the 5km mark. We enjoyed cooling our feet in the lake, a snack and a toilet stop before heading off on the next section. After some intermittent climbs and more gorgeous lake views, we stopped for lunch at the wonderfully shady Wairua Stream picnic site.

From here the track climbs steadily to reach the Rotomahana lookout point – a few rest stops may be in order, but the climb is worth the effort with wonderful views from the top. At this point, the hard work is done and, despite some sore muscles, we thoroughly enjoyed the descent into Te Rata Bay and Hot Water Beach.

Time to relax

Having spent most of the day surrounded by birdsong, rustling pohutukawa trees and our own conversation, it was a surprise to spill out of the bush onto a bustling lake front. For boaties, Hot Water Beach is a wonderful summery spot for an outing and if you want to stay for the weekend, the DOC campsite provides the perfect location – complete with cooking facilities, formed sites, toilets and a steaming natural spa on your tent doorstep.

While awaiting our transport we lolled in the lake, finding the best and warmest water without burning ourselves in the occasional hot spot, especially the scalding sand. The birthday girl was happy, completely content with the whole beautiful package – relaxation after physical workout, friends to celebrate with, totally gorgeous location. Here’s to plenty more birthdays like that!

The Lake Tarawera area is steeped in history. The land and waters are best known for the remarkable Pink and White Terraces in neighbouring Lake Rotomahana, and hold special significance to local iwi who have lived in the area for many generations. Mt Tarawera’s eruption in 1886 destroyed the terraces as well as surrounding settlements. The walking trail was officially opened in December 2013, and is the first of a proposed network of trails planned for future development. It has been developed in partnership with DOC and the Tarawera Trail Trust representing Māori landowners.

Walking time: 5-6 hours (one way). Signage along the trail gives the expected times between landmarks.

Getting there: Start the trail at Te Wairoa carpark on Tarawera Road, near the Buried Village, and a 15-minute drive from Rotorua past Blue Lake (Tikitapu). If walking the trail in reverse, a water-taxi can drop you at Hot Water Beach. In either case, pre-book the Lake Tarawera Water Taxi for pick-up or drop-off at Hot Water Beach. It’s a good idea to leave a vehicle at The Landing at the Lake Tarawera lakefront so you don’t have to walk the 2km to return to the Te Wairoa carpark.

Overnight: You’ll need to pre-book (through DOC) to stay at the Hot Water Beach campsite.