Saturday 17 March 2018

Mokau Landing- Lake Waikaremoana, East Coast


We left Lake Tutira Friday morning heading north up the East Coast towards our next stop. It's been a very long time since I've travelled SH2 north of Tutira, when I was younger it was the route to our family summer holidays at Mahia and I also used to visit a farm (and the Waikare Pub) at Putorino with friends whose family lived nearby. 

I was keen to see the familiar settlements along the way; Putorino, Kotemaori and Raupunga but most of all I was looking forward to seeing the Mohaka Viaduct again. And there it was as we rounded a corner; just as I remember it, one massive, slightly rickety looking viaduct spanning the mighty Mohaka River far below. 

With no lookout to stop at, it was a matter of grabbing a few photos as we approached the viaduct, went under it, then as we crossed the river and one last one just before we disappeared over the top on the other side. 

Once the 4th highest viaduct in the world and still the highest in Australasia, the 95 metre, NZ Heritage Grade 1 listed viaduct, was opened in 1937 and was in regular use until the Napier to Gisborne rail line was mothballed in 2012. Though, just in the last month or so, KiwiRail and the Labour Government have announced that towards the end of the year, logging trains will recommence using the line on weekends from Wairoa to Napier. That's going to give a few people who live along the line a bit of a fright as they once again get used to looking out for trains.

We stopped in Wairoa for a few supplies and then headed off to our next destination, keen to get there before the weather turned on us (it had been a dull grey day so far) and the weekend campers arrived. 

We were headed to the remote Mokau Landing DOC camp on the shores of Lake Waikaremoana, 77kms inland and deep inside Te Urewera National Park. We were holding out hope that the tarseal would last most of the way but it came as no surprise when it ran out with still 39kms to travel. 

Ignore the time to travel, there was a glitch in the system this day.
And now we wished it was raining, just a light sprinkle to deaden the dust! There were several short random sections of seal here and there though; some past farm homesteads for obviously reasons but others for no apparent reason. 

Much of the gravel road was deeply corrugated and I felt sorry for David as he cursed and mumbled under his breath. He'd spent the last few weeks polishing, painting underneath and cleaning the rig. By the time we arrived at the camp a thick layer of dust coated it  from top to bottom. 

There was no time to stop for photos at the top of the climb above the Tuai Power Station and Lake Whakamarino or looking down the other side to Lake Waikaremoana. I was hoping that I'd be able to return to Tuai at a more leisurely pace sometime during our stay.

Mum has a cousin, who with his family, lived at Tuai for many years. He was a local Maori elder/Kaumātua and a water taxi skipper for trampers on the lake's Great Walk. He was killed tragically in an quad bike accident a few years ago. During our stay I did manage to speak to several people who knew Noel well. Unfortunately I didn't get back to Tuai, the road and the weather kept us at Mokau.

Sign? What Sign?
It's 12kms from the Waikaremoana campground to the DOC camp at Mokau Landing. The road is even narrower and windier than we've already experienced. With very few places to pull over and many blind corners we were lucky to not have met anyone coming the other way.

This is State Highway 38 from Wairoa to Murupara and beyond. It finishes at Rainbow Mountain in the Rotorua District, a 200km long winding road, much of it gravel through a very remote and beautiful part of New Zealand. It's called the Te Urewera Rainbow Route and is touted to tourists as a stunning scenic drive. And it is. But I bet the tourists that drive it are very pleased when they reach the other end. You only want to do this road once in your lifetime. We have driven it- there and back- a very long time ago in our regular car. We have no intentions of repeating the exercise!

Finally we reach the turn off down into the Mokau Landing Camp. We're half way down the track before we realise that this is even narrower than the road. I got out to check around the blind corner, to make sure no one was heading up and when I looked back I could see David was suddenly more concerned with getting around the corner. There's no turning back now.

I needn't have worried about how busy the camp might have been over the weekend which was one of the reasons we left Tutira on Friday. Mokau is a large site with several areas to park- beside the Mokau Inlet and stream, at the back of the reserve, on the lake front or round the corner in a bush clearing tucked into another bay (a lovely spot but with no views of the lake). We set up right on the lake front and not far from the boat ramp.

There was one other couple and their caravan when we arrived and we had 3 or 4 others come in over the weekend and then we were on our own again for the rest of the week with the caravan couple (hi Chris & Bernard!) and one or two tourist campers in each night. Folk who just couldn't go any further after driving the Rainbow Road me thinks! So far we've seen none of the overcrowded camps in the North Island that many people have complained about. But then again, we tend to visit the more remote places or ones off the usual beaten track. We'll see how we go the further north we head.

Photos clockwise- Mokau Landing DOC Camp, Wairoa Anglers Lodge at the rear of the camp, lake front view, sunset at Lake Waikaremoana and a friendly White-faced heron/Matuku Moana who sunbathed each evening on a nearby clump of dirt.

The Panekire Bluffs are a prominent feature of Lake Waikaremoana and can be seen from many different vantage points around the lake. The Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk starts off to the left of the bluffs at Onepoto and passes along the ridgeline on the very first day of the 3-4 day walk. 

David had the Takacat up and ready to go not long after we arrived and contrary to a few comments from other fisherman about the fishing being hard, managed to catch four trout on two outings. Usually a catch & release fisherman, it was time to bring one home for dinner. In fact he bought two home in the end because I had a new recipe I wanted to try out. We smoked the other one. 

I went on a couple of exploratory trips with David in between his fishing... to see a waterfall he'd found. He'd seen it in good light as the sun went down but by the time we arrived back, the sun had disappeared. And bobbing about in a little rubber dinghy is not conducive to getting a slow-mo shot of the water falling, but still, it was a lovely setting.

There was another reason we headed out in the boat several times with no particular place to visit; we had no cellphone or internet reception at the camp but if we motored out into the bay we managed to pick up a Vodafone signal. Normally having no reception wouldn't be a problem, we enjoy the break, but with two family birthdays during the week we were able to give them a call and wish them Happy Birthday while bobbing about on the water! (the red cord David is holding is the quick-cut line to the outboard).

On one trip we pulled onto this tiny beach to have lunch. David found quite a large abandoned camp site in the bush behind- grass flattened, neatly stacked woodpile, fire pit and a few missing trees; obviously a family has holidayed there over summer.

I thought I might like to walk a section of the last part of the Great Walk while David went fishing, but in the end I decided that part of the track wasn't too interesting though he did drop me off to check out the Whanganui Hut. Many of the Great Walk walkers get picked up by the water taxi near the hut and don't walk the last section to the road (you can see the road cutting around the bluff in the third photo below). 

I spoke to several walkers who had just arrived and I talked to a hunter who had returned to the hut with his catch; sadly an older fawn. He was a little embarrassed as he'd been after it's mother but instead shot the youngster when it stuck it's head out instead of the mother. The walkers were horrified that some one had been shooting nearby. He assured them that it was at least 500mtrs from the track as required by his permit but still, I'm not so sure I'd have felt safe with somebody shooting nearby. We're told that the Mokau camp is very busy during the 'roar' (April/May); can you imagine that! Not a good time to go camping if you don't like hunting.

Mokau Falls- this beautiful cascade of water is at the head of the Mokau Inlet, and feeds the lake via a short stream beside the camp. There's a viewing area back up on the road,  you can see the road bridge which passes over the stream on the other side of the inlet, in the photo.

The Mokau Inlet has a unique feature, there are in fact two waterfalls entering the inlet, the Tauwhare Falls are on the opposite side to the Mokau Falls and can only just be seen through the dense bush (not helped by the fact that the sun doesn't shine in there either). I couldn't see them but I could certainly hear them from the Mokau lookout. I had to drive over to the bridge to catch sight of them. That's the edge of the Mokau Falls at the bottom of the photo, a very cool edge for a waterfall. I wonder how many people have climbed down there and peered over the edge. 

Once I had finished taking photos of the waterfalls, I drove up to the top of the road hoping to get a view through the bush overlooking the campsite. This was my first stop; you can't see the camp, that's off to the right but it's overlooking the bay and the other finger of lake where we explored and where the hut is located. We didn't stop for lunch at the beach you can see, ours was not far around the next point.

 I stopped a few more times and finally managed to get a clear line of sight down to the camp.

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