I ended up on the Tarawera Trail – 20 minutes outside of Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island – by accident. But it turned out it was one of the best ‘mistakes’ I’ve made travelling.
I was supposed to be hiking the four-day Tongariro Northern Circuit, but on arrival I found the Department of Conservation (DOC) giving disappointed trekkers a refund.With winds of 90+ mph and driving rains forecast for the days ahead, it wasn’t long before I joined them in accepting it.
Stranded for an evening I headed to the nearest pub to hatch a Plan B. After a jug (yep, all to myself) of cold lager and a pulled pork pizza (I know, what a discovery), I decided that my best bet was to simply head to the closest place I hadn’t been to yet that seemed vaguely interesting. I had only one criteria – it had to have easy access to an overnight hike.
Why? Because up until this point I’d only ever done day hikes, and I had the Kepler Track booked in New Zealand’s South Island and the Overland Track in Tasmania. I needed practice!
Turns out I’m pretty good at Plan B’s and my accidental trip to The Tarawera Trail was ideal training.
At 15km one way, and an elevation gain of around 600m (pretty steep in places), the Tarawera Trail was the perfect first-timers ‘over-nighter’. The path was clearly defined and well-marked, made even better by the absolutely perfect and clear weather I had.
Built in partnership with the DOC and several private Maori land blocks that border Lake Tarawera and the Te Wairoa Valley, the walk only opened in 2013. It’s yet to gain the publicity – and therefore the popularity – of New Zealand’s other walks.
But I’m sure it won’t be long until it does.
Then views of lush valleys and the bright blue of Lake Tarawera never failed to amaze me at every turn. But the best bit?
At the end, you arrive at Hot Water Beach Campsite, located on the shores of the lake. And well, the clue’s in the name. This is no ordinary lake! Lake Tarawera is geothermal, which means there are natural hot springs under the sand which provide a relaxing, hot swim. Perfect to ease the muscles of tired hikers like moi (who had completely over packed).
After soaking and swimming for while I set up my tent for the evening, cooked up some food, and watched the sun go down over the water. The next day I hiked out, but if you’re not a fan of walking the same trail twice you can book the once-a-day boat back to civilisation.
There were only two downsides to my trip, which were both overridden by the beauty of the surroundings and my sense of achievement at surviving my first overnight hike.
It turns out I’d booked my stay the same night as a group of 50 teenagers on a school trip, who arrived in all their noisy glory a couple of hours after me. I was so grateful I got the hot springs to myself for a while before they stampeded in!
The other negative was the sand flies and mosquitoes. Despite bringing myriad things I didn’t actually need (rookie mistake there) I forgot my bug spray. I woke up with more bites that I can actually put into words. So, please, please, learn from my mistakes and do not forget yours.
But, even with the bug bites and noisy kids, I’d return to the Tarawera Trail in a shot.
How was your first over night hike? I’d love to know. Comment below and share your stories.
Find out more about the hike here.