Te Urewera, Waikaremoana & Mahia - Kiwi Guide Stories
MoaTours Kiwi Guide Tim introduces the mystical worlds of Te Urewera, Lake Waikaremoana and Mahia, the stage for our unique small group tour.
Te Urewera & Lake Waikaremoana are magical places, the fabulous region where the Tuhoe dwell, the Children of the Mist.
Many Kiwis have long dreamt of exploring this part of the country, as have we at MoaTours, and we're proud to offer our small group tour to Te Urewera, Waikaremoana & Mahia.
The beauty of its rippling lakes, untouched forests and mist-shrouded mountains is like a magnet for any adventurous traveller, but it’s the stories of the people who have lived here for centuries that adds the mystique that for me is one of its greatest attractions.
Kia Ora, I’m Tim, and having led MoaTours trips to many parts of New Zealand for the past few years, the opportunity to explore this amazing part of the country is very exciting to me and all the Kiwi Guide team.
This tour brings together in one itinerary places and activities which are often inaccessible to individuals and even more enjoyable with the companionship of a small group tour. It ties together a raft of distinctive experiences that highlight our country’s natural and cultural heritage not previously included on MoaTours trips. It combines the unique ... with the awesome ... with the extraordinary!
There's so much to see on this trip, here's a summary of the highlights which I know will leave an impression on all our guests.
Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park
The journey begins with a two night stay in Whakatāne
We explore a very special part of the country, Whirinaki Forest and the Rangitaiki River Valley, where we'll meet a local guide who will share rich stories of both the ecological and cultural significance of this stunning area.
The richness of New Zealand’s natural world might be demonstrated with just one example: Whirinaki Forest. We travel up the Rangitaiki River valley, through Murupara and onto Minginui where the Dept. Of Conservation Centre for this forest is located.
Here, welcomed by our guide with a karakia, we begin to understand the significance of Whirinaki.
Many people will recall the conservation battles of the 1970s and 80s when the proposed logging of the indigenous timbers of the magnificent Whirinaki Forest was halted by protestors urging protection of our natural taonga (treasures).
Well, you will get to see why it was deemed so important and why its protection has given New Zealanders a most awesome treasure. Towering trees, rushing rivers, diverse habitats and a fascinating history combine to create the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park.
It's one of New Zealand's most remarkable and significant forests and a must-see biodiversity hotspot, leading internationally renowned botanist Dr David Bellamy to accept the role of patron.
Our guide will relate the stories, legends and character of this magnificent place. Dr Bellamy refers to the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne conservation park as a Dinosaur Park "a living cathedral that dates back 200 million years”. With a rich array of ancient podocarps such as rimu, tōtara, kahikatea, mataī and miro, this forest is a spectacular remnant of our past.
In 2010, a co-governance agreement was signed with Ngāti Whare as part of a treaty settlement. The park's name was changed from Whirinaki Forest Park to Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park, meaning “the abundance of Tāne” (God of the Forest).
There probably isn’t a Tūhoe male — one who lives in the rohe, at least — who hasn’t gone into Te Urewera for deer or pigs or eels or the tips of pikopiko fern, bush asparagus. Tūhoe speak of Te Urewera as their “cupboard”, though it is far more to them than that.
Local iwi (tribe) Ngāti Whare is the active kaitiaki (guardian) of the park working with the Department of Conservation (DOC) to protect the natural, cultural, and historic resources for the benefit and well-being of future generations of Aotearoa and visitors.
The Whirinaki Forest is one of the world's last prehistoric rainforests. For a country that is so well-endowed with natural features, it’s difficult to find a forest of distinction. But here one certainly exists.
The Kaingaroa Forest and Kohutapu Lodge
Before returning to Whakatane we end the day with a hangi dinner at Nadine and Karl Toe Toe's Kohutapu Lodge, overlooking serene Lake Aniwhenua. Surrounded by farmland and native bush, we will enjoy their kai (food), stories, culture and the warmth of their manaakitanga (hospitality). And Nadine will relate how tourism and their lodge brings benefits to their local Murupara community.
Lake Waikaremoana and Manawa Honey
After saying haere rā to our friends in the Whirinaki Forest and Rangitaiki Valley, the following day we head inland into the mystical world of Te Urewera and Lake Waikaremoana - a highlight for everyone.
On the road from Murupara to Waikaremoana, we encounter Ruatāhuna, homeland of the Tūhoe and nestling in the heart of New Zealand’s largest indigenous rainforest. It's also known as Te Manawa o te ika a Māui – the heart of Māui’s fish. Māui (the mythological demigod from Māori and Polynesian legends) caught a giant fish – the North Island of New Zealand and Ruatāhuna is its heart.
Here we meet our guide Brenda Tahi, the owner of Manawa Honey who introduces us to her marae and the history of the Wharenui. Being in the Tūhoe heartland, the honey business adopts the Māori word for heart, manawa, and drives their passion for the region. As Brenda says:
“We have built our honey business to sustain our people with jobs and good health and to keep bees for what they do for our place and this planet. We specialise in producing native tree honeys from our vast untouched forests in Te Urewera – homeland of our tribe Tūhoe. Exquisite honeys – taonga in taste and texture - magical Mānuka, stunning Rewarewa and rare Tāwari. For discerning honey-lovers in New Zealand ...”
And overseas - Manawa Honey won two gold and two silver awards at the 2021 London Honey Awards and a best honey award in he USA. After lunch we farewell Brenda and travel further eastward through beautiful, primeval forest, occasionally catching glimpses of Lake Waikaremoana, settled in a bush-clad basin.
Lake Waikaremoana, "sea of rippling waters", lies 600 metres above sea level and is the North Island’s deepest and most enchanting lake. Surrounded by mountains clad with native forest which has never been logged, Waikaremoana’s forests nurture many native bird species scarce in most other parts of the North Island.
A 3 – 5 day tramp, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”, traverses almost half the lake’s shoreline and it's a very popular spot for trout fishing. We take a short flat, stroll to one of the better known beauty spots, the Aniwaniwa Falls near the settlement of Waikaremoana.
From Lake Waikaremoana we continue on Gisborne, our home for three nights, where we'll discover both the amazing natural wonders and fascinating history of Te Tai Rāwhiti.
Gisborne's natural wonders and history
We start the day with a special adventure – the reef at Tatapouri Bay, just north of Gisborne. For an experience like no other, standing among the stingrays of Tatapouri Bay has to be the ultimate. Kitted out in waders, guided along the reef by your local guide and standing quietly while the wild children of Tangaroa swim to you.
Many people describe it as the most amazing, natural ecological interaction they have had in New Zealand. And should the weather, or the tide, not be suitable, the welcome talk about the reef life and a cup of tea while listening to the stories of the coast are a great substitute.
Waikeruru Ecosanctuary is a project which amazes me. The farmland on which the sanctuary is located, formerly the Longbush Reserve, was purchased in 2000 by notable kiwis Dame Anne Salmond and her late husband Jeremy Salmond, in conjunction with some generous sponsors.
Located just inland from Gisborne in the bush-clad Waimata River Valley, their mission is to regenerate bush and birdlife on the farmland block, creating a haven for rare and endangered species of native birds, plants and animals.
When purchased, Waikereru was under severe ecological threat. Cattle grazed the hills and riverside bush, the forest floor was barren, garden rubbish and other refuse including cars were dumped in the gullies or beside the river. Now, the forest floor has been colonised by kawakawa and other natives and rare plants, including black and hooded green orchids, are re-emerging.
The numbers of indigenous birds including kereru, tui, bellbird, fantail, kingfisher and rūrū have markedly increased, with sightings of rare species including whiteheads, weka and the karearea or New Zealand falcon.
Our Waikereru guide will introduce us to a special project within the sanctuary - the 1769 Garden, the name echoing the date that Captain James Cook and his botanist Joseph Banks on HMB Endeavour, made landfall near here. Many of the species recorded by Banks and Solander on that visit are now endangered or rare, so this garden is a nursery to encourage them to grow.
One of the most impressive things for me was the transformation from photos of the valley in 1942 – pastoral grasses only covering the otherwise barren hillsides – to a similar photo in 2018. The bush has now clothed the slopes, changing from "barren brown" to "growing green", providing habitat for our unique species and hope for their future sustainability.
We return to Gisborne to visit the excellent Tairāwhiti museum, with its huge range of historical and cultural exhibits as well as striking contemporary Māori art. It's a really thought provoking place and always a popular spot with our travellers.
Mahia Peninsula - surfing spots and rockets
From Gisborne we take a day tour down to Mahia Peninsula, a surprisingly large piece of land known in legend as “the fish hook of Māui”. It takes a little over an hour to drive from Gisborne to Mahia, past Muriwai at the base of Young Nick's Head, the first place to be seen by Captain Cook’s 1769 expedition, and on through Matawhero and Morere known for its hot springs.
Though used predominantly for farming, the Peninsula contains one of the largest tracts of lowland coastal forest remaining on the North Island’s east coast, now permanently protected as a Scenic Reserve. Our wanderings will reveal its brilliant surfing beaches, safe swimming spots and summer camping areas.
To tell us the stories of the Peninsula we are joined on the coach by Arthur, our local guide. It's become well known in recent years because of the success of Rocket Lab, the space rocket business run by entrepreneurial New Zealanders and attracting international interest and contracts. The launch pad is many kilometres away at the far end of the Peninsula and inaccessible to the general public. The closest we get to rockets is our lunch at the Rocket Cafe!
Waioeka Gorge and Awakeri Rail Carts
Leaving Gisborne we travel through the Waioeka Gorge emerging out onto the eastern Bay of Plenty coastal plains before heading to Awakeri and another special adventure, the Awakeri Rail carts.
It’s not quite "Hi ho Silver, and Away" but we board the carts and drive ourselves along a beautiful, historic section of the old Taneatua Branch Railway Line, crossing bridges, sliding through the bush, admiring the scenery and working up a hunger for lunch along the way.
A great adventure using specially adapted golf carts and always in walkie-talkie contact with the guide.
We continue on to Rotorua for our last evening. As the centre of the Māori world, it's a great place to spend our last night on tour. We're within walking distance of Ohinemutu Village which has its own special connections to Te Urewera.
National Kiwi Hatchery and Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari
As it always does on these fun filled trips, the final day seems to come around before we know it. There are always mixed emotions on the last day, everyone's looking forward to getting home but the friends and shared adventures of the last week will be missed.
Firstly we have a behind the scenes experience with the team at the National Kiwi Hatchery, Rainbow Springs where a remarkable 98% survival rate is achieved by hatching the eggs here in safety. It's quite a process from finding the eggs, transporting them to the hatchery, feeding and rearing the chicks and finally at about eight months old, when they are considered big enough to be stoat-proof, releasing them back into the wild.
Then there's another real highlight. Of all the country's many wildlife and conservation projects, the Maungatautari Restoration Project is the largest, and arguably among the most successful.
The 800 metre mountain in the heart of the fertile Waikato farmland has been surrounded by what is possibly the world’s longest predator proof fence – 47km of fenceline impervious to even a mouse.
Known commonly as Sanctuary Mountain it offers a protected haven for populations of many of our most endangered species such as birds, skinks, geckos, frogs, bats, and insects including giant weta and our "living dinosaur", the tuatara.
Once through the Pest Proof fence, we are surrounded by forests and birdsong. Our guide explains the background to this project, highlights the successes so far and points out the rare features of our natural world.
It truly is a magic mountain sanctuary and a beautiful green oasis, perfect for our last stop before returning home.
Te Urewera, Waikaremoana & Mahia - a unique corner of New Zealand
As a guide, I've been privileged to travel to most parts of New Zealand, even the ones that would easily count as "off the beaten track", but Te Urewera, Lake Waikaremoana and Mahia are places I hadn't visited until very recently.
The Bay of Plenty Coastline, Whirinaki Forest, Lake Waikaremoana and Te Urewera are stunning spots. The beautiful beaches and coastline of the East Cape and Mahia have their own unique story of space rockets and stingrays.
There's nowhere else in New Zealand where you can experience all this in one week, that's for sure.
It's a part of the country which has a very different feel to anywhere else I've been. It's the land and scenery for sure, but it's also the people.
Tūhoe, the children of the mist, and our guide Brenda, have a special connection to their land which they gladly share with us. Nadene and Karl Toetoe from Kohutapu Lodge are leaders in their community. Volunteers and guides at Tatapouri Bay, Waikereru Ecosanctuary, Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari and at the museums we visit are proudly keeping the stories of their communities and history alive.
A journey through these areas, meeting the people who live here is what we love most about exploring these very special corners of New Zealand.
Our Te Urewera, Waikaremoana & Mahia tour takes in what is often unknown, unseen and little appreciated and lays them all before you to easily enjoy. We know you'll love it and I look forward to sharing this wonderful area and people with our travellers.