Shrouded in mist and mysticism, Te Urewera National Park is the North Island’s largest, encompassing 212,673 hectares of virgin forest cut with lakes and rivers. The highlight is Lake Waikaremoana (Sea of Rippling Waters), a deep crucible of water encircled by the Lake Waikaremoana Track, one of NZ’s Great Walks. Rugged bluffs drop away to reedy inlets, the lake’s mirror surface disturbed only by mountain zephyrs and the occasional waterbird taking to the skies.
The name Te Urewera still has the capacity to make Pakeha New Zealanders feel slightly uneasy – and not just because it translates as ‘The Burnt Penis’. There’s something primal and untamed about this wild woodland, with its rich history of Maori resistance.
The local Tuhoe people – prosaically known as the ‘Children of the Mist’ – never signed the Treaty of Waitangi and fought with Rewi Maniapoto at Orakau during the Waikato Wars. The army of Te Kooti took refuge here during running battles with government troops. The claimant of Te Kooti’s spiritual mantle, Rua Kenana, led a thriving community beneath the sacred mountain Maungapohatu (1366m) from 1905 until his politically motivated 1916 arrest. This effectively erased the last bastion of Maori independence in the country. Maungapohatu never recovered, and only a small settlement remains. Nearby, Ruatahuna’s extraordinary Mataatua Marae celebrates Te Kooti’s exploits.
Tuhoe remain proud of their identity and traditions, with around 40% still speaking te reo (the language) on a regular basis.