I wanted to do this hike last year shortly after I heard about it, but sections were washed out by heavy rain and I had to put it off. This holiday weekend was approaching with no set plans so in mid-December I contacted Totally Tarawera and organised a water taxi for 9:30am Saturday morning.
Avoiding Friday’s holiday traffic meant leaving home at 6am Saturday morning. We arrived in Rotorua in time to grab breakfast at Ciabatta Bakery. Driving past some of Rotorua’s beautiful lakes and the Buried Village we made our way to Tarawera Landing. (The parking lot for the trail is off the road a couple kilometers before Lake Tarawera, but we cut out a couple kilometers by parking in the public parking spots right on Lake Tarawera by the cafe.) The water taxi was waiting for us when we arrived so we laced up our boots, took advantage of the flushing loos and hoped aboard the boat.
The Totally Tarawera boat driver was super helpful. In addition to providing information about the regions fascinating history and 1886 eruption, he marked up a map showing us areas to steer clear of due to boiling water and, alternately, where to locate a side trail to soak in natural hot springs at a comfortable temperature.
The water taxi dropped us off at Hot Water Beach in Te Rātā Bay. This natural geothermal area is also a campsite. The sand and water on the west side of the beach are too hot to swim in. Instead, campers make use of it by cooking their food in it!
The Tarawera Trail started at the other end of Hot Water Beach. It was a quick climb to the trail’s maximum elevation, 450 meters. At the summit there was a view of Lake Rotomahana before an even steeper descent. We reached lake level again after an hour and began the 8-minute detour to Natural Bush Hot Pool. There is no signage, but we knew where to turn thanks to our water cabbie. When we reached the springs I was in awe of the crystal clear water. And amazed that we had it to ourselves! There was steam rising from the edges, but it was a comfortable 36°C. I was happy I’d worn my swimsuit and immediately sat in the water. The pool was less than 2 feet deep, but long and wide enough for many people. After 20 minutes I grew hot and we continued on our way.
We hiked for another hour and finally saw some other people on the trail. We stopped at Oneroa Lookout, sat on the bench and watched the boaters water skiing and tubing below. After that we continued nonstop back to the Landing. For the most part we were the only people on the trail. Those we did see were travelling the opposite direction. The birdsong and gentle waves were a beautiful soundtrack. Around every turn we saw a pohutukawa tree in bloom, reminding us that Christmas is in two days!
There is a rumor that this is set to become part of one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. I am keen to see if the DOC and local iwi connect this trail up with others, and if they’ll add huts to the current camping and glamping options.
- hiking the Tarawera Trail – 13 kilometers from Hot Water Beach to Tarawera Landing
Food & Drink:
- Ciabatta Bakery (!)
- Wendy’s Fish & Chips – one portion feeds two
- real fruit ice cream at Kawhai Creamery (!)
Transportation: self-drive and Totally Tarawera Water Taxi