Just 20 minutes from the busy tourist town of Rotorua, the Tarawera Trail is predicted to become one of the best walks in New Zealand, attracting upwards of 30,000 visitors per year.
Around 15km of the trail from the Te Wairoa car park to the popular tourist spot of Te Rata Bay (Hot Water Beach) is now complete, making the geo-thermal beach on the edge of Lake Tarawera accessible for walkers and hikers for the first time.
Journey of discovery
The Tarawera Trail leads walkers on a journey of discovery around the historically and geographically significant area that was dramatically changed by the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera.
The 1886 eruption buried the Maori Village of Te Wairoa and destroyed the natural marvel of the Pink and White Terraces, once New Zealand’s most famous tourist attraction and hailed as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’.
Highlights of the trail include views of Lake Tarawera, the largest of the series of lakes that surround Mount Tarawera. Waterfalls, native New Zealand forest, wildlife and free flowing streams are also encountered as walkers make their way through Katukutuku Bay, Hawaiki Bay - a pretty picnic and comfort stop -and Te Hinau Bay.
The lookout point at Rotomahana allows visitors to catch their breath and take in the beauty of the geothermal area, before descending into Te Rata Bay where boiling natural waters trickle down a small stream and into the lake.
Man-made rock pools trap some of the warmer water allowing visitors to bathe, but tourists are advised to take care as some patches of sand can be extremely hot.
The walk takes visitors through Lake Tarawera Scenic Reserve and across private land. Panels along the trail offer information about the history and ecology of the water and land around Tarawera, an area that is of special significance to the Tuhotangi, Ngati Rangitihi and Ngati Ninemihi Maori tribes.
The idea for a world-class multi-day track around Lake Tarawera was born nine years ago with the Tarawera Trail Trust aiming to bring opportunities to the tangata whenua (people of the land) and Rotorua locals.
Finally, after a successful partnership with Department of Conservation (DOC) and local landowners that vision has become reality, helped along with the aid of the local community. Around 1,000 native trees had to be planted to put the finishing touches to the trail carpark and, with 300 left to plant, locals rallied to contribute some muscle to the project.
Tarawera Trail Trust trustee Te Ohu Mokai Wi Kingi said the opening of the trail is a great asset for Rotorua.
"The volcanic backdrop, geothermal features of the lake, surrounding bush and cultural and historic stories make this trail one of a kind.
"The trail is a perfect addition to the region as it has a low impact on the environment and ensures tangata whenua, as kaitiaki [guardians] of the area, continue the stories of their forefathers."
The one-way walk is expected to take moderately fit walkers around 4-5 hours to complete. Those undertaking the trail are advised to book a water-taxi for the end of their journey in order to get back to the Tarawera Landing.
There are several tourism operators in the area giving visitors a range of choice. Lake Tarawera Water Taxis provide daily services to and from Te Rata Bay, and Clearwater Cruises operate cruises and charters on Lake Tarawera and the surrounding lakes.
There is also a popular DOC campsite at Te Rata Bay, on the south shores of Lake Tarawera, near the Waimangu Volcanic Valley - another must-see thermal attraction.
The Tarawera Trail is a great addition to the already thriving Rotorua tourism industry that has plenty to offer those who are keen to enjoy New Zealand’s great outdoors. The Tarawera Ultramarathon, part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, passes through Tarawera Forest as competitors make their way from Rotorua to Kawerau.
Rotorua is also home to Te Ara Ahi - a 74km, two-day ride that takes cyclists on a journey of nature, culture and history, and is one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. The area is also crisscrossed with many other walking / hiking, and bike trails to explore.
The Tarawera Trail is the first of the proposed network of trails, planned for development in the future, involving DOC and Maori private land owners to connect the 14 Te Arawa lakes in the area.
New Zealand's Pink & White Terraces