Exploring Turangi: Lake Rotopounamu and the Birthplace of the Haka
It was a little over a week ago that we arrived in the “Adventure Capital of the North Island”, and it has certainly lived up to or even exceeded all expectations! From skydiving to trout fishing, we think we’ve had an awesome dose of Taupo. But like everywhere we seem to go in New Zealand, we are leaving the town with a few stones left unturned. We’ll leave those up to you guys to discover.
From Taupo to Turangi!
Our adventure is now taking us around Lake Taupo toward the town of Turangi. This is going to be our base for the next three days of activities, including white water rafting and mountain biking. For today, we are meeting up with our friend, Casey, once again who is going to show us a couple of must-see spots outside of town!
Getting a ‘Kiwi as’ pie
The journey from Taupo to Turangi circumvents the Great Lake, even taking us on cliffsides to reveal the most epic views over the lake. Before Casey shows us a lookout to trump all lookouts, he wants to make a pitstop in Turangi itself to show us the best pies in the region. That’s so Kiwi! We rock up to the Turangi Bakery, which has a huge selection of savoury pies, and get ourselves a snack to take with us to the lookout.
An epic lookout over Lake Taupo
It’s only about 5-10 minutes from Turangi along State Highway 47 that we see unmissable signs for a lookout. We park on the edge of a huge forested hill overlooking Turangi and out to Lake Taupo. With clear skies and the sun reflecting off the lake, the place looks stunning! There’s an island on the lake, the Tongariro River, a helicopter flies below us: we see it all from up here. What’s more, the pies taste great! There are real chunks and meat and vegetables in there, far from your standard gas station pie!
Opotaka: The home of the Haka
Our next stop is not only a culturally significant place, but it holds some epic views of Mt Tongariro. We are now heading to the Birthplace of the Haka. The Ka Mate Haka is New Zealand’s most famous Maori war dance seen performed by the All Blacks before each rugby game.
Continuing down State Highway 47, we arrive at Opotaka, an old Maori settlement. Information panels at the entrance point out the significant features of the settlement, but we have our own local guide, Casey, to show us around the place. It’s a super short walk up a hill until the most magnificent sight is revealed. We stand beside some Maori-designed buildings looking out across a huge lake, Lake Rotoaira, leading all the way to the famous Mt Tongagriro – you know, that one that everyone crosses. We get a full view of that volcano, along with two steaming vents creating mini clouds in the sky. We can’t think of a more epic-looking place to be the birthplace of such a powerful war dance. It’s perfect!
Hike through the wild and wonderful forest of Lake Rotopounamu
The story of the Ka Mate Haka (in a nutshell)
While gazing across the lake, Casey tells us the story of Te Rauparaha, the chief who first uttered the words of the Ka Mate Haka. Te Rauparaha had many enemies so fled is homeland of Kawhia and found refuge at Opotaka, where the local chief let him hide in one of their kumara pits, while the wife of the local chief sat on top of the pit. While his enemies were searching for him at Opotaka, Te Rauparaha would chant under his breath: “Ka Mate, ka mate, Ka Ora, ka ora” (I will die, I will die, I will live, I will live). If you read the words of the Ka Mate Haka, you will see how it relates to Te Rauparaha rising from the kumara pit to live another day – (Upward I step! Again I step!).
We’re super stoked that Casey shared this awesome place with us, but now we are parting ways. He doesn’t leave without giving us one more recommendation in the area, walking around Lake Rotopounamu.
The Lake Rotopounamu Loop Track
The car park to the walking track entrance is easily seen off SH47. We park up and start the 2-hour loop track around the lake.
As soon as we enter the forest, we are cast into darkness compared to the bright sunshine of the day. The forest is super dense with everything from towering rimu and matai to lower ferns – all of which is covered in moss. The air is crisp. It has been a while since we have felt the fresh country air like this. Winter is definitely on its way.
Birds, frogs and beaches
The majority of the Lake Rotopounamu track is within this wild forest that is alive with birdsong. Tuis warble in the trees, agile fantails dive at bugs around us, and kereru (big fat wood pigeons) clumsily fall from branches. Every now and then, we will see the light of day making the blueness of the lake clearly visible through the trees until eventually we will arrive at a beach where those lake views open up. The water is clear, calm and peaceful. So peaceful, in fact, that we notice a frog casually hopping across the sand into the lake and a duck sleeping on a tree stump. There are three beaches to enjoy along the way, Five Minute Beach, which takes 10 minutes to get to, 10 Minute Beach and Long Beach.
Back to Turangi
After the loop walk, our day brings us back to Turangi where we’re staying at the no-nonsense Turangi Kiwi Holiday Park. It’s going to be our base for the next couple of days where we have a hell of a lot of white water rafting to do, as well as some mountain biking! Stick around!
The brilliant green waters of Lake Rotopounamu
The brilliant green waters of Lake Rotopounamu
Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
The brilliant green waters of Lake Rotopounamu Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
Have you read about that time we parasailed over Lake Taupo? How about these articles?
- Lake Taupo – Guide for Backpackers
- Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand
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See you tomorrow!