Sights You Can’t Miss on the Te Urewera Rainforest Route
Travel from the geothermal roots of Rotorua through exotic pine forests, into the wilds of the Te Urewera Rainforest where Lake Waikaremoana is the jewel and toward the coast of Wairoa. The Te Urewera Rainforest Route is quite the journey through Maori tribal lands and the largest tract of native forest in the North Island of New Zealand.
The Te Urewera Rainforest Route is 195km of diverse landscapes and a true wilderness experience. 95km of the road is a gravel road so this is a road trip you will want to take your time on. Make use of the wealth of campsites in stunning locations. Take every opportunity to stretch your legs around the majestic Lake Waikaremoana. Before you know it, you will be back into the rolling farmlands of the North Island and arrive in the beautiful river and coastal town of Wairoa.
1. Rainbow Mountain
Experience a last geothermal blast before you leave the geothermal area of Rotorua. Rainbow Mountain is located just a few hundred metres away from the Te Urewera Rainforest Route on State Highway 5. There is either a 15-minute walk to some views of the crater lakes set against the background of steaming cliffs or a 1h30min hike to the summit.
Location: State Highway 5 just after the Te Urewera Rainforest Route. There is off-road parking and it is well signposted.
2. Whirinaki Forest Park
Now the drive begins along straight pine forest-lined roads. Stop in Murupara for supplies before heading to Te Whaiti and the turn off into the Whirinaki Forest Park. The side road toward Minginui is packed with hikes into ancient stands of forest. Hikes range from 45 minutes to five days, so there really is something for everyone. Make use of the Mangamate Campsite and Sanctuary Campsite and enjoy night walks into the forest to see some of New Zealand’s nocturnal wildlife.
Location: Turn off State Highway 38 at Te Whaiti toward Minginui and Whirinaki Forest Park.
3. The Lake Waikaremoana Track
Shortly after Te Whaiti, the gravel road begins. Now you are delving into the heart of the Te Urewera Rainforest. Stay the night at the Mimiha campsite just before reaching Heipipi or continue onto Orangihikikoia Campsite or Te Taita o Makoro Campsite. These make a good base for taking on some of the hiking tracks on the western side of Lake Waikaremoana. One end of the Lake Waikaremoana Track, a New Zealand Great Walk, starts by Hopuruahine Landing. Either park here and do a small section, or travel further to Home Bay further down the highway so that you can organise return transport at the information centre if you want to do the whole 3-4 day hike.
Location: Orangihikikoia campsite or Te Taita o Makoro Campsite are signposted just off State Highway 38. The Lake Waikaremoana Track is signposted further down the highway just before Hopuruahine Landing.
4. Mokau Falls and Tauwhare Falls
Seen from the roadside, Mokau Falls is an easily-accessible and stunning waterfall on the Te Urewera Rainforest Route. Park in the car park just over the Mokau Stream bridge. From the car park you will be able to see the two waterfalls in all their glory. The car park is also the start of the Nga Whana -a-Puapani Tarns Track, which is a 4-hour return track. Find out more at 17 Stunning Lake Waikaremoana Walks.
Location: State Highway 38, about 10km before you reach Aniwaniwa.
Aniwaniwa is the start of many short walks in the Te Urewera Rainforest. You just have to take your pick! Hike to the tranquil Lake Waikareiti on the Lake Waikareiti Track (2 hours return) or extend this walk on the Sandy Bay Track (8 hours return) or complete the Ruapuni Circuit (6 hours return). There’s the Aniwaniwa Valley track which is 6 hours return and Papakorito Falls just a 2km drive op Aniwaniwa Road (or a 2-minute walk). If you can’t get enough of waterfalls, take the 30-minute one-way Aniwaniwa Falls Track just over the Aniwaniwa Stream Bridge or capture some awesome lake and waterfall views on the 30-minute one way Hinerau Track. We detail all these walks in 17 Stunning Lake Waikaremoana Walks.
Location: Aniwaniwa just off State Highway 38 about 2 km from the Te Urewera Information Centre.
6. Home Bay
Home Bay is the hub of the Te Urewera Rainforest with the Te Urewera Visitor Centre, Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park and general store. This is where you are likely to get transportation from if you are doing the Lake Waikaremoana Track or just want to take a boat trip out on the lake. A walk in the area is the Black Beech Track (30 minutes). Nearby is the Ngamoko and Tawa Tracks to see the famous and humungous rata tree. Find out more in 17 Stunning Lake Waikaremoana Walks.
Location: Home Bay. Take the turnoff a couple of kilometres after Aniwaniwa Stream Bridge toward the Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park.
7. Lou’s Lookout
A popular short walk on the Te Urewera Rainforest Route, Lou’s Lookout provides awesome views over Lake Waikaremoana. The 45-minute return hike takes you up a giant landslip that occurred over 2,000 years ago.
Location: About 9km from the visitor centre just off State Highway 38 going toward Wairoa.
8. Onepoto Caves
Continuing along the Te Urewera Rainforest Route toward Wairoa, stop by at the Onepoto Caves. There are two well-signposted entrances to this 2-hour loop track delving into a forest full of caves, tunnels and outcrops. The small settlement of Onepoto is also the one end of the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk.
Location: Near the settlement of Onepoto signposted off State Highway 38.
Now you have a peaceful drive along the Waikaretaheke River and back to rural civilisation as you head toward Wairoa. The Te Urewera Rainforest Route ends in Wairoa where a new adventure begins! Check out the local culture, history and cuisine. Find out more in Wairoa – Guide for Backpackers.
Location: Wairoa. At the end of State Highway 38 meeting with State Highway 2.
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