Header image courtesy of David Yeung
New Zealand prides itself in maintaining their lands and respecting their Māori heritage. We were lucky enough to take part in an excursion into the hills of Te Urewera, a former national park and Māori protected land, the homeland of the Tūhoe people. This experience of escaping into the wilderness is something New Zealand proudly has to offer, but very few people could access these trails without receiving background checks and permission from the native tribe. From Rotarua in the North Island, it is just a 20-minute drive to the trails in Tarawera, where we embarked on a three-day expedition through the hiking trails around the reserve.
It is no easy feat when three days’ worth of food and belongings have to be carried on your backs in order to reach the top of Mount Tarawera. There are public lodges for campers to stay in during the expedition that must be booked in advance, so all we needed to bring were warm sleeping bags to fill our pods—no tents required. With increased elevation, the hike does get cool, especially in shaded areas, so wear layers to dress up or down depending on how you feel. Good hiking shoes with ankle support and a proper waterproof windbreaker are essentials.
Where the land meets the sky, Tarawera is composed of lush greenery and moss-covered trees that create a majestic and serene atmosphere. During the hike, you are encouraged to properly appreciate nature for at least 10 minutes. We split off individually to different sections of the trail to sit and look around, spread out far enough so we couldn’t really see or hear each other. We took this opportunity to listen to the birds, the wind, and the trees—to really soak in the serenity of this precious and protected land.
It was truly peaceful, but these hikes really do tire you out, so dinner time was definitely much looked forward to. As a group, we all made dinner together by heating up some packaged curry and rice (simple but so delicious when you’re starving), pre-made at the small communal kitchen at the camp lodge. We also had freeze-dried rations, previously reserved for soldiers going on extended missions; these are pre-cooked foods that are vacuum-packed and preserved, to be eaten straight out of the packet after adding hot water.
The best part of the hike was the lakes and waterfalls that we came across. With no proper shower facilities for three days, diving into the refreshing water felt amazing. New Zealand is known for keeping its land clean and protected—the water is so clean and crisp, you can literally drink straight from the source if you wanted to.
After the three-day trek, the best way to freshen up was by rafting the seven-metre Tutea Falls on Kaituna River, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. We rafted in groups of eight, competing with each other to see who could complete the route without capsizing on the way down. Our group was one of the few that did not capsize—it really came down to good positioning of the raft prior to the drop and distributing your weight well.
We’ve covered how to cool yourself off, so now we’re presenting a delicious way to warm back up again—by having a nice and juicy meat pie. There were pie stores on almost every corner, ready to warm you up inside and out. We were there during the month of November, which is their springtime, and it was mostly mild and breezy during the day. But anytime there was rain, you’ll definitely want to grab your jacket, as well as a warm meat pie. We recommend Patrick’s Pies Gold Star Bakery—our favourites are the steak & cheese or the mince & cheese pies.
We travelled with Littlebrownkiwi, which specialises in organising educational adventures for international schools. They were a great help because they were able to take care of everything and get us VIP access into this natural wonderland. The guides were also expert hikers, equipped with everything we needed, and kept us well-fed every day. Their passion for what they do was palpable and really enhanced the whole experience.