The imposing sight of Mount Tarawera slumbering after his fit of fury in 1886 is one of serenity and calm. But don't be fooled. Tarawera is only sleeping. This giant is still active and his every snore, tremble and sleepy shiver is being monitored closely by scientists.
While scientists have had access to this area, most people have not been so lucky. Until now, Lake Tarawera and the surrounding perimeter has been accessible only by boat.
However, the development of a new walking trail around the lake is set to awaken yet another chapter in the lake's tourism history.
The trail was opened in December 2013 and is a 15km one-way hike starting before the Buried Village and ending at Hot Water Beach.
Now that the Tarawera Trail is up and running it is a real drawcard for visitors.
But walking the entire track is no easy task. It's a five to six-hour walk, but when the views are this stunning, there is no doubt - tourism tongues will be wagging anew.
Throughout most of the trek, you have views looking out into sparkling blue waters and out on to the imposing Mounts Tarawera and Putauaki (Edgecumbe) in the distance.
Often views are framed by a filigree of ponga fronds that are constant companions along the track. They're one of the most common plants along the trail due to the decimation of previous bush when Tarawera last erupted.
The lake isn't the only watery attraction either. Along the track you'll come across the Twin Streams, created by two springs that erupt out from the earth on the side of the track. It's hard to get water any purer than this and it flows a short distance down into the lake.
Take your togs as it won't take long to heat up on a sunny day and temptation will be around every corner when pure blue water twinkles through the bush.
We stopped for lunch on one of the lake's many white sandy beaches and temptation got the better of my daughter. She didn't last long though. One quick dunk and it was all over. The water was freezing. I wasn't that game - hot water is more my thing, and fortunately, the trail boasts this as well.
Further towards Hot Water Beach, awaits a thermal pool perfect for soaking away the tiredness of a long day's trek. The hot pool is not yet sign-posted, but we were guided by Lake Tarawera Water Taxi & Ecotours who know all the best spots in the area and they guided us to the pool.
We weren't the only ones who had the local intel: we came across some likely lads from Papamoa Beach taking the waters. They were enjoying a boys' weekend and had based themselves at the Hot Water Beach campsite for their 'bromance in the bush'. Nothing compares to the feeling of digging your toes into the sandy bottom of a natural hot pool and these days, you only get this if you are willing to make the effort.
Don't expect silver service though. No changing sheds means it's a "back to basics" affair. Getting dried and changed after your swim is a quick towel down behind a spindly manuka bush.
This lake is not all pretty views as there is history and mana in this area. This is the home of the Ngati Rangitihi and Tuhourangi people and it is thanks to their generosity that the Tarawera Trail has been developed. The trail crosses over their land and the hapu from this area have been supportive of the lake becoming accessible to more people.
It's no surprise though, Tuhourangi iwi spearheaded the tourism industry in the late 1800s. It was they who guided tourists to the Pink and White Terraces and it was they who established a thriving tourism industry on the lake. Their people paddled tourists on their waka over Lake Tarawera, then guided them over to the Terraces which were in neighbouring Lake Rotomahana.
The waka journey would take half a day, and I can imagine how uncomfortable it was, particularly for women, in their finery. They obviously thought the journey worth it though, because the tourists kept coming.
It looks like history is about to repeat as this entrepreneurial spirit will once again see the lake become a highlight for international and local visitors. There are plans in the pipeline to extend the Tarawera Trail to a three-day hike, joining the current trail to the Tapahoro - The Tarawera Outlet. This will link the existing trail to Humphries Bay and the eastern Okataina Walkway. If these plans come to fruition, this trail is destined to become one of the premier tramping experiences in the country.
Virtually on Track Fact File:
- Discover, Explore, Connect
- Kawerau and Tarawera
- Running, walking, mountain biking, horse riding, rafting, kayaking, geocaching, stand up paddling
- Must see: 65m Tarawera Falls
- Tarawera Trail track to Hot Water beach
- 820m Mt Putauaki
- A huge array of adventure sport and recreation activities on offer
- Geocaching - www.geocaching.com
- Onepu Community Recreation Park
- Park includes a wetland, an arboretum, a lake and a large area of pine plantation
- Network of 17km of tracks and trails
- Carparking and toilets provided
Visit www.virtuallyontrack.co.nz for more info on this local gem and others across the Bay of Plenty.