I joined State Highway 38 from State Highway 5 just outside Rotorua. The ominous words of 'WARNING! Unsealed road for 87km ahead' did worry me somewhat but, life is all about adventure, right?
The road is windy but scenic all the way to Ruatahuna. From there, the next 60 or so kilometres to the lake is unsealed and even windier but with the added beauty of lake views, waterfalls and the odd goat popping up. It's a beautiful part of NZ and, despite leaving home at 4:30 in the morning, I thoroughly enjoyed getting off the grid for a couple of days. What I did not enjoy were the two punctures that followed over the next week...
Just before the Great Walk of Lake Waikaremoana there is a short 2-hour return hike (around 2km) to Onepotu caves - also known as Te Ana-o-Tawa Caves. If you've got the time (and it certainly doesn't take 2 hours) then you absolutely must do it. Winding between rocks and crawling into crevices - much fun to be had.
When I did the Great Walk, the track was closed from Waiopaoa Hut (almost 20km in) for the next few kilometres so that section needs to be completed using the water taxi. Due to being disorganised and not sorting the hut bookings, when I tried to book a bed, everything was full up. Instead, I walked the almost 9km up to Panikere Hut and then back down again. With an ascent of almost 1000m it was a steep and sweaty climb but the views were truly breathtaking. Seriously, when they say it's steep, they mean it.