Recently I have been spending some time in the Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua. I have been doing some short walks around there, as well as doing some trail running as training for my half marathon in August. I will be doing my half marathon there so it makes sense to do some training.
Whakarewarewa is a Californian Redwood forest. Redwoods were planted there in the early 1900’s as part of a programme to see how viable they could be for commercial forestry. It turns out they grew really well there, even growing faster than in their native homeland, due to a higher amount of rainfall and more nutrient rich soils. Since then, the trees have become protected and Whakarewarewa is now a popular place for hiking, mountain biking and horse riding. Here I am going to talk about the different walks you can do.
Walking in the Whakarewarewa Forest.
There are a bunch of different colour coded walks that you can do, ranging from 30 minutes to 3.5 hours. OK there is an 8-hour hiking circuit, but I haven’t got around to doing that yet. All the walks start at the same location, and involve you following coloured arrows in a circuit – simple as. For the most part, each of the walks build on each other, so it basically comes down to how long you want to spend walking there. The exception to this rule is the ‘yellow track’, which mostly follows a path of its own. It should be said that the longer walks require a bit more fitness, and involve more hills, while the short walks are suitable for just about anybody, akin to a casual stroll in the park. What’s neat about these walks is the unique experience each one provides. OK let’s get to it!
Redwood Memorial Grove Track (“Red track”). Difficulty: Easy.
The shortest of them all, this takes just 30 minutes and is over before you know it. If you just want to check out the redwoods, are pushing prams or don’t have much time, then this is for you. After going through the entrance, you will walk over a boardwalk across a thermal pond, which is a surreal blue colour and smells really bad. There are also trees here dedicated to members of the NZ Forest Service.
Waitawa Walk (“Blue track”). Difficulty: Easy.
This walk is essentially the same as the red track, except it takes a bit longer, at one hour. If you have more time, pick this one instead of the red track. The end of this track comes out at a slightly different place though, passing the suspended ‘tree walk’. The tree walk is essentially a series of suspended bridges which you can walk on through the forest. At 29 dollars a person, I decided I wouldn’t do that, it seemed a bit too gimmicky to me.
Quarry Lookout Track (“Green track”). Difficulty: Moderate.
Starting in the redwoods, this track then climbs several steps up a hill through various native ferns. Here the scenery changes and the forest become denser. I really liked this walk though. It is very quiet, and you get away from the crowds of tourists. The highlight of this walk is a lookout from an old rhyolite quarry that gives you beautiful views over the redwood grove. After the lookout, it’s downhill and easier from here. Time: 1.5 hours.
Pohaturoa Track (“Yellow track”). Difficulty: Moderate.
The start of this track takes you through redwood forest, but then the track joins up with another car park and I wasn’t fully sure where to go from here. I followed this road uphill (Nursery Hill) and asked some ladies where this track actually went, fortunately I was on the right track. After reaching the top of this hill, you join up with an undulating walking track again that goes through various species of pine forest. You then must ascend another few steep hills, but the views are gorgeous, with three different lookouts offering views of the Rotorua township and lake. It was a cold day when I did this walk, and part of the track had iced over, despite the fact it was 12:30 in the afternoon. After descending, you spend more time in blissful forest before joining up with a gravel road shared with cyclists. After that, the track loops back to the start. This track is certainly worth doing for the views and the experience – it is also mostly separate from the other walks. Time: 2 hours.
Tokorangi Pa Track (“Purple track”). Difficulty: Moderate.
This track offers a variety of scenery which constantly changes during its 3.5-hour time. Initially you are following the green track, before the path splits and you gradually climb to over 500 metres. Unfortunately there are no great lookouts on this track, apart from glimpses of the township and lake– that’s because it is all obscured by trees. However the experience in the first half of the walk is serene, especially if you do it by yourself. There is something magical about walking through exotic forest, all alone, hearing a gentle breeze caressing through the trees. In the second half, you spend time on gravel road which passes through young pine plantations, before heading back into the forest again. I noticed on one gravel road a massive ‘keep out’ sign. What was all the way out here? Have I stumbled across Rotorua’s Area 51? Nope, it turns out it was a wastewater treatment plant. You can see a couple of fenced off ‘ponds’ as you follow the gravel road back. Amusingly there is a sign telling you not to drink the water. All in all, this was a great walk. The signs are easy to follow for the most part, but there were a couple of times where I wasn’t so sure; there are a lot of intersecting unlabelled paths on this walk.
If you want to do some hiking in Rotorua, Whakarewarewa Forest is a special place which must not be missed.