Undeterred by our previous exploration of the Great Lake Trail (Whakaipo Bay to Headland Loop) which ended up being a bit of a mudfest, last weekend we decided to walk the Waihaha Track which, together with the Waihora Track, forms the most westerly section of the GLT. Together, these tracks make for a 60km return bike ride, so not exactly a day walk.
Looking at the map, we figured we could split it into two day walks, with Waihaha being the shorter section. And by shorter we mean 28km return which is still a fair distance to cover in a day. But man it’s worth it! This track has so much to offer – forest, canyon, volcanic cliffs, a waterfall and optionally, a stunning beach. Unsurprisingly then, it’s a track we can highly recommend if you’re looking for something to do close to Taupō.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to walk the full 28km. There are a number of shorter options depending on what you want to see or do and whether or not you want to organise two cars.
The track starts at a gravel parking just off State Highway 32, approximately 50km west of Taupō, and briefly follows the southern bank of the Waihaha River before crossing via a swing bridge. From here, the track passes through pines which give way to views of the impressive volcanic cliffs that overlook Waihaha Canyon.
After around 3km, the track leaves the river behind and gently undulates through a number of side valleys with impressive views.
At around the 7km mark, your efforts will be rewarded with a great view of Tieke Falls – you’ll hear it well before you see it.
At this point you may be tempted to turn around since, at 14km return, this is still a fair distance to walk in a day. But if you continue on for just a few hundred metres, you’ll get your first view of Lake Taupō.
From the above lookout point, your options are to either return to the SH32 carpark, or continue on for another 6km to the end of the Waihaha Track in which case you should definitely walk down to the beach – more on that later.
Assuming you don’t want to do the full 28km return walk as we did, you would have to arrange two cars, leaving one at the end of the track which you can drive to via Waihaha Road (passing through farmland so pay attention to instructions regarding gates etc.).
If you do decide to walk the entire track, the remaining section is more of a forest walk with less views than the first section, but still well worth it.
The above view is near the official end of the Waihaha Track. It takes a little bit of exploring to find this spot.
Previously we mentioned walking down the the beach at Waihaha Bay. We can highly recommend this although it does require a bit of a scramble down a fairly steep gulley. This is not part of the Waihaha Track itself but a separate route called Glen Track. It’s around 1km down to the beach through what feels like an enchanted forest.
Of course you don’t have to walk the entire Waihaha Track to visit the beach. Instead you can simply drive to the end of Waihaha Road and just do the short walk down.
Bear in mind that the Glen Track and the route to the beach itself passes through private land so please be mindful of this, pay attention to the signs, and leave no trace, apart from your footprints in the sand.
So what do you think – it’s a great looking track right? We hate using cliched terms like “hidden gem” but it really did feel like it on the day. We encountered one walker, one trail runner and only a handful of mountain bikers. Oh yes, and two stampeding sheep, unintentionally herded towards us by the aforementioned bikers – Debs almost became a human skittle (the bowling variety, not the edible kind).
The current Covid situation obviously had a lot to do with the track being so quiet. But we can’t help thinking that this section of the Great Lake Trail is possibly less trafficked than the rest of the trail, so all the more reason why we highly recommend it.
As always, before doing this walk, check the DOC website for the latest track alerts and updates.
Above: Debs taking a little break at the Tieke Falls lookout on our return walk.
Above: looking down the Waihaha River from the swing bridge close to the start of the track.
In case you’re wondering, yes, the above elevation graph is in reverse. On walks like these, our return journey tends to be a little more direct whereas the outbound route tends to meander a bit more as we explore the route.
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