Waikaremoana was formed 2,200 years ago by a huge landslide, which blocked a narrow gorge along the Waikaretaheke River.
Water backed up behind this landslide to form a lake up to 248 metres deep. The slowly rising water submerged forest that can still be seen in some parts of the lake below. The lake edge has since been modified by a hydro electric development which lowered the level by 5 metres in 1946.
The area is formed from young mudstone, siltstone and sandstone, mostly about 10-15 million years old. These sediments were originally part of the sea floor, but about two million years ago uplift brought them above sea level.
The mountains and hills of the area have been shaped by continuous erosion. Major valleys like the Āniwaniwa Valley have been carved more deeply from softer mudstones, while the more solid sandstones have tended to form ridges like Panekire.
The vegetation of the Waikaremoana area forms a protective green cloak, mantling countless ridges and valleys. There are more than 650 types of native plant in Te Urewera, some nationally rare. The vegetation pattern is ever changing - disturbances by volcanic activity, fire and storm damage, possum and deer have modified the forest in many areas. The lowering of the lake for power generation has encouraged forest regeneration along the shore.
Many birds live in the forest. Among the more notable are kereru (wood pigeon), kaka (forest parrot), kakariki (parakeet), North Island robin, New Zealand falcon and rifleman, and at night, morepork (forest owl) and North Island brown kiwi.
Grey, mallard and paradise ducks are common on the lake edge, and New Zealand scaup, kingfishers and white faced herons are found in sheltered areas.
Both of New Zealand’s rare native bat species, the long-tailed and short-tailed, are present in Te Urewera.
Deer, pigs and possums are found throughout Te Urewera. They have a major impact on the ecology of the forest and its bird life. Te Urewera Board authorises safe and responsible hunting of these animals with a permit. Get a permit online.
Kiwi recovery work
Prior to human arrival there may have been as many as 12 million kiwi in New Zealand. The introduction of predators, eg mustelids (stoats, ferrets, weasels), dogs, cats, pigs and possums - has decimated them to a tiny proportion of the original number.
Work begun in 1991 by Landcare Research NZ into kiwi decline in the area identified that predation of kiwi chicks by stoats was the main cause. DOC and hapū, and then the Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust formed a partnership to halt the decline of kiwi at Waikaremoana. Tūhoe now runs the programme.
The focus was initially on the Puketukutuku Peninsula. Traps were laid to kill stoats, the main threat to kiwi chicks, kiwi numbers and movement are also monitored. Possum and rat trapping complements the programme.
In 2014 the peninsula reached carrying capacity with around 200 adults, and so in 2015 a further fenced sanctuary was created by Tūhoe on Whareama peninsula. The intention is to repopulate the sanctuary with Kiwi juveniles from Puketukuku.
Kiwi numbers are increasing in the area and visitors may hear their calls at night. Only continued intensive predator control will ensure a kiwi population recovery.