Largest body of fresh water in Hawke’s Bay, and 14th-largest lake in New Zealand. Lake Waikaremoana, 66 km by road north-west of Wairoa, is relatively young. It was formed about 2,200 years ago when a massive landslip blocked a gorge along the Waikaretāheke River. The gorge gradually filled with water, creating a lake up to 248 metres deep in parts. The lake was lowered by 5 metres when hydroelectric power stations were built on waterways below from 1926 to 1948.
Lake within a lake
Lake Waikareiti has six islands within its waters. The largest island, Rāhui, has its own lake. Lakes within lakes are not common in New Zealand. Lake Waikareiti is free of pollution and introduced plants, and its water is renowned for its clarity.
The lake is surrounded by bush-clad hills and mountain ranges crossed by many streams and rivers. The smaller Lake Waikareiti is north-east of Waikaremoana.
Lake Waikaremoana is sacred to Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Ruapani and Ngāti Kahungunu tribes. Tūhoe and Ngāti Ruapani were early settlers in the district. All three tribal groups fought battles with one another to secure access to the lake, while forging connections through marriage and war alliances. Ngāti Kahungunu’s claim on Lake Waikaremoana is derived from marriages between the children of the eponymous ancestors Kahungunu and Ruapani.
In Māori tradition, Lake Waikaremoana was formed during an epic domestic struggle. A chief, Māhū, asked his daughter Haumapuhia to fetch some water from a sacred well. When she refused he went himself, but was very slow. When Haumapuhia went to find her father, he was still angry and tried to drown her in the well. The gods of the land heard her cries for help and turned her into a taniwha (water monster). She carved out the lake bed during her struggle for freedom.
A skirmish between government forces and members of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) faith took place near Lake Waikaremoana in 1866. Resistance leader Te Kooti spent much time around the lake, which was an ideal spot to hide out and launch raids from. Military redoubts were established in the early 1870s but Te Kooti had moved on by then. Permanent settlements on the lake disappeared after this, though Māori continued to live around Tuai.
The government purchased land around the lake in the 1920s. The lake itself was not included, but the government went on to claim possession. Ownership of the lake was contested in the courts from 1918 to 1947, when 354 Māori owners were finally awarded title to the lake. In 1971 the lake was leased in perpetuity to the Crown and formed a key part of Te Urewera National Park. In 2014, as part of the Ngāi Tūhoe Treaty of Waitangi settlement, the park was disestablished and administration of the area passed to Te Urewera Board.
Settlement on the shores of Lake Whakamarino, south of Lake Waikaremoana, with a 2013 district population of 219. Tuai is named after a Ngāti Ruapani ancestor whose pā site is now occupied by the Tuai power station. The station opened in 1929 as part of the Waikaremoana power scheme, and the modern-day settlement grew up around it. Originally a tent town housed workers building the station; these were later replaced by permanent houses for station employees. Lake Whakamarino is an artificial lake that was made as part of the power scheme works.
Tuai, and the other power stations in the system at Kaitawa and Pipipāua, have been operated remotely from the Tokaanu power station at Lake Taupō since the early 2000s. The Waikaremoana power scheme is no longer a significant employer in Tuai.