Lake Rotopounamu is to the north of Tongariro National Park, just a few minutes drive from Tūrangi up to a high point on State Highway 47. You can’t miss it – there is a long parking area opposite the access track on the side of the road.
The modest but very picturesque lake sits below Pīhanga, which at 1,326 metres high is a smaller sibling of the better known volcanoes in National Park. In Māori mythology, Pīhanga was the female mountain whom Taranaki and Tongariro fought over. Taranaki lost and ran away to the southwest where it is today.
You can explore Lake Rotopounamu as a relatively short walk with a 120 metre climb to the lake at over 700 metres above sea level. The walk is through a stunning section of native rainforest but at the fork, keep going ahead down to a lakeside beach, then return the same way. This takes about 40 minutes, but you may want to take a picnic and have a dip if the weather is warm.
You can also do a circuit of the lake, which takes about two hours in total. There are several beaches along the way as well as several rainforest sections.
Some of the forest sections have excellent native plant signage. The reference to Pāhau Kākāpō is especially delightful – at 40 to 50 m high, it is the tallest growing moss in the world! In any event, this is a superb walk and a great way to break up a long drive.