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Travel and Tourism

Drive now to the New Zealand of Zambales

Kathleen A. Llemit - Philstar.com
Drive now to the New Zealand of Zambales
Mapanuepe Lake is dubbed as the "New Zealand of Zambales."
NLEX/Released

MANILA, Philippines — The average direct flight hours to New Zealand from the Philippines is nine hours and 51 minutes. But, there's a way to reach the "New Zealand of Zambales" in just three and a half hours via the NLEX-SCTEX route.

Mapanuepe Lake is slowly getting known as the "New Zealand of Zambales." One of its most scenic spots or camp grounds was opened to the public in February this year. Since then, people, most especially campers, have been raving about this picturesque weekend getaway.

From a distance aboard a motorized "bangka" (boat), the shore along Mapanuepe Lake beckons its visitors to its fold. A lush scenery dotted with tall pine trees while cows and carabaos munching on green grass paints a picture of serenity.

Maria Dolores Rodriguez Fabunan, one of the owners of the land along the lake, shared that the "New Zealand" tag surprised her. It was driven by social media.

A lush mountain and a still lake make for an ideal selfie backdrop.
Philstar.com/Kathleen A. Llemit

"Ewan ko. May mga nagpapasyal dito na mga kabataan. Hinashtag nila," relayed Fabunan.

Fabunan's family on her father's side owns 110 hectares of land beside the lake. The story of how the lake was formed came right after Mt. Pinatubo's eruption in 1991.

Before the eruption, their piece of land used to be a "bukid" (farm) with livestock such as cows, carabao and chicken.

Mapanuepe Lake View Deck in Brgy. Aglao serves as take off point of boat rides going to the lake.
NLEX/Released

When Mt. Pinatubo erupted, the whole place was submerged in water. Her story goes with the known account of how Mapanuepe Lake and its environs came to be.

Mapanuepe Lake was formed after "lahar" (lava) blocked the drainage of Mapanuepe River. The freshwater lake is currently located at the confluence of the Marella and Mapanuepe Rivers that merge to become the Santo Tomas River. After the eruption, subsequent rains submerged the Mapanuepe Valley, including the barangays of Aglao (lower), Buhawen and Pili of San Marcelino, Zambales. The only visible sign of what used to be the place is a church tower protruding in the middle of the lake.

Fabunan said that the pine trees were not planted but naturally grew after the new landscape in Mapanuepe Lake's environs was formed.

"Maiiyak ako rito e. Parang bigay ng Diyos itong garden ko. Ang ganda ng feeling. Parang bigay ng Diyos na ganito ang pagkagawa," Fabunan shared.

These days, Mapanuepe Lake is a favorite weekend destination. On its busy days, tents, hammocks, traces of a bonfire, and 4x4 vehicles can be seen on camp grounds.

Cows, carabaos, goats and horses graze and roam freely on other parts of the grounds where there are less people. A small sari-sari store is present while there are vendors on motorbikes that carry their goods. Toilet stalls and mini-benches are also installed.

Motorized bangkas are used to take visitors to Mapanuepe Lake.
Philstar.com/Kathleen A. Llemit

Those who want to take a bath may walk further down a freshwater stream. The lake reportedly used to have concentrations of mercury from an abandoned copper mine.

Fabunan said that she plans to install a longhouse for those who would want to hold a slightly bigger event and for campers to take refuge in when rainfall occurs.

For those who are asking about security, Fabunan said there are CAFGU personnel watching over the lake and its environs.

Cows and carabaos roam freely around the grounds of Mapanuepe Lake
Philstar.com/Kathleen A. Llemit

Mapanuepe Lake is ideal for those who want to unplug and unwind, surrounded with breathtaking nature during the day and blanketed by a starry sky on a chilly night.

With no electricity and no signal, it will be both a challenge and a welcome change especially for many urban dwellers who want to shoo the stress away.

How to get there:

Camping is a popular activity in Mapanuepe Lake
Philstar.com/Kathleen A. Llemit

1. It is advised to coordinate with the Zambales Provincial Tourism Office for better and safer coordination going to Mapanuepe Lake. The land route is not searchable via Waze and Google Maps. A tour guide will be on hand to lead the way to the lake. Off-road and 4x4 are ideal vehicles to drive, which takes more or less 30 minutes.

2. Apart from the land route, visitors may opt to take a boat ride. Those who are driving their car for a day trip may head to the Mapanuepe Lake View Deck in Brgy. Aglao in San Marcelino, Zambales. The boat ride is P500 for five people. Life vests are provided. The boat ride takes less than 10 minutes. An environmental fee of P30 is collected.

RELATED: Lakbay Norte: Attractions to visit in Pampanga

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