Sunset over Lake Taupō. © David Wall Photography

Lake Taupō: how did we get so lucky?


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It really is all about the lake in this part of the world.

The water’s mood governs the feel of the day: sunny and sparkling, or grey and intense. It’s the heart of the North Island and the birthplace of the Waikato River, which flows north-west to join the sea at Port Waikato.

Lake Taupō fills the enormous crater remaining after a colossal eruption some 1800 years ago. It must have been immense, with Chinese and Roman writers at the time recording unusually red skies, now thought to have been caused by the volcano’s ash cloud. You’d never guess the lake’s violent origins today, but it’s the reason for the region’s incredible geography of mountains, rivers and geothermal activity.

In recent years, the Taupō region has positioned itself beautifully as the outdoor capital of the North Island, if not New Zealand. It may pay to check your visit dates with the excellent local visitors’ information centre – an international ironman or cycling event can make accommodation hard to find.

Event tourism is a major part of Taupō’s lifeblood and its participants keep the town’s accommodation, restaurants and shops humming throughout the year.

Shopping in Taupō is surprisingly good for the size of the town (the outdoor clothing and equipment shops will make you drool), and there are plenty of top-notch and family-friendly restaurants where you can refuel after a busy day.

Our family treasures our holidays around the lake, based either in Taupō or in one of the smaller settlements to the south. There is a huge range of low-cost outdoor-based activities available – kayaking, mountain biking, swimming, bush walks – that make for an active yet relaxing break. The cycle track from the centre of town round to Five Mile Bay is a popular and enjoyable jaunt, and there are bush walks and bike tracks around the powerful Huka Falls that are achievable at any level of fitness. That’s why multi-generational holidays work so well here; you can go hard or chill out depending on your age and stage.

Adrenaline junkies are well catered for, too, with plenty of thrills for those with a few dollars to spare. High-speed jet-boat rides, paragliding and skydiving, white-water rafting and bungy top the list. And if high-stakes thrills aren’t for you, it’s still good fun to watch and imagine!

The Taupō region has a rich Māori heritage, and the Tūwharetoa Gallery at the Taupō Museum is a moving place to learn about the local iwi, who lived by the lake for hundreds of years. The spectacular carvings in the museum’s Māori meeting house, Te Aroha a Rongoheikume, are a precious gift to the people of Taupō. If you’d like to learn more, there are excellent culture-focused tours that will enhance your understanding of the Tūwharetoa people.

A love letter to Lake Taupō is not complete without mention of the brown and rainbow trout, introduced into the lake in the late 1800s.

Trout grew to an immense size in those early years, thanks mainly to the abundance of insect life, and photos from this time astound today’s anglers. Trout-fishing enthusiasts come from all over the world to fish in the region’s lakes and rivers, and happily, it’s a sport that can also be enjoyed by beginners. There are plenty of fishing charters or fly-fishing guides ready to show you how it’s done.

Musing about Taupō’s charms inevitably brings us back, full circle, to the lake.

Here we are, trawling for trout at sunset, anticipating a tug on the line, but really just soaking up the peaceful beauty. We wonder quietly, how did we get so lucky?

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