Monday, March 21, 2011

Taupo: Outdoor Playground for Kiwis

Most people know that Queenstown is New Zealand's top tourist destination and you can go as easy or as hard as want. We haven't visited ... yet (our flights are booked for mid March), but apparently there is something for every visitor ranging from spas and wine lounges all the way through to bungy jumping and sky diving with everything in between. However, most of the participants are tourists from outside the country visiting the South Island.

Lake Taupo with Mt. Ruapehu ("Mt. Doom") in the background
When Kiwis want to party or get out on the water or jump out of a moving plane, they go to Taupo. This town is located on the massive Lake Taupo in the middle of the north island, about 4 hours from almost everywhere. Since 76% of New Zealand's population lives on the North Island, it's a pretty busy place on the weekends and the traffic is almost all Kiwi.

My parents left on Monday Feb 14 to visit Napier and the Coromandel Peninsula. We had arranged to meet them in Taupo for the weekend.

I had to work late, so we only left Palmerston North at 6:30pm on Friday and arrived in Taupo at around 9:45pm. Since the sun sets at only 8:45pm, we witnessed the sunset while driving between the Kaweka Mountain Range to our west and the triple volcanoes of Tongariro National Park to our east. Awesome!

We took our time on Saturday morning, enjoying a leisurely breakfast at Zest Cafe opposite our hotel.

We strolled about 10 minutes into town and through the shopping district of Tuwharetoa, Heu Heu and Horomatangi streets. I hit the i-Site (a nationally sponsored tourist bureau present in even the tiniest of towns) to plan the rest of the weekend. Meanwhile, 2 generations faced off in a battle of outdoor chess.

"OK gang. We've got kayaking at 2:30 today, trout fishing at 9:00 tomorrow followed by a hike around the geothermal springs."

"What about the jet boating?"

"But that only leaves us another hour and a half to shop."

"Can I get a purple kayak?"

"Ohh yeah babyyyyyy! I'm going to catch the biggest fish! Yeah!!!"

"I was looking forward to a coffee and muffin aboard the gentle boat trip around the lake."

"Daddy, can I have an ice cream?"

"La-la-la la la-la-la."

I'll let you fill in the names of the speakers.

So we browsed through the stores. The men wore expressions like they were assessing the damage from a head on collision. The woman wore expressions of excitement and angst: excitement at the prospect of newly owned treasures, angst at the prospect that their allotted time in the candy store was tick-tick-ticking away. But everyone got something. We all bought flip flops - jandals in Kiwi. Many necklaces with Kiwi pendants filled with blue Paua shell were purchased. My mom bought a cerulean merino-silk-possum sweater. I bought Kiwi-themed wine glass markers. Yeah! I win!

Lake Taupo lies in the caldera of an ancient volcano. It is the largest crater lake in the world at 916 sq. km. It has 32 tributary rivers and only 1 river draining it - the Waikato river.  Rapid Sensations was an easy choice once we learned that we would be spending the beautiful Saturday afternoon kayaking (read: floating) downstream. It was hard not to smile. To boot, a naturally occurring thermal spring bubbles into the river about 20 minutes from our final destination, so we got out and swam in crystal clear water that was a sandwich of slightly too hot on top and slightly too cold water on the bottom.

Here are some pics.

Notice Cassandra reserving her purple kayak

Teenage girls jumping from the cliff
... in a different kayak because the other one was too big

We did it!
Alright - enough good ole fun! We had earned a drink and a snack. So after a shower and a power nap, we headed to Lake Terrace to snag a choice table at Scenic Cellars.

We finished the night at the Waterside restaurant on Lake Terrace. The whole town was hopping as earlier that day, there had been 5000 runners and walkers taking place in the Great Lake Relay. Unfortunately, the atmosphere and the buzz far exceeded the quality of the food.

We were up early the next day (Sunday) to catch a quick breakfast before joining Richard of Trout Catching (that's positive marketing; all the other companies had names like 'Fishing Charter' or 'Trout Fishing') aboard White Striker IV for 3 hours of rainbow trout fishing. Once again, awesome weather and the experience of being out on the water was worth the trip. Richard quoted that the average catch was approximately 1 per hour. We preserved his reputation and caught three fish, although one was 1/2" below the minimum size of 16". So we proudly returned to harbor with 2 good sized rainbow trout.

Harrison landing our first fish

The happy anglers
Lunch time!
A local restaurant agreed to cook up our catch for lunch.

In the afternoon, we went for a 90 minute walk around the Orakei Korako geothermal springs about 25 minutes north of Taupo.

Twenty million liters of boiling water trickle out of this hot springs site every day. The water is way too hot to swim in and besides, the rotten egg smell is more than a little off putting. Here are some pics.

The hole is a lateral geyser that was spraying water everywhere and whistling like a kettle
Water boiling out of a break in the sulfur crust

Looks like a giant ice cream sundae

Bubbling mud pool but no Shrek or Fiona.

The hike finished with a walk through a Ponga Giant Fern forest. This is also known as the silver fern which is one of the national symbols of New Zealand and appears on the All Blacks uniforms.

New Zealand's silver fern

A very cool thing happens to these leaves when they fall off the tree and die. The silver color turns to gold and bronze. It might not come out that well in the photo, but it's breathtaking and gives a new meaning to gold leaf.

Golden Leaves!
What a busy weekend! Just about everyone fell asleep in the car going back home. I had to switch with Trish after about 90 minutes of driving. Despite being very busy for the weekend, we all know that we haven't visited Taupo for the last time. It's so much fun and has so much to offer that it's worth at least one more visit before we head back to Canada.

One other footnote: I've always remarked with some amount of pride that I have a knack for maps and quickly finding my bearings in new places. This seems to be less true in New Zealand. I hadn't really come up with a reason until this weekend.

Meet you where?

I think this is because the Maori name of streets are essentially unintelligible, at least to my brain, so I can't pronounce let alone remember the street names.


  1. if we click on the picture of the golden leaves, we get a close-up view of the "golden" leaves. Very beautiful! Looks like you're having a great time in New Zealand. I enjoy reading your adventures and makes me want to travel too!

  2. These are very beautiful collection ..These all pics is looking very nice..and great information..I like this post..I really enjoyed with us..

  3. very beautiful collection ,it is so beautiful outdoor playground place