We have a great liking for weird and quirky roadside attractions and were delighted to in Tirau, New Zealand, an enterprising local had exercised their creativity in building a wonderful example of functional art. Using their ingenuity, corrugated steel and paint they created two buildings, one shaped like a sheep and another like a dog. Much to my delight, the corrugated steel dog housed an ice cream store which served the most amazing creamy honey and fig ice cream. Yumm!
Lake Taupo is located on the North Island of New Zealand. It is in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano and with a surface area of 616 square kilometres (238 sq mi), it is the largest lake in New Zealand, and the second-largest in Oceania
I had booked us onto an early morning kayak trip on the lake. We rose early munched our breakfast and set off to our 8.00 am rendezvous point outside the information office. The arrangements had been made at the last minute online and meet up details were at best sketchy and to make matters worst there were actually two information offices on the road were told to go to. We split ourselves up and waited and a few minutes later than scheduled our tour guide turned up in a van pulling a trailer with kayaks already loaded. Sorted! At least we thought we were the only problem was that he was expecting one person and the one person was none of our family. I was supposed to have confirmed the booking the day before. What could have been a disaster turned out okay as the guide was a typically laid back Kiwi. We hopped on the bus with the one real customer, an Australian lady called Robin, who was visiting with her husband Michael. He was chilling out back at their hotel, preparing himself for the upcoming New Zealand Iron Man event taking place in Taupo a couple of days later (more on that later). A quick detour back to the office later, for some more kit and we were ready for the off.
Our vessels were double sea kayaks. We had been in kayaks a few times before but never in sea kayaks with the rubber splash skirts, which look incredibly silly until you are actually ensconced in your kayaks. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in Oceania and is actually an active volcanic caldera. We asked the guide how likely it was to explode and he said not very and if it did we’d probably be the first people to reach orbit in a kayak – now that would be a claim to fame. Sadly the weather was not playing ball completely, it was cloudy and there was a bit of a wind blowing. With a lake of this size the waves can get to be a challenge, hence the splash skirts, but today it was not a real problem, although it was hard work paddling into the wind. Our total planned journey time was 3 hours – which is a long time if you’re not used to paddling for that length of time.
The goal of our journey was to travel to some Maori carvings on some cliffs beside the lake. After about an hour or so after we reach the carvings which are spectacular but we are surprised and somewhat saddened to hear that the carvings were only 31 years old but as our guide pointed out in 500 years time they will be ancient. Still, they were great to see and we enjoyed hearing the truly ancient stories depicted by the carvings. We pulled into a beach a little further down the lake shoreline to enjoy some cakes and hot drinks, with our first taste of Milo, a New Zealand form of hot chocolate. It was then time to set-off back. The wind seemed to have turned around and we spent most of our time paddling into it during our return journey, but finally, we rounded a promontory and headed back to shore.
We headed back to the hostel for a bit of lunch, after which Jack and Emily play outdoor table tennis whilst Mark and Karen catch a few z’s.
Later in the afternoon, we head back into Taupo which is only a short walk from the hostel. As we previously mentioned Taupo was hosting the New Zealand Iron Man event a few days after we were planning to leave town. This is a big event with over 1500 competitors from around the world. There are 3 disciplines in the Iron Man event; a 3.2 km swim, a 180 km cycle and a 42 km run all done consecutively. The top athletes complete their disciplines in around 8 hours. They must be bonkers! There is an official exhibition centre set aside for the event, with displays of bicycles, neoprene clothing and really expensive shoes amongst other things. It was great fun to look at the “cool” high-performance gear. We decided to get into training for an upcoming Iron Man event!
Planning your visit to Lake Taupo
Getting to Taupo
Taupo is centrally located in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, about a 3 ½ hours’ drive from Auckland and a 4 ½ hours’ drive from Wellington.
Taupo is within a two-hour drive of Waitomo Caves to the west, Hamilton to the north, Tauranga to the east and Ruapehu to the south.
Air New Zealand operates daily flights between Auckland and Taupo. There are also near-daily flights from Wellington.
There are plenty of bus options to reach Taupo. Intercity offers more than 150 services every day connecting over 600 New Zealand destinations. Search for available seats and book your bus tickets to get to or from Taupo via the Intercity website.
Best time to visit Lake Taupo
The best time to visit Lake Taupo is in summer (December to February in New Zealand), as this is a perfect season for outdoor activities and watersports. Spring and autumn bring crisp mornings and warm days when it’s an ideal time to go fishing or hiking.
Other places to visit near Lake Taupo
1. ROTORUA -TE PUIA, MAORI CULTURAL CENTRE
Te Puia in the small town Rotorua is well worth visiting. Here you’ll get to see one of the largest geothermal areas in New Zealand.
Te Puia, is home to the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, Pōhutu Geyser, as well as the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute – training the next generation of artists from around the country.
Rotorua is about 80km north of Taupo.
2. ROTORUA – RAINBOW SPRINGS
Rainbow Springs nature park is a great place to visit to find out more about the flora and fauna of New Zealand. Here you can get close up and personal with the local animals, birds and plants that make this country unique. You can wander the park on your own or join a self-guided tour.
The park is also home to the Kiwi (the national bird of New Zealand) National Hatchery. The shy and increasingly rare birds are nocturnal so seeing them in the wild is not likely. Here you will get a chance to observe these very unusual birds and get an insight into the role the hatchery is playing in their conservation.
3. WAITOMO CAVES
Waitomo caves lay about 2-hours west of Taupo. The original caves are famous for their glowworms. Here you will float on boats through the cave and marvel at the stunning display they put on. There are other caves to enjoy on foot, but there are no glowworms here just the splendour of the caves themselves.
For adrenalin junkies, there are blackwater rafting experiences here you’ll don wetsuits and float down underground rivers in tubes, with some rapids and waterfalls thrown in. The adventure known as the abyss has you abseiling into the cave, ziplining in the dark and climbing waterfalls. Sounds fun eh!
Where to stay near Lake Taupo
1. SACRED WATERS TAUPO
Set 25 mi from Orakei Korako – The Hidden Valley, Sacred Waters Taupo offers an outdoor swimming pool, a fitness centre and air-conditioned accommodations with a balcony and free WiFi.
A room during peak months will cost you around $225 per night.
2. LAKELAND RESORT
Lakeland Resort is located on the beautiful shores of Lake Taupo. Set on 2.8 acres of landscaped grounds, this resort features a tennis court, an on-site restaurant, 2 private indoor hot tubs, and a seasonal outdoor swimming pool. Guests enjoy free WiFi and free on-site parking.
A room here in the summer will set you back about $110 per night.
3. FINLAY JACKS BACKPACKERS
Finlay Jacks backpackers is a fresh modern hostel with Free unlimited WiFi, Netflix, Tea & Coffee, a spacious balcony, cosy TV lounge, well-equipped kitchen, plenty of off-street parking and the friendliest staff around. A hostel that revolves around our guests and ensuring that their stay is comfortable and enjoyable.
Finlay Jacks offers dorms and private rooms.