What’s roughly the same size as Singapore, had its own Ice Age and is just a few hours away from Australia? Trust us, you won’t guess because we’re talking about Lake Taupo.
Located on New Zealand’s North Island, four hours drive south east of Auckland, Lake Taupo is in fact the same size as Singapore. In actual fact, it’s the result of a super eruption from a volcano more than 20,000 years ago. The caldera is now home to Taupo’s famous trout, which were introduced to the lake in the late 1880s. Fishing for the trout is a drawcard year-round but there’s plenty of other reasons to spend a few days exploring the region surrounding the mighty lake. Here’s our top five:
1. Get out on the lake
It’s a must do. And not just because there’s no better way to get a real feel for the sheer size of it. The lake has lots of trout, with plenty of fishing tours available, but it is also home to the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings. These stunning 14 metre high carvings were created back in the 1980s with a mixture of abseiling, scaffolding and sheer grit of five artists who would carve in nothing but their speedos and safety goggles. Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and his team spent four years transforming a large natural slab of rock face into a striking rendering of his Maori ancestor Ngatoroirangi. Hop onto one of Sail Barbary’s electric powered sail boats to see the carving in all its glory! Sail Barbary’s twice daily sailings spend two and a half hours out on the water, letting out the sails if the wind is up so you can cruise past the carvings. You can even try your hand at the wheel, or just settle in and enjoy the ride. The best part is, Sail Barbary lets you bring on board snacks or drinks – for morning sails grab jumbo-sized date scones and banana bread from Body Fuel Café in downtown Taupo. Afternoon sailings are a great time for a few drinks as dusk falls.
2. Hit the trails
Mountain bikers flock to the well marked trails that run around the shore of Lake Taupo. There’s more than 200 km of trails to choose from, with options for all skill levels. Set out from Kinloch, the small township 15 minutes drive due west of Taupo, for a scenic cycle along the lake before heading up into the bushland. The trails offer glimpses of the lake through the trees. Kinloch Club, the ultra modern and uber luxe lodge high on the rolling hills above Kinloch offers guests mountain bikes for the day, and also the option for a pick up in their Range Rover from town if guests bite off more than they can chew on the trails.
3. See Huka Falls
It’s not too often that you can stand right over the top of a waterfall and watch water thunder past just below your feet. The wide Waikato River narrows down to just 15 metres at Huka Falls, with the water funneling down an 11 metre drop at a whopping 220,000 litres per second. Walk across the bridge and marvel at the might of these falls, before walking across to the other side of the river bank and down to other lookouts that look back up at the falls. For a proper up-close vantage, hop aboard the Huka Falls Jet. The jet boats run every day of the year except Christmas, almost every half hour, churning up the river with 360 degree spins and wild turns. They go right up to the rapids at the base of the falls, you’ll feel the spray on your face and the thunder in your ears. It’s not to be missed and something you won’t get to do anywhere else. The jet boat ride lasts around half an hour, taking you racing up and down the river, past water birds, around tree roots and riverbanks. The spins are just a small part of the fun, with your guide slowing down to provide a history of the area and the river’s uses in powering hydro electric dams. The jet boat base is just a couple of minutes drive down the road from the falls, right next door to the Huka Prawn Park. That’s right, the Prawn Park is where fresh water Kiwi prawns are raised. Guests can go in and try their hand at ‘fishing’ for prawns, or head straight to the popular restaurant for big plates of prawns by the river.
4. Tee off
The North Island’s rolling hills were made for golfing. Okay that might not be strictly true, they need a bit of pruning and shaping, but you’ll find one of the country’s best courses just back from the lake. In the hills outside of Kinloch, the Kinloch Club’s Jack Nicklaus-designed course has more than 15 greens keepers even in the winter months, keeping the sprawling Par 72 eighteen hole Championship course in shape. Set aside four to five hours for your game, which has been known to challenge even the pros. Don’t forget to stop of the course’s designated photo spot, where the views down to Lake Taupo are second to none. The Clubhouse on site has a reputation for supersized cookies and slices of cakes, refuel after a morning out on the greens. Guests staying on site at the Kinloch Club can access the driving range free of charge – spend an afternoon with a bucket of balls perfecting your swing.
5. Bliss out
If the Kinloch Club’s golf course has been designed to challenge and test your skill at each hole, The Lodge has been designed at every turn to entice you to snuggle up by a fire with a glass of wine. Literally. There are fireplaces in almost every room in this modern day castle. Perched at the top of the hill above the clubhouse, the lodge’s white façade is dotted with large windows that look out to the dramatic panorama below. With a minimalist, almost fort-like exterior, it’s hard to know what to expect when you walk in the door. It certainly isn’t floor to ceiling windows with day beds right up against the glass, dramatic chain mail chandeliers and hanging globe lights, luxurious fur throws, modern leather arm chairs and lounges, and enormous fireplaces. This is no ordinary lodge building. A series of lounge areas, each with a different view out to the lake and the golf course, a sub level day spa you want to curl up in and never leave, and a restaurant with an open kitchen and raised platforms for tables right up against the window so you’re torn between that mesmerizing view and the magic over at the stoves. And that’s just the lodge. The freestanding villa suites dot the grassy hillside below the lodge, arranged to each have a view out to the lake. They are faultlessly modern, yet comfortable, with wood fireplaces, sleek lounges, big comfy beds and freestanding baths. Evening drinks in the lounge, the mini bar and breakfast are all included – little touches like freshly baked cookies, spiked hot chocolate delivered in flasks at bedtime, turn down truffles and little pots of Manuka honey from the lodge’s sister property Treetops Rotorua are the very extensive icing on the cake.
Whether you want to curl up by the fire, feel the wind in your hair or hear the mighty roar of rushing water, take the time to see Taupo in all its glory.
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