It really is Great Lake Taupo

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Huw Kingston Last updated: 05 December 2017

‘Mimi, can mum, you and me go for a facial in New Zealand?’ Anna asked her grandmother. Whilst we expected lots of volcanic action, geysers and bubbling mud on our holiday to the Great Lake Taupo region, none of us expected 12 year old Anna to lead the charge for a mud facial.


50km long Lake Taupo is the largest and deepest lake in New Zealand. At its southern end Tongariro National Park holds three active volcanoes: Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings), Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu, the North Island’s highest mountain. On its northern shore spreads the town of Taupo, surrounded by less dominant but still impressive volcanic features: hot springs, geysers and that boiling mud.


The six of us - two of each grandkids, parents and grandparents – were across the Tasman for a week in winter. Great Lake Taupo offers an endless variety of activities in the way that NZ does so well and, despite the season, there were still bucket loads of things to do.


From the thrill of jetboating to that of catching a prawn, from walking through geothermal wonderlands to walking to impressive waterfalls, the options are seemingly endless. Kayaking tours on the lake, mountain biking around the lake and whitewater rafting trips down the rivers also continue through the winter months. It all adds up to plenty of choice whatever the weather.


One morning we all marvelled at the bubbling hot water, geysers, steam and melted chocolate like mud pools of Orakei Korako. It was a first volcanic experience for the kids on a walk that engrossed us for 90 minutes or more. Then things cooled down a bit when, after lunch, five of us spun, bumped, screamed and generally got a bit wet with Rapids Jet.


In any multi-generational family group you’re going to have differing preferences and personalities and whilst you can’t please all of the family all of the time you can ensure you do for most of it. Originally Kate was going to sit out the jetboating with Wendy but at the last minute joined the fun. With our hair standing on end from the speed and faces sandblasted by the rain, Wendy was keen to slow the pace with a visit to the Lava Glass Factory. 

Anna and Anders were not convinced but were soon mesmerised (and warmed) watching molten glass being fashioned into fabulous glassware by the immense skill of the glassblower. So from jetboating to glass blowing, all were happy.

Talking of being warmed, there’s plenty of places in or near Taupo to get into hot water. Taupo Debretts is a family favourite with a series of pools from 28 to 40 degrees and water slides for the kids. For a hot nature fix ask the locals where the best places are on the lakeshore to sit on hot sand or in hot water.


One morning we saddled up with Taupo Kayaking Adventures (yes they do mountain biking too) and rode W2K, the classic 13km section of the 60km long Great Lake Trail. This continuously interesting purpose built dirt track winds up, down and around the north western shore of Lake Taupo. Never super technical, it’s a perfect outing for keen riding families and 9 year old Anders managed it with plenty of encouragement from guides Rob and Ryan.


That afternoon we swapped pedals for paddles and piled into very stable double sea kayaks for the 10km return paddle to the Maori rock carvings in Mine Bay. It’s a very doable paddle from Acacia Bay and is well worth it to view cliff carvings that, whilst only 40 years or so old, depict Maori stories that go back 800 years or more. There are excursion boats to the carvings for those less able or preferring a relaxed approach.

One thing that never fails to impress every time I visit New Zealand is the local pride in and knowledge of their Maori heritage and customs, a cultural awareness that rubs off on children and adults alike.


There are plenty of more sedate things to do in Taupo. Skimming stones across mirror calm lake waters costs nothing and nor does a visit to the Huka Honey Hive to learn all about the bees and the honey. The to-die-for honeyed ice cream, honeycomb or honey meads may tempt you to open your wallet though. Nearby, the power of Huka Falls never fails to impress and never more so than if you’re lucky enough to see a kayaker disappear over the edge into the maelstrom. And only New Zealand could make a prawn farm into a theme park and do it well.

And in winter of course, down beyond the southern shores of Lake Taupo, is New Zealand’s largest ski area on Mt Ruapehu.


Meanwhile for our final afternoon in Taupo Ant, Anders and I found a hot creek for a final soak while granddaughter led mother and grandmother to that one hour mud facial.

Huw would like to thank Destination Great Lake Taupo www.greatlaketaupo.com

First published: 05 December 2017