Taupo: Laid back by the lakeside

By Joelle Thomson

Wine, food, scenery... Joelle Thomson samples the more sedate pleasures Taupo offers its visitors.

DeBretts Thermal Pools. Photo / Supplied
DeBretts Thermal Pools. Photo / Supplied

Steam hangs in heavy, cloud-like balls, clinging so close to the surface of Taupo's oldest hot pools that it's hard to see the faces attached to the bodies luxuriating in these mineral waters.

The setting is so idyllic, its natural enclave of native bush so secluded, its waters so therapeutic, this oasis of relaxation could be far away from civilisation. Instead, DeBretts Hot Springs is right next door to the largest luxury hotel within several hundred kilometres - the Hilton Lake Taupo.

As hedonistic getaways go, Taupo may not be the first place to spring to mind but with its adventure tourism, hot pools and a string of outstanding restaurants, it's easy to spend several, laid-back days here during spring when the weather's still a bit cool.

The four-hour drive is achievable after work on a Friday, and Taupo accommodation is plentiful and varied. Though camping sites may not beckon in cool months, cabins at DeBretts resort do, as does the commanding Hilton Lake Taupo with its spectacular views over the lake and the majestic mountains.

Spring ski bunnies only need to turn up to the hotel, which organises full ski packages including transport, hireage, early morning take-out breakfasts for the journey and an apres-ski drying room for gear at the hotel.

If you'd rather eat and drink than ski, there are the well-named Scenic Cellars, five small wineries and top food on hand.

Pukawa Vineyard is the region's biggest little winery. It's owned by Martin Watt, who reputedly chose to plant grapes here because he saw climatic similarities to France's famous Burgundy region. Wines from Watt's Pukawa Vineyard and the local Omori Estate both sell at Scenic Cellars, on the lakeshore.

The first hotel on the Hilton's site was built in 1889, and today the Hilton Lake Taupo carries on the reputation as a luxury lodge-like getaway, with 113 guest rooms, a grand Presidential Suite and self-catering apartments. Bistro Lago downstairs offers all-day dining from breakfast on - as well cooking trout caught fresh by anyone who turns up to the bistro.

There is a heated pool, a sauna, a steam room, a spa pool and a gym - as well as the ski drying room. Then again, there's that lovely view, with way-too-comfortable armchairs tempting you to just curl up and catch up on some reading, or taste the local wines.

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

Where to stay: Hilton Lake Taupo, 80-100 Napier Taupo Highway, Taupo, phone (07) 378 7080.

Where to eat:

Replete, 45 Heuheu St, phone (07) 378 0606.For the best espresso in town and fresh hot, healthy salads, home-made samosas, wraps and deli-style pies to eat-in this busy cafe.

Bistro Lago Restaurant, 80-100 Napier Taupo Highway, Taupo, phone (07) 377 1400.Panoramic views, wood-fired pizzas, diverse wine by-the-glass, friendly staff and, when you catch your own trout, the chefs at Lago cook it fresh just for you.

Brantree Restaurant, 45 Rifle Range Rd, Taupo, phone (07) 378 0484. Take two sisters, a 1950s villa and fresh, local ingredients and welcome to The Brantree Restaurant; the brainchild of sisters Prue and Felicity Campbell.

What to do:

Soak - DeBretts Spa Resort, State Highway 5 (Napier Taupo Highway), Ph (07) 377 6502.

Fly - Helistar Helicopters Scenic Flights hover over Huka Falls before landing on geothermal Lake Rotokawa. Bookings essential, phone 0800 435 478.

Walk - a two-hour track along Huka Falls to the Spa Thermal Park is a lush walk through the bush along the riverbank.

Drink - Scenic Cellars is the perfect one-stop shop for wine from all over the world, as well as local drops from Taupo's growing number of small wineries. Tastings on weekends and week nights at 32 Roberts St, Taupo, phone (07) 378 5704.

- NZ Herald

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