Hooked on Taupo

By Nikki Birrell

Nikki Birrell finds a weekend break in the lake city ticks all the boxes.

There's no better way to soothe your bones than a good soak at Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa. Photo / Supplied
There's no better way to soothe your bones than a good soak at Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa. Photo / Supplied

After all the excitement of nabbing him, I felt sorry for the little guy on the end of my line. There he'd been, happily crawling around the bottom of the pond, thinking it was his luck that a piece of meat had wafted right under his antennae, then suddenly he was yanked from home and held aloft, in front of two giddy humans.

Actually, "he" was probably a "she", given that female prawns outnumber males seven to one - just a little bottom-feeder fact we'd picked up in our time at the Huka Prawn Park. Which was proving to be a lot more entertaining than we'd imagined, guilty feelings aside. Our next prawny activity held even more anticipation - eating them.

A kilo of mixed-grade beauties, accompanied by a squeeze of lemon and some mayo, was placed in front of us on our prime sunny spot on the restaurant deck. No more guilty feelings as we tucked in, the Waikato river and native bush our backdrop as we peeled and scoffed.

Every now and again the tranquillity was interrupted by a jetboat whizzing by, a small wail of terror or, more often, a peal of laughter fading in its wake.

Just a few hours earlier that wail of terror had been from me. Speeding at 80km an hour towards a tree sticking out of the water, only to avoid it at the very last millisecond can do that to a person.

I needn't have worried. The jetboat drivers have to put in 100 hours of training time before they can take passengers - that's more than is required of a helicopter pilot. These guys know exactly what they're doing. And it is heart-thumpingly good fun.

In fact, the only problem with spending a weekend in Taupo is narrowing down the list of things to do. Our decisions were not made easier by the fact that we could easily have spent the whole weekend at our accommodation, the Bayview Wairakei Resort. Amenities galore - tennis and squash courts, sauna, heated pools, gym, a world-class golf course across the road, two restaurants, a bar complete with fireplace and, the icing on the cake for us, a spa bath in our room - all set on well-maintained premises amid beautiful parklands.

Despite all the choices, that night in the hotel's Pavilion Restaurant, we decided our itinerary was shaping up quite nicely. The jetboat took care of adrenalin, our prawn friends provided the novelty factor and now, as we sampled acclaimed beef and lamb dishes, our culinary wishes had been granted.

After the drive from Auckland, I'd headed just down the road from the hotel to the Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa for a relaxation massage. The lovely Karen did a great job of ironing out my drive-time kinks. And on a tour of the complex, which encompasses a geothermal walkway, the terraced thermal hot pools had me mentally adding a must-do to the list. So that was our relaxation time taken care of, too.

Ordering a dessert each (quite unnecessarily), we were grateful of the exercise we had planned for the next day - mountain biking. Not something I'd ever done before, I assumed it would be, well, a bit like riding a bike. Easy peasy. However, due to some poor map skills, we ended up on a track that was probably a tad above our skill level. And riding through lush forest on dirt tracks that dipped and rose like a mini rollercoaster, I'm pretty sure I got some air under my tyres. Exhilarating stuff.

Now all we needed to do to round off the trip was get among the locals. Ploughman's restaurant is known to be a Taupo favourite, so we joined in for a good old-fashioned pub meal. Fish and chips for him, venison pie for me. Portions: huge. The mock-Tudor building was heaving with big groups of friends and families and the atmosphere was jovial. Another tick on the list.

But back to those terraced pools. Apparently the rugby teams staying down this way would soon be soaking their bones right here but when we arrived to "take the waters", we were in the company of only a few relaxed souls. With a bright, clear sky and a crispness in the spring air, we sank into these striking blue pools, heat misting and swirling off the surface. And enveloped in warmth, surrounded by New Zealand flora, we could now safely tick off "find bliss" from our list too.

Traveller's tips

Where to stay:

Bayview Wairakei Resort: State Highway 1, Taupo, ph (07) 374 8021. A range of rooms are available from a basic studio to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment style.

What to do:

Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa: Wairakei Rd, 671 SH 1, Taupo, ph (07) 378 0913.

Huka Prawn Park: Karetoto Rd, Wairakei Park, Taupo, ph (07) 374 8474.

Hukafalls Jet: Karetoto Rd, Wairakei Park, Taupo, (07) 374 8572 or 0800 HUKA JET. (Don't forget your sunglasses.)

Rapid Sensations Mountain Biking: 413 Huka Falls Rd, Taupo, 0800 353 435.

Ploughmans Restaurant: Rainbow Point, Lake Terrace, Taupo, ph (07) 377 3422.

Nikki Birrell visited Taupo with assistance from Bayview Hotels & Resorts New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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