Taupo: From paddle to saddle

By Elisabeth Easther

There's plenty to do in Taupo for the whole family, writes Elisabeth Easther.

The eerie landscape of the Craters of the Moon. Photo / Supplied
The eerie landscape of the Craters of the Moon. Photo / Supplied

Taupo has to be one of my all-time favourite holiday destinations. I love that the lake is the size of Singapore and deep enough to submerge half the Sky Tower, give or take a few metres.

It's ideal for families and kids of all ages, for adults on their own, for thrillseekers, or the stressed-out who need to unwind. It's even heaven for culture vultures, with the Erupt Festival soon to explode. The landscape is dramatic, the air is crisp and clear and it's less than four hours from Auckland.

Arriving on a perfect sunny autumn day, we began our adventure at Action World, an outdoor inflatable play area where you can bounce, jump, slide, tightrope walk, trapeze, free climb and monkey around. And no worries about hurting yourself, as all the action stations are buffered by inflatable mats.

We loved it: the proprietors, Bev and Paul, were full of tips and they both do a mean somersault. The flocks of parachutists landing at the airport next-door were an added bonus. But be warned, Action World provides little in the way of extras, so if you want to eat or drink, take a picnic.

In need of a cool down, our next stop involved a spot of ice-skating on the lakefront. The Chateau in Tongariro had kindly set up an ice rink where smaller skaters pushed zimmer frames around the frozen surface, while I indulged my old Torvill and Dean fantasies.

Exhausted, we headed to the newly minted Hilton Lake Taupo, and immediately fell in love with the place. Our spacious family room had picture-postcard views of the lake and distant mountains, and the facilities were fabulous.

The kitchen had everything you'd need to cook a MasterChef meal, although there's no need to slave over a hot stove because Bistro Lago (a Simon Gault eatery) is the hotel's restaurant.

Having wisely taken our togs and tennis rackets, we made the most of the pristine courts (with lake views) and thermally heated pool.

Despite wanting to spend the rest of our lives at the hotel, ("Mum, look, there are TWO basins in the bathroom!") the next morning, bright and early, we were kayaking down the Waikato River. Our lively guide Colin gave us a quick paddling lesson before declaring us fit to float.

Gliding past native bush, weeping willows, and assorted autumnal colours, we came upon Taupo Bungy where brave souls swooped and fell before our eyes, their howls of excitement (or perhaps terror) echoing round the canyon.

We made landfall at the steaming springs of Spa Park for a soak in the thermal water, where the pressure of city life and the school term melted away.

But there's no time to dawdle on holiday, so we whizzed from paddle to saddle where Taupo Horse Trek's kindly guides, Alyssa and Luke, and their good-natured horses took us on a one-hour walk through the Wairakei Forest, and along the Craters of the Moon. Despite us being equestrian rookies, we felt safe enough to try a slow trot. The following day we took a short trot on our own two feet to see the Craters of the Moon close up.

Stick to the tracks for the hour-long walk and admire the eerie, fizzing landscape, as mud bubbles and steam hisses, forcing heat up through the earth. The next day we paid our respects to Huka Falls, oohing and aahing over the awesome cascades, then made our last stop at the Rock 'n' Ropes Adventure Park where thrillseekers can test their head for heights.

Scaling towering posts, hand over hand, before leaping off to grab swings, or walk along narrow beams, it's like being defibrillated.

Homeward-bound, Mr Six slept all the way, while the grown-ups planned the next trip, having barely scratched the surface of what Taupo has to offer.

The tip of the iceberg

Hilton Hotel Taupo: One the best hotels in the area. Great food, top notch facilities and five-star service.

Erupt, Lake Taupo Festival: This wonderful festival of art, music, drama and comedy really does have something for everyone. May 10-20.

Action World: Outdoor fun for kids of all ages, play all day and test your strength and ability.

Taupo Horse Treks: Take a one or two-hour trek, or arrange a longer outing if you're keen. Perfect for novices or old hands.

Waikato River Kayak Cruise: Kayak down the Waikato River past Taupo Bungy, stopping for a soak in the famous hot pool at Spa Park (two-hour trip), suitable for all ages. Delightfully serene.

Craters of the Moon: Surreal thermal landscape that really does feel like being on the moon, gravity notwithstanding.

Elisabeth Easther was a guest of Destination Great Lake Taupo.

- NZ Herald

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