Taupō has plenty of fun for the family and not a shark in sight, writes Alexia Santamaria
The beach tends to be the summer destination of choice for many New Zealanders but a lake-based holiday has many of the same benefits, with a lot less sand in your car. Taupō has endless options for all generations of your family and is the perfect place to spend anything from a long weekend to a full week. Here are my picks of what to do in this lakeside location if you have kids in tow - all personally test-driven by my own offspring.
Taupō's wonderfully refreshing crystal-clear waters are ideal for cooling down in the Kiwi summer. There are so many places to enter the largest freshwater lake in Australasia; don't just stick to the waterfront in town, look at Acacia Bay, Kinloch and even head around the other end to Whareroa and Pūkawa if the mood takes you - you can choose a different spot every day. If you fancy some hot-pool action, De Bretts is a family classic – the kids won't want to leave the hydroslides, pools and water playground in this pretty leafy setting, and you may even get the chance to sit down and have a coffee. Maybe.
Eat something fresh
EAT SOMETHING FRESH
Fishing is obviously a big deal in these parts and, if you have little anglers, this is the perfect holiday spot for your tribe. Aside from the obvious trout fishing, Huka Prawn Park is a ton of fun for families as well; it can easily keep kids occupied for almost a full day.
Although fishing for prawns yourself is currently off the menu, there is a fascinating tour of the hatchery and endless entertaining activities for the kids (think pedal boats, water cannons, fun skill testers and a million other ways to show their siblings who's boss). If you have active kids, there's plenty of space to run around and, of course, there's the restaurant for lunch — order fresh prawns, of course.
During school holidays there's a delightful programme at the National Trout Centre just 45 minutes down the road from Taupō — kids can have a go at fly fishing in a large controlled pond, have their catch weighed, receive a certificate and take their fish to the smoker so it can re-emerge as a delicious lunch or afternoon snack.
During school holidays there's a delightful programme at the National Trout Centre just 45 minutes down the road from Taupō - kids can have a go at fly fishing in a large controlled pond, have their catch weighed, receive a certificate and take their fish directly to the smoker so it can re-emerge as a delicious lunch or afternoon snack.
You may think of open sea when you visualise a yacht adventure, but lake sailing is every bit as magical - especially when the excursion involves a journey to incredible Māori rock carvings visible only from the water. The giant Mine Bay Māori rock carving of Ngātoroirangi on Lake Taupō is seriously impressive at 14m high, but that's only part of the package.
Dave and Jess from Taupō Sailing Adventures are two of the loveliest people you'll meet and will ply you with pizza and drinks while you relax on their beautiful vessel. You can get active and help hoist the sails or you can park yourself on a bean bag at the front of the boat and just relax. There's a fantastic swim stop and the whole thing adds up to a truly blissful afternoon.
There are many lovely walking options for families but a particularly pretty one starts at Spa Thermal Park and goes to Huka Falls, following the Waikato River. At the start is a natural geothermal area, Otumuheke Stream, where you can enjoy a free hot soak - if the warm bit isn't occupied - and finishing at Huka Falls is great to combat any "are we there yet" complaints.
If your kids are more motivated by playgrounds, start at the falls and end at Spa Thermal Park, where there is plenty of that climbing, swinging, spinning action nearby. According to Google maps, the walk is 35 minutes one way but that depends on the length of your kiddies' legs (and of course you need to get back too).
If you have older children who like a good walk, you can carry on from Huka's gushing blue waters to the Aratiatia hydro dam and rapids. This will make it a four-hour return.
Get an adrenaline hit
If you have older thrill-seeking types who are no longer impressed with mini golf or playgrounds, take them to Formula Challenge for a blat on the Taupō Karts. The French-built 390cc karts have the biggest engine of any recreational kart in the world and it's a hoot racing around as a family trying to beat each other's times.
The Rapids Jet experience at Aratiatia Scenic Reserve is sure to thrill too - shooting through a narrow canyon and spinning around on the sizable rapids will impress even the surliest of teens or tweens.
Another exhilarating one for the whole whānau is one of Rafting New Zealand's family excursions on the Tongariro river (they can pick up from Taupō or you can drive to their base in nearby Tūrangi). The stunning scenery will blow your mind and they take trips for kids as young as 3.
Pauly's Burgers are a local favourite and for very good reason (don't go too late as they sometimes sell out) and Baked with Love Eatery is superb for families - kids will go mad for the drool-worthy doughnuts and cabinet food and adults will love the range of delicious options from healthy salads and bowls to the thoroughly Insta-worthy French toast with seasonal fruit, vanilla mascarpone, syrup and pistachio praline.
In the evening, local restaurant Vine is always packed and is excellent for sharing plates and something cold after a big day of fun (they also have a kids' menu). General conclusion - you won't starve in Taupō. And, with all these amazing activities on offer, neither will you hear cries of "I'm bored".
The Suncourt Hotel is centrally located and perfect for families, including a pool for children to splash in. suncourt.nz