Sometimes you just throw a bag in the boot, reverse down the driveway. Nothin' more than a couple of hundred clicks of open road ahead. Ewan McDonald did.
You know how it is. Sometimes you've just got to get out of town. For a couple of days. Sure, you could fly to Melbourne or Sydney or a South Pacific island — but somehow that just seems like too much trouble. Even if there's a degustation at Attica or a towel on a beach at the end of it.
So you just throw a bag in the boot, reverse down the driveway. Nothin' more than a couple of hundred clicks of open road ahead.
Which is what we did. Destination, as much as there was one: Taupo. Because, if you grew up in the North Island, the name has translated as "the real Kiwi holiday" since you and your brothers and sisters were kids in the back seat of — in our family's case, a Morris Oxford. There may be somewhere similar in the South Island. I doubt it.
The GPS told us it was 275km or 3h 20m downhill. I've been on this earth long enough not to trust the word of estate agents, 70s singer-songwriters and women sitting on their own at a bar. I can now add "women's voices on navigation systems". Especially if they can't pronounce "Putaruru".
Five and a bit hours later, we rolled down the hill, past the snuffling Wairakei pipes, past the Huka Falls, and over that little concrete bridge that has always meant, since I was a kid in a Morris Oxford, arriving in Taupo.
We'd organised accommodation at the Beech Tree Suites and our first meal just across the road.
Prue and Felicity Campbell are sisters who run award-winning The Brantry restaurant in a 1950s house; one had given birth a day or so earlier and the other was minding the necessarily blended families, but their staff did not falter.
In a holiday town where there are thousands of visitors one week and few the next, where it can be difficult to find and retain top-line crew, where supplies are more "seasonal" than the adjectives on a chef's menu, finding a first-rate restaurant is difficult if not impossible. Luckily I have solved that problem for you.
We decided to be more casual next evening, attracted by the sight and, for me, the liquefied temptations of Lake House, which specialises in craft beers matched with better than pub food. We strolled in at 6.30. It was packed to its designer rafters. The maitre d' was apologetic but she could not seat us for an hour. Or more.
In Taupo? On a Wednesday night? Restaurants in Ponsonby would kill for that. We satisfied ourselves at Waterside, on the lakefront, with a view of the giant trout, and were more than satisfied.
On a midweek getaway, it seems too strenuous to introduce a word like "activities". For the following few days we amused ourselves with pastimes. Like —
ON THE WATER
I've visited Taupo since I was, oh, 4 years old and — well, I have grandchildren. Never seen it from the water; wonder how many Kiwis have. We took the Ernest Kemp cruise from downtown around the bays and coves. Pulled up next to over-lifesize carvings, eyeballed Rod Stewart's getaway, Ruapehu and his brother and sister. Taupo and its hinterland, from the water, is an extraordinarily magical place. Every Kiwi should do this once in their life.
IN THE WATER
Spas have been part of life here since — ahem, imperial history. Everyone knows the AC Baths but they are kinda like visiting a school swimming pool after a lot of excited kids. We kicked back at the refurbished, scrupulously clean, so much warmer, quieter and relaxing Wairakei Terraces.
BY THE WATER
Lava Glass garden and cafe; a lollipopalooza of hallucinogenically coloured glass sculptures. Mind- and sense-blowing. Yes, one of their unique glassworks came home.
Almost time to say goodbye. Stylish, elegant and refined — the bikes were, if our frames weren't — we pedalled along a lakefront path. There were birds. Fish and fisher-folk. People who felt like chatting. Views, vistas, panoramas.
Can't remember if we got to 2-Mile Bay, or 4-Mile Bay, or 6-Mile Bay, but we pedalled far enough to earn Eggs Benny and flat whites when we got back to Replete Cafe in town. Then we hit the road north. We didn't turn on the sat-nav all the way to Mt Eden.
Ewan McDonald stayed at Heritage Hotel's Beechtree Suites. The property offers a range of accommodation from lake-view spa studios, deluxe spa studios to two and three-bedroom suites.