It's a great place to break your journey, as Shandelle Battersby discovers.
If you're en route to Wellington or Auckland, Hawke's Bay or the mountain, Taupo is a great place to stop for a night - especially if you have a car-full of little ones. Here are a few ways to make the most of 24 hours at the Great Lake with the kids in tow.
WHAKAPAPA SCENIC CHAIRLIFT
Spectacular at any time of year, the scenic ride on two chairlifts up the Whakapapa ski field, on the northern side of Mt Ruapehu to New Zealand's highest cafe, is great fun for young and old. Wear something warm regardless of the weather - you'll be at 2020m above sea level - and sit back and enjoy the ride up to the award-winning Knoll Ridge, which, on a good day, will give you views over Tongariro National Park, including of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, and over to Mt Taranaki.
On the way up the mountain you'll get great views in summer of the moon-like volcanic terrain, including over the Happy Valley beginners' area, and you might see, as we did, some hardy souls hiking up to the beautifully designed cafe. This winter sees the continuation of a $100 million infrastructure upgrade for the Whakapapa and Happy Valley ski fields which includes a very high-tech all-weather snow-making machine, new chairlifts, magic carpets and high speed access elevators, a new snow park, and potentially an aerial tram. Another new initiative this winter will be shuttle buses from Taupo via Turangi - it's a pretty 75-minute drive south from Taupo along the lake's edge all the way to Turangi.
This cool cafe has a definite hipster vibe, with pot plants and vintage bikes mounted on the wall as decor, stylish clothes and homewares for sale, and an excellent selection of organic food and drinks.
Kokako is its coffee of choice, and the menu - handwritten on brown rolls of paper - features seasonal, healthy food and fresh baking. The space, over two levels, is light and open, and the food is as good as it promises. Plus, we love the orange coffee machine.
14 Runanga St, Taupo.
HUKA PRAWN PARK
Prawn Park you say?
What a crazy idea, and something straight out of The Simpsons. But actually, the Huka Prawn Park is great fun, and really well set up for kids.
Fishing for prawns is the main drawcard at this working prawn farm, and entry gets you a bamboo rod with the tiniest hook you can imagine, and a small pottle of bait, We were unsuccessful in the hour or so we were there, but the woman and her daughter next to us caught half a dozen decent-sized prawns with exactly the same equipment. It's all down to patience and technique. You can also feed some handsome rainbow trout, head out on the prawn ponds on a pedal boat, fishing boat or paddle board, soak your feet in thermal water while you fish, or partake in numerous activities around the place aimed at the little (and big) kids in your group.
There's also an onsite restaurant, but you can pack your own food - and there are facilities to cook your prawns, should you manage to hook some. The entry fee gives you carte blanche to stay as long as you like.
TAUPO DEBRETTS SPA RESORT
This is one of the funnest mineral hot pool resorts in the country, with lots of different pools and features to keep the whole family happy. There is a hydroslide (height restrictions apply), a warm water play park, a heated freshwater pool, a couple of spas, and two massive hot pools.
Make sure you check out the "air lounger" (aka the bubbly bed), and the water spout curtains.
There are also private pools, an onsite spa facility, and the pools adjoin an excellent campground that also has cabins, villas and lodges, and a cafe.
Air New Zealand flies daily to Taupo from Auckland with one-way fares starting from $63.
Heritage Hotels has two properties in Taupo. The Reef Resort is at 219 Lake Terrace, and is great for couples; while The Anchorage Resort is at 346 Lake Terrace, and is ideal for families.