I'd always known about DeBretts Spa Resort in Taupo, partly because of their famous pools, but when I learned that they'd won awards for tourism innovation, smart business and online marketing this year, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.
With two 9-year-olds in tow, we headed south, aiming for the vast liquid belly button of the North Island. We settled into our luxury family suite and had a view from our living room that was like a Karl Maughan painting. Blooming oleanders and impressive hedges, thick, straight and proud, carved, I was told, by a fellow named Kev. A generous wedge of Lake Taupo completed the canvas.
Following a little forced labour bringing bags and provisions in from the car, the boys raced off to explore, leaving me to unpack. Technically, I should've been supervising them at all times but I'd have to have been an Olympic sprinter to keep up with two chaps who'd been cooped up in a car for four hours.
With dinner done and dusted, I wondered wistfully how the boys might like an early night? No way, they had also heard about the thermally powered pools (I might have told them) which meant we had to check them out -- after all, it was the reason for our visit.
And, oh my, why hadn't we stopped in sooner? As we rounded the corner at the top of the hill, their eyes lit up at the sight of the steaming ponds below. Nestled in a lush oasis of mostly native vegetation, a waterfall thundered down the cliff towards an oasis of pleasure. Private spa pools, big pools, little pools, an interactive playground for smaller kids, not to mention three hydroslides. There's even a full spa facility for those not travelling with nippers.
We went straight to the slides. I vacillated at the top as the two boys rode off, zipping down in a hail of giggles. They met me back at the summit, where I was still dilly-dallying at the mouth of one of the slides.
"Come on Mum, just let go and lean into the g-forces."
Doing as I was told, I hurtled down the chute, a middle-aged missile, before being deposited at the bottom, wondering what the heck just happened. For the peace of my fellow bathers, after a couple of plunges I took refuge in the warmest pool because no one wants to hear my screams reverberating through the night when they're enjoying a relaxing soak. The boys, however, couldn't get enough, up and down they went, up and down. As night fell, the trees and bush lit up, an especially ethereal phoenix palm reflecting all the shades of the rainbow beneath its fronds.
"This place should win awards," the boys declared, so I told them about the trio of impressive accolades DeBretts had scooped up for their innovative and environmentally sustainable use of geothermal water. Because the geothermal water that bubbles up needs to be cooled before it's used in the pools, the park harnesses the warmth for heating, underfloor and water. They even share the love with the neighbouring Hilton Hotel and, after the heat has been extracted, the cooler water is returned to the pools at a usable 50C. Utter genius, good for the pocket and for the planet. And modern kids just love ecologically friendly enterprises that involve hydroslides.
Several times during our adventure, I asked the boys for quotes that summed up their enthusiasm and several times I was told that DeBretts was so amazing as to be indescribable. I had to explain that indescribable doesn't really cut the mustard in a job where describing is key.
"How about 'epic'?" they asked. Yep, that'll do.
So for two days and nights we swam, soaked and slid ourselves senseless and, even though it rained a fair bit -- the heavens were open more often than closed -- there are few more epic places to seek refuge from rain than in a thermally heated pool.
Need to know
Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort, 76 Napier-Taupo Highway, Taupo.
In addition to the ripper pools, there's a cafe, a playground, a bouncy pillow and plenty of space to let off steam. Facilities include powered sites for campers, tent sites, cabins and suites with lake views.
Wairakei Thermal Loop Walk is a hidden delight with more pettable animals than you can shake a $2 bag of feed at (adults $18, children $9).
The tripping of the Aratiatia Dam was so indescribably good, we watched it twice.
Elisabeth and the boys were guests of DeBretts