Immersion into the top pool, surrounded by rocks, at Wairākei Terraces Thermal Pools is slow — the temperature is like a hot tap has been left on too long and cold needs adding. But after biking 31km on one of Taupō's Great Lake Trails, once I'm in, it's bliss.
I sit on a ledge, most of me out of the water, watching steaming water spill over white silica terraces above the powder blue pool. Manicured native gardens surround three pools where maybe 10 other people soak. I'm soon too hot and move down a level. It's too cool. The bottom pool is perfect. Steam rises where a waterfall tumbles over boulders hitting the surface like rain pelting a footpath. A dragonfly helicopter-hovers, fantails dart in the bush. Aches and pains melt away in the nearly two hours I soak; I only get out because if I don't, I'll fall asleep.
On a near windless morning, sails hang limp on Sailing Barbary's yacht. We cruise to the Māori carvings at Mine Bay under electric-power. Apart from the occasional boat or jet-ski zooming past, the only sound is water lapping against our vessel. Taupō, behind us, lies long and low along the lake's northern end; at the southern, rolling hills and peaking mountains blend into the grey day. I learn the Māori legend of Lake Taupō's formation, that it's the size of Singapore, and of the work gone into reducing nitrogen inputs to the lake, so that today you can see 15 metres into what, on average, is a depth of 110 metres.
The first carving I spot in tranquil Mine Bay is a lizard, apparently a taniwha, lying along a low rock. Those above it are covered with 22 carvings. It's like peering at a hidden object puzzle. There's the face of the south wind, and the sister of Tia — an ancient ancestor, flames etched from her hand. She apparently sent warmth from Hawaiki in the form of a volcano to counteract that southerly. Another taniwha lies above, representing those that dwell in the lake. Fourteen metres high, to the right, the carving of a face looks ancient.
Chris' voice echoes off the cliff face. "This is Ngātoroirangi, who navigated a waka from Hawaiki 800 years ago, carved by his descendant, Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell." It was created in the 1970s. He swings the yacht around for another look; I stare in awe.
On our return to Taupō, the sun emerges. Cloud lifts above Mt Tauhara, its outline like that of a pregnant woman reclining; a parasailer hangs across the view.
A highly recommended caramel freakshake at The Waterside, opposite the lakefront, leaves me feeling the need to walk. We share the wide, flat Great Lake Walkway with bikers, walkers and scooters, and wander the lakeside for around 3km. Taupo Lakefront Reserve is busy with swimmers and at Hot Water Beach others are enjoying the warm water seeping in from the sandy bottom. Ōnekeneke Stream trickles below a footbridge, just before The Millennium, into the lake. I pull off shoes and socks and immerse my feet in the tepid bath-warmness. I could sit in the afternoon sun for the rest of the day…
The following day we visit Lava Glass on State Highway 5, a 10km drive from town. A circular walk takes us through its serene, immaculate garden where glass-blown flowers decorate foliage; a dinghy holds giant glass balls; water tinkles down a waterfall of bowls, reminding me of a wind chime; glass toadstools perch in a small lake; colourful glass lancewoods spike among real ones. It's delightful. The gallery blazes, jewel-like with colour; reddish-orange vases and bowls inspired by lake sunsets, green and brown by the estuaries, turquoise and white by the churning waters of the Huka Falls. I'd love to take many home. We watch the last stages of a bowl being created. Colours twist and twirl, the glass changes shape heated in a glowing orange glory hole. It's cooled and reheated, cooled and reheated… Finally, it's perfect.
I'm reminded of those twisting, twirling colours when the Waikato River is released from the Aratiatia Dam, white water spectacularly swirling through blue, thundering down into a riverbed, the Aratiatia Rapids, to continue its path north.
The colours are even more astonishing at the base of the Huka Falls which we reach on a cruise along the still river above the dam. Spray mists above, as the roaring river expels through a narrow gorge churning the water below into white foam spreading out to striking turquoise. We bob on its edges. Stunning.
Cruising back, passing farmland, Wairākei Power Station where a sulphur smell lingers, and the Huka Prawn Farm, the tranquility is disturbed by a jetboat blasting past. It turns pirouettes. Canada geese and ducks; black scaup, paradise and mallard, paddle at the river edges. The sun casts a silvery shimmer across motionless waters and I'm feeling as lazy as the trout look in the warm shallows. It's a perfect way to end a leisurely stay in Taupō.