A family getaway in Great Lake Taupō is upsized from a simple break to an
Our primary purpose while on holiday, whether it’s for two days or two weeks, is to get a much-needed dose of rest and recreation. But there’s only so much “resting” two young children will tolerate, and besides, we also want to take home some enduring memories. The inclusion of a few special activities – and they needn’t be expensive – can turn an ordinary break into an amazing escape.
So on a recent stroll around Taupo’s town centre, we looked beyond its boutique retail stores and award-winning cafes and found intriguing layers of art. Alleyways and once plain block walls have, in recent years, become canvases for large-scale artworks. The alfresco masterpieces are created by a collection of New Zealand’s best street artists as part of the town’s annual Graffiato Festival which draws crowds who watch the work unfold.
Wandering towards the lake, we find a growing collection of sculptures dotted throughout the CBD, nearby parks and on the lakefront – there are at least half a dozen within a kilometre. Many of these intriguing works are inspired by the region and tell stories that reflect the landscape and spiritual background of the lake, the central plateau and mountains. The dynamic shapes make for some great photo opportunities too – particularly the structures which the kids can climb on, in or over.
Following the sculpture trail to the Tongariro South Domain, we aim for the Taupo- Museum and its local historical collection. Even more to my liking, is the museum’s art gallery which regularly features exhibitions of emerging and established New Zealand artists. The museum is also home to ‘100% Pure New Zealand Ora – Garden of Wellbeing’ – the only living exhibit I can recall seeing at any museum. This impressive garden was designed to showcase the essence of the central North Island for the 2004 Chelsea Flower Show in London where it won gold. It was then offered to the museum in 2007 so it could be enjoyed in its place of origin and has since received classification as a five-star Garden of National Significance.
Across a tree-lined car park from the museum is Taupo- Library, which cleverly combines art with infrastructure. As the kids race each other up and down the ramp at the entranceway (and I pray their shrieks can’t be heard inside), I admire the stainless steel handrail, which features a proverb in English, Maori and Braille: “Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain.”
I’ve since learnt that Turangi Library at the southern end of the lake boasts etched glass windows depicting the Battle of the Mountains – a Maori legend translated into glass artwork by Ngati Tuwharetoa artist Te Maari Gardiner. Public buildings are so much more meaningful with these kinds of unique elements incorporated into the build.
Following our cultural exploration, we were ready for something more physically invigorating. The region is well known for its tracks which extend almost from town to mountain. Do we choose a lake or river trail, or one with geothermal or historic significance? Mountain views or a bush adventure? On previous occasions, we’ve enjoyed the short walk through Craters of the Moon’s lunar-like landscape, with steam vents and boiling mud pools. It’s always as enjoyable for us as it is for the kids. This time we’ve had a recommendation to explore the Opepe Southern Track alongside the Napier-Taupo- Road. It’s a trip through history which includes relics of an old township from the 1800s.
We also check out Whakaipo
Bay which, aside from a mammoth stretch of peaceful lakefront to explore, has a flat, family-friendly track at the eastern end. We have fun dodging tree roots, ducking under the odd fallen tree and we marvel at the mountain-view we’re rewarded with at the end. In a few years, we’ll attempt the nationally renowned W2K at the western end of the bay – it’s a 13km native bush track over the headland between Whakaipo Bay and Kinloch with supreme scenery. We’ve also had word that the Mapara Walkway through native plantings in Acacia Bay includes a glow-worm cave and have made a note to check that out in the future.
Perhaps the region’s best-known track, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes walkers through the rugged landscape and distinctive scenery of the internationally recognised Tongariro National Park. The Crossing is considered one of the best day walks in the world and is rife with Maori cultural and outstanding volcanic features. With the right knowledge, equipment and perhaps a qualified guide, the Crossing can be completed by almost all ages with a reasonable level of fitness. For now, we’ll leave any alpine expeditions until the littlies are slightly older, though I do know of a seven-year-old who completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with energy to spare!
We’re also looking forward to the day we can take the kids rafting down the Tongariro River – a prime location for spotting Whio (endangered Blue Ducks) and other native birds in their natural surroundings. The Department of Conservation and Genesis Energy’s Whio Forever Project aims to double the number of Whio breeding sites and boost pest control, making this river habitat even more special. For now, we’ll get our river wilderness experience from the convenience of the nearby Tongariro National Trout Centre. I snap some hilarious photos of our eldest child coming eye to eye with massive trout in the underwater viewing chamber. School-age children also have the opportunity to catch a rainbow trout in the fishing pond before having it filleted and smoked using manuka bark ready for a one-of-a-kind picnic lunch.
Let’s not forget though, that we’re here predominantly for R&R, so we finish the weekend with a soak in a geothermal hot spot on the lake edge. There is also a very popular natural hot pool at Spa Thermal Park. Just look for the steam or ask a local if they can point you in the right direction. Great Lake Taupo is a region where the water and welcome are both so warm!