Taupo – is situated at the northern end of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand.
Located between Rotorua and Taupo is a special geothermal attraction, Orakei Korako – The Hidden Valley. It is the largest geyser field in New Zealand, even though two thirds of it lye beneath a manmade lake developed for hydro-electricity. Orakei Korako has stunning Silica Terraces believed to be the largest of their kind since the destruction of the Pink and White Terraces.
This site also contains New Zealand’s largest geothermal cave, Ruatapu Cave. The cave extends 36 metres down to a hot pool named Waiwhakaata (Pool of Mirrors). Access to the pool is prohibited, a platform provides a safe location to view the cave. However, many years ago you could walk down to the pool, place your hand in the sacred water and make a wish.
The park contains numerous bubbling mud pools and 23 naturally active geysers – more than any other geothermal site. Unfortunately there was low fog and drizzle on the day we visited. This meant the colours of Orakei Korako were not as vibrant as when the sun is shining. Although, dull conditions did not take away the beauty of this sacred place.
Arriving in Taupo we checked into our luxury studio apartments at Beech Tree Suites. It is one of the newest and stylish motels in Taupo, providing friendly service, comfort and privacy in a superb location near the lakefront. There was no time to enjoy Beech Tree’s luxury comforts just yet, we were off to Taupo Bungy.
This is the most popular place to Bungy Jump in the North Island. The location is scenic, positioned at the top of a cliff overlooking the Waikato River, and they offer you the opportunity to add more thrill to the experience with a water touch. Sam opted for a partial water touch and was first to take the 47 metre plunge, screaming the whole way down. I had a moment of hesitation before I leapt off the platform. Once I felt the bungy cord spring into action I became a lot more vocal. It doesn’t matter how many times I bungy, it never gets any easier!
While we were here it seemed rude not to do the Cliff Hanger Swing. To be honest, both Sam and I were more apprehensive about the swing than the bungy. We chose to do it tandem. I had the honours of pulling the ripcord, which launched us from the 44 metre platform. It definitely felt like we were flying through the sky faster than 70kph. You can check out the video of us at Taupo Bungy by clicking this video.
After these adrenaline fueled activities it was time for something more leisurely. The Huka Prawn Park, established in 1987, is the only prawn park in New Zealand, producing over 30 tonnes of prawns per year. Surprisingly, none of these prawns are sold off site. That’s how popular this place is! Carla, the Sales and Marketing Manager, was our personal tour guide. She explained the features of the park; the heat exchange room, the hatchery, the nursery – where we hand fed prawns – and then gave us a fishing lesson.
To the ponds! We baited our rods (a bamboo stick with a short length of nylon) with small pieces of Ox heart and dropped a line. The prawns, some of which are over 20cm in length, would pick up the bait with their pincers and then take it for a walk, tugging firmly on the line when it became taut. They do this because they’re really private creatures. Apparently you’re supposed to wait a few minutes before pulling up the line to see if they are on the hook. We lacked patience and clearly didn’t have the technique quite right, we failed to catch a single prawn. If you are successful in catching prawns the crew will cook them for you.
There are features around the park to keep everyone entertained. While fishing you can perch on a warm bench seat or dip your feet in a hot foot bath (gotta love geothermal energy). Other activities include; golf, trout feeding, tree climbing, the gauntlet, a treasure hunt, bush walk and water piano. If, like us, your fishing is unsuccessful there is always the restaurant where you can sample their delicious prawns.
The following day we went out on Lake Taupo with Sail Barbary. For 30 years Barbary has sailed on the waters of Lake Taupo, transporting people to the famous Maori Rock Carvings. While the carvings are not ancient, created in 1979, they are a very popular and impressive attraction. We hoisted the sails in sheltered Acacia Bay and sailed towards the choppy waters of Mine Bay.
We were warned that Barbs, as she is affectionately called, would lean over on one side and that people would get wet. As soon as we rounded the point the sou-wester had us on almost a 45 degree angle. Spray was splashing over the front of the boat and people were hiding in their ponchos as a shower of rain passed over us. Due to the rough nature of the lake we were unable to drop anchor at the carvings. After a photo opportunity we headed back around the corner to the calm waters. It was time for a hot drink and traditional ‘kiwi’ snack in the sun as we sailed back towards Taupo.
Sail Barbary is a unique experience. We were fortunate enough to go out on a day where the weather conditions were challenging. On calm days passengers soak up the rays and sunbathe. Another cool thing about Barbary is she has an electric motor. When the motor is required she remains eco-friendly, moving noiselessly through the water producing no pollution. Sail Barbary while you’re in Taupo.
To warm ourselves up we visited the Otumuheke Stream at Spa Park. The stream is hot and as it flows into the Waikato River it creates natural hot pools. The great thing about this place is it’s free to enter! However, this means it attracts a lot of people (the Kiwi Experience Bus was there when we arrived). We went at the end of the day but perhaps visit earlier to avoid the crowds so you can claim the best pools.
Fancy a skydive for breakfast? It was time to pop Sam’s cherry at Taupo Tandem Skydive. He was definitely showing signs of nerves while I was just excited, it was my 5th tandem skydive. Holly, the Sales and Marketing Manager, hooked us up with a 15,000ft jump and freefall cameraman to capture photos and video. As we were standing in the hangar waiting for our load I spotted a mate I studied with many years ago, who I hadn’t seen since. Such a small world! Ryan quickly ran to Manifest and exclaimed, “I’m taking Kyle!”
We had a scenic flight up to altitude, taking in views of the lake, the volcanic mountains, Mount Taranaki and both coastlines. A quick smile to the camera when the door opened and then I backflipped out of the plane. The freefall seemed to last forever, this was the highest skydive I had done and the feeling was so exhilarating. When the parachute opened we began to spiral our way back down to the ground. Ryan even let me take navigate us through some turns. Our feet touched down on the ground and I whooped for joy. I think I’m hooked. I may have to take an Accelerated Freefall Course and learn how to skydive.
The adrenaline began to wear off as we boarded the Chris Jolly Outdoors Cruise Cat for a scenic trip to the Maori Rock Carvings. This boat trip is very different to Sail Barbary. The boat is much larger and the two decks are enclosed, providing shelter from the elements. A full commentary is given on the volcanic history and Maori mythology surrounding Lake Taupo and complimentary hot drinks are available throughout the whole duration. There is also a fishing demonstration. I reeled in the line to discover we had caught a Rainbow Trout, which was filleted so everyone could sample fresh Sashimi with Soy Sauce and Wasabi – delicious! The boat also has a licensed bar, if you prefer something a little stronger. I found this experience to be relaxing and well suited to people who enjoy a cruise.
Of course you can’t go to Taupo and not attempt the Hole In One Challenge. Sam had several attempts and while many of the balls did hit the pontoon, he was unsuccessful in landing a hole in one. We only had three days in Taupo, which clearly was never going to be enough time, but the #greatkiwiroadie must continue!