I’ve been holidaying at Lake Taupo for as long as I can remember and I have some fantastic memories of being out on the lake waterskiing, wakeboarding, fishing and just generally exploring and enjoying its beauty.
Lake Taupo is situated almost smack in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, and is one of the country’s most popular tourist spots. It has been a popular holiday destination for decades, with a number of generations (including my family) enjoying all that the lake and region has to offer. With a surface area of 616sqkm, it is the largest lake in NZ. It draws visitors from all over the country and abroad, with surrounding areas also rich in scenic beauty and attractions.
The lake has a perimeter of approximately 193km and a deepest point of 186m. It is drained by the Waikato River, which is NZ’s longest river. The lake’s main tributaries are the Waitahanui River, the Tongariro River and the Tauranga Taupo River – all excellent and world-renowned fly-fishing spots.
Much of the Taupo area owes its spectacular scenery to its location in an active volcanic zone. Lake Taupo itself is a ‘caldera’, which is the remnant of a collapsed volcano. Around 26,500 years ago, there was a ‘super eruption’ in which an estimated 1170 cubic kilometres of material was expelled, causing several hundred square kilometres of the surrounding land to collapse and form the caldera – which we now know as the lake itself.
Attracted by the lake and thermal resources, the area was settled by Maori in the late 14th century, becoming a stronghold for the Ngati Tuwharetoa people. European visitors came to the scenic heart of the North Island in the middle of the 19th century and settled here from about 1860.
The area’s volcanic origins remain evident, with the occasional small earthquake and thermal activity in the form of hots springs in the surrounding countryside to remind visitors of its fiery origins.
My family and I have experienced other reminders that the area remains active, including waves that seemingly come out of nowhere on an otherwise mirror-calm day on the lake. And streams of bubbles rumbling up from the depths give a clue that the volcanic fires remain lit, in some parts of the lake at least.
There is just one island on Lake Taupo, Motutaiko Island, which lies 3.4km off the southeastern shore. I do most of my boating out from the boat ramp at Waitetoko, which is the closest point of land to the island.
Aside from being an extraordinary ecological treasure, the island is steeped in spiritual and cultural significance for the Ngati Tuwharetoa people. On a calm day it’s nice to venture out to the island and slowly motor around its shoreline, though going ashore is strictly prohibited as it is considered a sacred Maori site. Two major chiefs, Tamamutu (17th century) and his great-grandson Rangituamatotoru (18th century) established and maintained a stronghold here. Rangituamatotoru was also buried on the island.
The island attracts plenty of bird life and trout can often be seen feeding on the surface picking off insects that fall from overhanging trees.
Taupo township has a population of around 20,000. It is a popular tourist and boating destination during the warmer months and is almost as busy through the winter months due to its proximity to major ski fields.
The world-famous Huka Falls, located in Wairakei Park, a short five-minute drive north of Lake Taupo, never ceases to awe and inspire. It is the largest on the Waikato River and is the result of the 100m-wide river squeezing through a rocky 20m gorge, ultimately spilling over an 11m drop. Up to 220,000lt of water each second gushes through the gorge and shoots out over 8m at its drop to create a beautiful aqua-coloured pool.
For those with a taste for adventure, you can approach the falls from downstream on a Hukafalls Jet jet boat to experience the roar and white-water spray up close and personal.
Maori rock carvings are another unique local attraction. The ones at Mine Bay are over 10m high and are only accessible by boat. They are the work of master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, who came to Taupo in the late ’70s. On a boat trip around the western bays he saw the cliffs at Mine Bay and decided to use them as a canvas for his work. He carved a likeness of Ngatoroirangi, a visionary Maori navigator, who guided the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to the Taupo area over a thousand years ago. In recognition of the multi-cultural make-up of New Zealand, Matahi also carved two smaller figures of Celtic design, which depict the south wind and a mermaid.
Of course, fishing is a major drawcard for Taupo and no visit is complete without trying your hand at landing one of its world-famous rainbow trout. Lake Taupo provides some of the greatest trout fishing in the world, and I have fished the lake – both successfully and unsuccessfully – for many years. Known as the ‘Trout Fishing Capital of New Zealand’, the town of Turangi is about 30 minutes south of Taupo township. If you want to try your hand at fly-fishing in the local streams and rivers, Turangi is also a must for visitors.
Local trout and fly-fishing guides provide anglers with fabulous wilderness fishing in the surrounding rivers and streams, which are amongst some of the most scenic areas in New Zealand. There is a selection of internationally recognised fishing lodges around the area that have both resident trout and fly-fishing guides and specialise in catering for the overseas angler.
Visiting anglers will need to buy a Taupo fishing licence. These can be purchased from Visitor Information Centres, tackle shops, convenience stores and fuel stations near the lakeshore. An adult day licence is $17, a one-week licence is $38 and a season licence is $90. Children’s licences start from $4.50 for a day to $12.50 for the season. A good tackle shop will also be able to provide the latest information about what the fishing is like and what methods and tackle to use.
I’d also encourage visitors to contact one of the many guides in the area to learn the best way to target Taupo trout. When I first started fishing on the lake, I spent some time with a guide and it was definitely money well spent – there’s nothing like learning from someone who has been doing it all their life, and guides are generally very patient people.
Trout cannot be bought or sold commercially within New Zealand, but local restaurants will happily prepare and serve privately caught fish. There is a three fish limit per person per day, with a minimum size of 40cm.
For a full list of rules and regulations for various streams and rivers around Lake Taupo, check out: NZfishing.com.
Accommodation options around Taupo are many and varied, from world-class hotels and resorts, to fishing lodges, self-contained motels, B&Bs, holiday parks, rental homes, apartments and timeshares.
And if you want the option of going out onto the lake yourself, hire boats are available. They can be hired by the hour or day. Details are available from Boating Lake Taupo at BoatingLakeTaupo.co.nz; or Boat Hire Taupo at BoatHireTaupo.co.nz.
Taupo really is a boating and fishing freshwater destination with the lot. It offers families plenty of options for fun and quality time year-round. Regardless of which side of the Tasman you’re on, it’s a must-see for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors and our wonderful Australasian marine lifestyle.