Travel writer Belinda Luksic explores Greater Lake Taupo with kids and discovers just how family-friendly it really is.
Our bright yellow raft floats down Turangi’s Tongariro River, gaining momentum as we approach the ‘cheese grater’, a frothy swirl of rapids punctuated by small boulders.
“Forward,” shouts Ben, our instructor. In unison, we lean out and paddle hard and fast through the whitewash to the other side. Back in calm waters, oars up, our team of eight kids and adults bangs paddles and whoops excitedly.
Soon enough we’re at the next rapids. This time we hold tight, our paddles flush with the raft, as Ben expertly steers us through the rocks, the current bouncing us along.
We’re on holiday in Taupo (pronounced toe-paw), a family-friendly region in New Zealand’s North Island, created when a major volcano erupted some 27,000 years ago. It’s also home to Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.
Our two-hour adventure with Tongariro River Rafting is one of New Zealand’s best Stage 3 white water rafting outings – and a thrilling ride for teens. (There’s also a one-hour grade-two run for children as young as three).
The journey takes us through wild rapids and spectacular forested gorges, past fallen down trees and huge volcanic rocks. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the bottom, where wild trout mill abound.
We also cycle the Tongariro River Track, a stunning 10km path that takes us across swing bridges, and through cathedrals of trees dripping with milky-green lichen. The track follows the riverbank, passing paddocks of cows, and rises steeply to a lookout, before descending into lush forest carpeted with orange pine needles.
Huka Falls, New Zealand’s most visited attraction, is a few minutes drive from Taupo and is one of the world’s most incredible displays of raw hydroelectric power. Every second more than 220,000 litres of water blasts through a narrow gorge of the Waikato River. From the bridge that spans the falls, the thunderous water rush is a breathtaking sight to behold.
We’re treated to another thrill-a-minute spectacle at Rapid Jets. The exhilarating high-powered jet boat ride, for kids five years and over, shoots us across the river and sends us spinning and bouncing across the rapids. We also get to see the deluge of ice-blue water released every few hours by the nearby dam, as it storms down a narrow gorge and into the river.
Taupo is an exciting playground for children. At Huka Prawn Park, they can learn how to hatch (and catch) prawns before heading out with a fishing line and bait to try their luck. There are paddleboats too, and an interactive walkway with plenty of fun activities.
Next door at Huka Honey Hive, kids can have their photo taken in a beekeeper outfit, watch the bees in their hive, and learn lots of fun facts about how bees make honey. There’s an ice-cream store that sells the popular New Zealand flavour, hokey pokey, and more grown-up honey flavours, as well as pure honey and honey products.
Lava Glass, a gallery and café, is worth a visit to see the fascinating art of glass blowing, and to walk the sculpture garden – a pretty spot filled with glass flowers and trees and other interesting glass objects. Orakei Korako Geothermal Park, about thirty minutes by car from town, is a bubbling, hissing wonderland of mud pools, geysers and hot springs.
Sacred Waters. Serviced apartments don’t come more comfortable or stylish than Sacred Waters. Overlooking Lake Taupo, the three-bedroom apartment features a full kitchen with dishwasher, Nespresso machine, washer and dryer and a hot tub on the deck. There is an outdoor swimming pool and gym plus easy access to the lakefront and its many ducks. The Great Lake Walkway, flat and paved, passes along here, and it’s a fun bike ride for little ones.
Creel Tackle House & Cafe in Turangi is a quaint spot for lunch. This historic tackle house has chic homewares for sale and a rustic café serving pies, burgers, sandwiches and cakes. 189 Taupahi Rd, Turangi
The Storehouse Taupo is a cool café and clothing store with a kids indoor play area. 14 Runanga St, Taupo
Huka Prawn Park is the place to go for fresh prawns cooked to order. There’s outdoor seating overlooking the Wairakei River, activity sheets and crayons, and a playground for kids. Huka Falls Rd, Wairakei Park
Lava Glass & Café has a modern Australian menu as well as smoothies, milkshakes and even turmeric lattes. 165 SH 5, Wairakei
Belinda Luksic travelled courtesy of Destination Great Lake Taupo and Tourism New Zealand.