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Getting To Know The North Island
Of New Zealand - Part One

Auckland To Lake Taupo
Kate Methven - 28/1/00

The road to Wellington by car...

Stage One - Auckland to Lake Taupo
- distance 280 km (175 miles)

Arrival Auckland
Most overseas visitors fly into Auckland International Airport and spend a few days viewing the local sights - walking around historic Auckland, visiting Waiheke Island, Waitakere City, North Shore, and West Auckland or going on a wine trail. Then they are ready to take off to explore the other interesting places this country has to offer.

The main State Highway One can take you the most direct route to Wellington but I plan to show you alternative routes as well as interesting places to visit en route - so instead of taking around ten hours this trip can take up to a week or more if you choose to be diverted!!

Stage One Heading for Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo is a perfect base from which to explore all the Central North Island's amazing experiences.. The drive is a comfortable three and a half hours from Auckland non-stop but why not make a day of it and call at a few places en route?

South of the Bombay Hills to Hamilton
Take State Highway one out of Auckland heading South and after about thirty minutes drive you will reach the Bombay Hills, an area renowned for market gardens which supply much of Auckland's needs. Now we are heading for Hamilton City, situated on the banks of the Waikato River which we have followed since leaving the garden area.

Things to do in Hamilton
The Waikato Museum of Art and History

This museum features some of the best exhibits of Waikato heritage, contemporary art and New Zealand culture, and is well worth a visit. Later you can indulge yourself with morning/afternoon tea or lunch overlooking the river from their well situated cafe.

Boat trips
There are also boat trips down the river. If you prefer to be really leisurely why not take a cruise on the Waipa Delta paddle steamer? For those wanting to enjoy the river to its maximum the luncheon and afternoon tea cruises offer a relaxing interlude.

Picnicking in the Hamilton Gardens

Enjoying the miniature Chinese garden at the Hamilton Gardens
Enjoying the miniature Chinese garden at the Hamilton Gardens
Photo source Kate Methven
If a picnic lunch is more your style, head for the Hamilton Gardens at the southern end of Hamilton city alongside State Highway 1. Over the past decade this magnificent site alongside a scenic stretch of the Waikato River has been developed into a world-class garden attraction. The concept of the new gardens is based on the story of gardening, and you will find Japanese, Chinese, Italian, English and Italian style gardens, to name a few.

Waikato Region
Horse breeding

This area is well known for quality farming land and horse breeding. Famous horses bred here include the super sire Zabeel, Holy Grail and Shizu. Breeders come from all over the world to visit the local experts and talk horse talk.

Cambridge for craft shopping and a tea break
Cambridge with its English pubs and village green is just a few miles south from Hamilton. It has many stud farms as well as interesting craft, art and antique shops. One situated in a converted old church has a cafe upstairs with beautiful home-cooked muffins and cakes.

Tirau for crafts, knitwear, antiques.....
Further south Tirau also offers an amazing number of antique shops and local craft wares for those looking for something different to take home. Look for The Old Shed overflowing with knitwear, country-style furniture and collectibles.

At Tirau the road branches with Highway 5 going to Rotorua - well worth a visit, but covered in a recent article of mine so I will not sidetrack here (click here to read the article).

Wairakei Tourist Park Thermal Area
Our drive south to Taupo on State Highway One now takes us through the Tokoroa forest area and then the Wairakei Tourist Park. Here you will see the how the awesome geothermal power comes roaring to the surface in huge steam gushes and alongside boiling mud pools at the aptly named 'Craters of the Moon'.

Thermal activity in Wairakei Tourist Park
Thermal activity in Wairakei Tourist Park
Click here for a larger version
Photo source Kate Methven

Huka Falls
This is also where the Waikato River, Lake Taupo's only outlet, thunders over the wonderful Huka Falls. They say the best way to experience the falls is by taking an exhilarating jet boat ride. Life jackets and wet gear are supplied, so why not give it a go?

Speeding down the Waikato River to view the Huka Falls
Speeding down the Waikato River to view the Huka Falls
Click here for a larger version
Photo source Kate Methven

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand. It is 40 km long and 30 km wide - altogether 165 km around by road.

The region's two main towns are Taupo at the northern end of the Lake and Turangi at the southern end with a forty-five minute drive separating them.. Taupo situated on the lake edge is the larger of the two and water sports are very big here, especially fishing, water-skiing, kayaking, canoeing, parasailing and swimming.

A Fisherman's Dream
It is now over 100 years since the first trout were released into the Lake Taupo region. Today it is one of the last true wild trout fisheries in the world. The trout here are well-known for their condition and size as they say Rainbows and Browns are so big that when you catch one the lake level drops!! You can also fly fish the world famous Tongariro River where an estimated 750,000 trout swim up it every winter to spawn.

You need a special licence to fish in the Lake Taupo district but these are easily available. The daily limit is three and I recommend cooking them on a BBQ which can be found at the many picnic areas signposted around the area.

Volcanic Lake Taupo
Just about everywhere you look you'll see a volcano. The most peaceful is Lake Taupo itself which was created by an eruption so big that they say the sun went hazy in China when it happened...........fortunately this was a few thousand years ago!!

The three snow-capped volcanoes
Just south of Turangi in the Tongariro National Park are three magnificent snowcapped volcanoes - Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. For a truly spectacular view of these I recommend taking a scenic flight, or if you are really energetic you could walk the Tongariro Crossing - the best one day hike in the country (but you have to be fit!!)

ECO Boat Tours
There are many boat trips operating on Lake Taupo, but my favourite one has to be the Eco Tour on the Delta Queen. This trip leaves from Turangi at either 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. and takes you on a two hour trip exploring the south Taupo wetlands. You travel through a maze of secret waterways, accessible only by boat, to search for more than forty bird species that make this marshland home.

Binoculars are supplied so you can view the black teal, swans, dabchicks, ducks and even the spotless crake or elusive bittern. The experienced guide will help you to identify the species and to gain an understanding of the inhabitants in the area. They also provide hot coffee and cookies which are very welcome, especially if you missed breakfast!! Don't forget to take your camera and a warm jacket as it can be quite chilly out on the water even in summer.

Accommodation
Taupo has many motels situated all around the lake and if you call into the Visitor Centre on the main street through the town they will soon fix you up with a place to suit your budget. There are also a number of bed/breakfast places where you can relax in a friendly atmosphere with the locals who love to share their experiences with you.

If you wish to contact the centre beforehand
phone: 64-7-378 9000
fax: 64-7-378 9003
or e-mail: taupo@thinkfresh.co.nz

You may wish to read Part Two of this series.




 
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