Inspiring Lake Taupo Best Seen From The Surface

13 March 2015

"Oh, those storm clouds will likely hold," says Rob, my effervescent kayaking guide.

For the past two days my husband, two kids and I have been tootling around New Zealand's North Island town of Taupo in a tiny hire car.

I've come to see why people rave about the town's namesake lake, a bracing body of freshwater, covering an area the size of Singapore.

 Aerial view of Lake Taupo and the town of the same name

But as yet I haven't really experienced this silvery-blue lake, famous for its trout that swim so obviously in its crystalline water.

As it's been too nippy to jump in, I've just strolled amid its lush greenery, stopping to poke sticks in its surface and photograph the vast swathes of water, set against the charcoal and white backdrop of snow topped Mount Ruapehu.

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No Need To Fling Yourself Out Of A Plane

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I want to go home with more than pictures of one of the world's most beautiful lakes; I need to somehow feel this place.

Last night after dinner at the pub a local suggested I abandon my plan to drive around the lake and take a plane instead.

"Sky diving will give you a birds eye view," he said.

 Sunset over Lake Taupo

Taupo lures thrill-seekers with its sky diving, bungee jumping, white-water rafting and jet boating.

But I don't want to fling myself out of a perfectly good plane.

"Then get a kayak, it'll put you on the lake, not just beside it," he said.

Great suggestion.

So here I am, possibly Australia's worst kayaker, about to paddle across this wind-ruffled lake to the Maori rock carvings, which are only accessible by water.

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Don't Let A Little Storm Discourage You

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After two days of glorious sun, the weather has swiftly turned, reminding me of my homeland Tasmania.

Taupo's climate is similar to that of the Apple Isle, with an average summer temperature of 23 degrees and winter 12 degrees cooler.

"We can't let a little storm put us off," says the relentlessly upbeat Rob.

Nervousness sits in my throat like a tablet too big to swallow.

I can count on my thumb how many times I've paddled.

Surely, I'll capsize.

 Kayaking along Waikato River in Lake Taupo

Armed with a laminated map, a lifejacket and raincoat I bundle into my kayak.

"Ready?" asks Rob. I nod.

Soon I'm floating on the largest lake in the southern hemisphere, the only thing between me and the water that plunges to 184 metres is the thin hull of my fibreglass canoe.

"We'll head over here, have a look at the rock carvings, drink some tea and then do a bit more paddling," he shouts.

Rob deftly manoeuvres his kayak in a straight line, while I bob about, bullied by the strong southwesterly wind that is folding the cloak of Tia, the great explorer and chief who discovered the lake, according to Maori beliefs.


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Tea Under A Two-Storey Rock Carving

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I'm surprised by a plopping sound made by a fish breaking the surface. I watch the ripples quickly mesh into the white peaks, the feathers of Tia's cloak.

I eventually paddle into Mine Bay and there it is: a face with piercing eyes as high as a two-storey building etched into the cliff.

 Kayaking under a two-storey rock carving

This likeness of Ngatoroirangi, credited with bringing the Maori to New Zealand, features a moko (tattoo) with fern fronds curling upwards from the eyes and downwards from the nose.

The lips are split in two, symbolising a person of great skill or ability.

On the rocks are carved two lizards, the size of crocodiles. One of the reptiles protects the carvings and the other the lake.

"Time for some morning tea," beams Rob, as we paddle towards the shore.

The Taupo district, home to a resident population of some 34,000 people, hosts over a million visitors each year, Rob says, but I find that hard to believe, as the only other person I've seen on this lake so far is my kayaking buddy.

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So This Is Why People Wax Lyrical

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Rob pours a Milo, the perfect body-warming tipple that soon stops me from shivering, and offers me some ANZACs, the sugar hit I need to get back on the water.

The wind has now died down and it's magnificent to glide along with the sun on my back, watching the white-faced herons stalk among the rocks.

"It's beautiful when the sun is shining," says Rob.

 Peaceful Lake Taupo

Indeed it is. Now I know why people wax lyrical about this lake.

A rainbow trout hovers below the surface and for a second it's like I'm looking into a fish tank.

I could go on like this forever, exploring hidden bays and snacking on biscuits.

But my husband and kids are waiting back at Taupo for a lunch date.

We paddle on, towards our starting point, and in those last few minutes I look out across the water to the mountain in the distance, savouring these last few moments of tranquility - just me, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and Rob, far off in the distance.

Leah Van Der Mark

Leah Van Der Mark is a travel writer specialising in adventurous family travel. She's written for Flight Centre, Luxury Travel magazine, Irish Independent and Ireland's Outsider.