Standing on the Huka Falls bridge, the roar of the Waikato River below is deafening, as it thunders through a narrow rock chasm.
The rush of white water is mesmerising. It is impossible to discern a pattern in the heaving, roaring maelstrom, but the sheer power of 400 tonnes of water per second cannot be ordered or contained. The fleeting thought of falling into the cataract makes one cringe. Nothing would survive the ten metre plunge into the seething, foam-flecked whirlpools below the falls.
A few kilometres downstream the Waikato River is again subjected to a diabolical surge through the Aratiatia Rapids. Water is spilled over the dam at two-hour intervals, producing the bizarre spectacle of a dry watercourse being suddenly transformed into a cascading cataract and then drying back to a trickle.
Lake Taupo, in central North Island, is the country’s largest lake, and a mecca for visitors travelling between Auckland and Wellington. The heart-shaped lake is the crater of an ancient volcano that last erupted in 186AD, blocking out the sun with a red dust cloud recorded in both Rome and China. Today the lake and township occupy a magnificent setting with a backdrop of towering active volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park.
A number of Taupo’s scenic attractions are concentrated along the Waikato River at Wairakei Park. In addition to the Huka Falls and Aratiatia Rapids you can see a free-to-view geothermal area called Craters of the Moon and a low-cost thermal area known as Wairakei Terraces. Further north, Orakei Korako thermal park has kaleidoscopic sulphur pools and boiling cauldrons to delight the eye and sensitise the nostrils.
Scenic walks abound around Taupo, beginning with the Great Lake Walk alongside the lakeshore. From Spa Thermal Park near Taupo Bungy, a pleasant riverside walk leads to Huka Falls past a public hot spring on the riverbank. On Mountain Rd behind the township a track climbs to the summit of Mt Tauhara. From here the whole region is laid out before you and Tongariro’s volcanos stand out as monarchs of the central plateau.
Taupo is a vibrant town with a classy restaurant and cafe scene. It is often referred to as the ‘trout fishing capital of the world’ because of the renowned fisheries in the Tongariro River and other notable streams that yield huge rainbow and brown trout. Above all the region is fascinating for its scenic variety; geothermal, hydro and alpine – a paradise for the senses.