We arrived at dusk. Already the moon had filled the lake with pallid emptiness. The pine trees in the NZMCA Park adjacent to Taupo Airport gave shelter from a bone-freezing westerly.
Surprisingly, the camp wasn’t empty. Apparently a few hardy RVers were still on the move. But no one emerged from their vans for happy hour. Like our fellow campers, we turned on the heater and the TV and cosied in for the night.
It was fine and cold, the sky a pearly white. Bill was hell-bent on a round of golf at the swanky Wairakei International Golf Course. I delivered him and his clubs and admired the carved totem pole outside the 19th, which is topped by a large eagle in flight.
I warmed up a bit in the steam of the adjacent Wairakei Terraces. On these man-made terraces silica has built up a pink-hued coating that looks like dripping icing and is reminiscent of the Bay of Plenty Pink and White Terraces once considered one of the wonders of the world.
The 40-minute walk passed bright blue thermal swimming pools and an impressive man-made geyser, and cost $15.
At the Prawn Park on the way back to town, there’s a short walking tour that follows the little critters’ growth from birth to edible. There are six hectares of prawn ‘paddocks’ and I could’ve hooked my own quota, if I’d had the patience. I took the lazy way out: I bought someone else’s catch and packed it in the chilli bin.
Fortified by a bracing coffee and a muffin at the recently opened Double Shot Cafe on Horomatangi Street (now my go-to place for a caffeine-fix), I sleuthed around the town centre. It’s jam-packed with sports gear outlets and interesting boutiques.
Hard to resist in the current climes were the merino and possum fur fashions in Jumpers and Merino Down Under, and there was an extraordinary number of shoe shops. I was warm and well shod so I left empty-handed.
The golfing over (one birdie but no eagle), Bill and I were more than ready for lunch at L’Arté Café, Gallery and Garden at Acacia Bay. With good reason, this was Lonely Planet’s number one pick of places to eat in the Central North Island. It’s also a good spot to linger, as even in winter the garden is crammed with blooms.
Flowers, sculptures and artworks adorn the winding pathways, and in a small outdoor lounge every feature is covered in brightly coloured ceramic tiling. The artist and creator of this concept, Judi Brennan, has her studio and gallery in the grounds.
It was too cold to stay for long but there are some lovely walks in the little-known Waipahihi Botanical Gardens, a 35-hectare park where themed walkways wind past the 2000 azaleas, camellias and lemonwoods that mingle with forest trees and other plantings.
Unlike the garden at L’Arté, no flowers coloured the gardens at this time of year, but there was texture and variety in the forest’s winter mantle.
Back in the warm embrace of the caravan, we opened a bottle of pinot gris and I sautéed the prawns in oil and garlic, and prepared some pasta.
A popular part of the Great Lake Walk is the paved track that skirts the shore from the yacht club in town to Two Mile Bay. We could have peeled off at almost any point without having to go the whole ‘nine yards’, but we didn’t because although the air was clear and crisp, I knew it couldn’t last. By the time we got back to the car I could taste the rain in the wind.
A garden made of glass sounded fanciful, but this astonishing spectacle at Lava Glass outside the town is real and amazing. The man-made fantasy has been created in a natural amphitheatre as an extension of a complex of studio, showroom and cafe that was first set up in 2002 by Lynden Over, one of New Zealand’s notable glass artists.
It’s fascinating to watch the craftsman at work in his studio thrusting molten glass in and out of scary-looking furnaces and slowly blowing and forging it into shape. The glass works on sale are brilliant pieces of art.
Indoors and into the past. Taupo has a great little museum situated behind the Superloo. Centre stage is an old Anglo caravan (circa 1950), which is full of items that anyone over 50 will find endearingly familiar.
Among the artefacts of Maori history is the remarkable hull of an old waka. I lingered over a diorama of the early milling industry and the frame by frame virtual walk of the Tongaririo Crossing, which was much less tiring that the real thing.
The rain was steady and coming straight down. Any al fresco activity was out of the question and the time was right to suss out the Crafty Trout Brewery in the middle of town. It wasn’t the beer that made me curious but the name.
The tiny brewery fronted by a trout-themed giftware shop is owned by brew master Anton Romirer, who carries on his Austrian family’s long brewing tradition, producing popular ciders and beer styles with names like Hook, Line and Sinker in keeping with Taupo’s defining sport.
Up an adjacent staircase we found the Trout Brewery Bier Kafé, also run by Anton with his wife Rebecca. The interior hints at Austria’s alpine cafes with its dark wood, leathery sofas clustered around a huge fireplace, and cuckoo clocks on the walls.
We were encouraged to linger in this homey, sociable place and we idled away the afternoon reading, watching fascinating old-Taupo images on a large TV screen and playing the provided games.
Double contentment came later with the beer-matched menu. Everything on it was made in the cafe’s kitchen – freshly baked pretzels, gourmet wood-fired pizzas, locally roasted coffee and homemade chocolates.
At four o’clock we could last no longer. We ordered Lure beers and I chose a ‘not trout’ pizza with salmon prawns and cream cheese. Bill tackled the pork spare ribs. Delicious.
Under a darkened sky we drove back to camp accompanied by claps of thunder and the occasional flash of lightning. Our neighbours, Faith and Vaughn, invited us into their swanky Cougar fifth-wheel for coffee before we hunkered down in the stormy night. Rain beat down on the roof and we felt cocooned by a sense of wellbeing.