Lake Taupo in winter is a different world—no crowds, more serene. The season can produce the most magnificent still days of sunshine and calm waters.
There are many secret corners to explore, so whether you’re keen enough to don a wetsuit and jump in or prefer to stay on dry land, there are a few great spots and activities to keep in mind.
Fishing in Hatepe
If you are a keen fly-fisher, Hatepe is the place for you. A small settlement 20 minutes south of Taupo, located at the mouth of Hinemaiaia River, Hatepe is a popular spot for fishing. It offers river fishing and fishing in ‘the rip’ (where the river meets the lake).
Our younger kids were quick to learn the skills of casting from a wide pebbly beach, while their dad and big brother headed further up the river where it takes a bit more skill not to get snagged.
As an aside, the gravel road up beside the river has several car parks that allow overnight camping for self-contained campers.
Regardless of the season, children seem to love water. So don’t let the change of season hold you back from enjoying water sports. We spent a lot of time at the lake and can attest to the fact that the temperature of Lake Taupo doesn’t change much over the year.
It’s the outside temperature that makes the big difference. So even in winter, it’s great fun to pull on the wetsuits and get out on kayaks or paddle boards. Just so long as Mum doesn’t get tipped in!
However, if you’re looking for an excuse to just sit and ponder, there are several spots to do so further south around the lake. At Motuoapa, the wharf was picturesque and peaceful—a place to sit back and relax or for a bit of sport fishing.
Our kids had many a happy hour putting bread on a hook and fishing for catfish. Catfish are not actually edible and are considered to be a pest in waters, so in a small way, we did our bit for the Lake Taupo environment.
Tongariro River Trail
There are plenty of cycle tracks for all ages in the region. With three kids under 12, we found the Tongariro River Trail to be the perfect fit.
The trail is well maintained and fairly flat with just one grunty climb to contend with. Travelling through native bush along with more open areas, there is a range of scenery.
With lovely rest spots beside the river at Red Hut Bridge (the south end of the track), you can take a break for a much-needed snack before the return journey back to Turangi. The 15km loop is a fair distance for the kids but it’s an excellent ride.
Geothermal hot pools
The geothermal activity of the Central Plateau has drawn in visitors for 150 years. Steam can be seen drifting off hillsides all along the southern shores of the lake and Tokaanu is a well-known natural geothermal area.
The hot pools at Tokaanu are popular, particularly with tired skiers at the end of
a day on the mountain.
However, they are smaller than the thermal baths in Taupo, which means they can be quite crowded at times. For us, the main attraction was the short walk that looped through an area of scraggly bush.
The steaming water-filled vents, deep and crystal clear bubbling ponds, and the odd burping mud pool were fascinating to my young budding geologists.
Explore the history
The historic Tokaanu Wharf is a hidden treasure for history buffs. Located down a rutted, puddle-filled gravel road, the old wharf stretches out into the waters of Lake Taupo.
The original wharf was built in 1870 and was part of the North Island Grand Tour. Tourists would travel by steamer from Taupo and disembark at Tokaanu, continuing their journey across the volcanic plateau.
The wharf has been restored over the years and parts of the original wharf have been recycled where possible. It is nestled in a bay bordered by extensive freshwater wetlands.
The bird life is abundant, particularly waterfowl, so take your binoculars along. It’s a beautiful spot for a stop.
Pukawa Bay and beyond
All along the southern shores, off SH41, there are small holiday settlements: Kuratau, Omori, and Pukawa Bay to name a few.
If the desire for a Sunday drive kicks in, a picnic at Pukawa Bay on a mid-winter’s day is a perfect option. Driving into the bay is beautiful. It is surrounded by native bush. A wildlife restoration project sees cats banned from the area along with intensive trapping for other pests.
The impact of this project was immediately evident with korimako (bellbirds) and tui serenading our picnic lunch and cheeky piwakawaka (fantails) flitting close to our feet.
After lunch is over, children can head for the small stream that flows into the lake. The water is thigh deep and the flow excellent for racing sticks and pumice to the lake edge.
So don’t let winter put you off exploring. Winter brings out a unique charm to many parts of our beautiful country, and at Lake Taupo, it’s the perfect time to avoid the crowds.