Lake Taupo…. nothing’s by accident

26 Nov



So, on the bus and into Taupo.  Lake Taupo is a huge volcanic lake formed 26,000 years ago.. It’s the largest lake in New Zealand.  I’m actually here by accident – I booked Taupo so I could tramp the Alpine trail – turns out it’s easier to go from Turangi at the other end of the lake.  But there’s a nice walk up the river.. The Waikito river is New Zealand’s longest (it’s a day of superlatives) and its crystal clear green water makes its leisurely way down towards Auckland.

Well, mostly leisurely.  I walk down to Huka falls, around 90 minutes walk, where the river is squeezed into a 15m canyon.  Through here pours 220,000 litres of water each second – which is enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in 10 seconds. Huka means ‘foam’ and it’s a truly beautiful sight as the foam cascades out of the end of the canyon.

A Maori chieftain attempted the falls once and only just escaped with his life…


Rambling is called ‘tramping’ out here (probably because everywhere is so huge, the meandering of ‘rambling’ has to be replaced with the enforced purposefulness of ‘tramping’) and I decide to walk further downstream through some beautiful countryside – past the geothermal power station, and up to Aratiatia Rapids.  This used to be the biggest rapids in Australasia – Aratiatia means ‘Pathway of Stakes’ referring to the stakes put in the ground to help people climb the rapids.  But after the river was dammed for power, the rapids have shrunk to a trickle of their former glory.

Careful observation reveals that something is not quite right though – there is something slightly ‘wrong’ with the river – exactly why there is a damp watermark two metres up the wall of the lake below the rapids (which fall 28m in 1km).  Why is there so much damp and moss around?  And why does the alarm sound at 3:50?  Turns out that 3 or 4 times a day, the dam is opened, turning the rapids back into the incredible spectacle they once were – it’s a thrilling sight to watch the water cascade down the rocks, turning the very pretty waterfall into a raging torrent.

Our Maori chief would have stood little chance – and I am glad that the teenagers bathing in the pool at the bottom have had the good sense to get out early.  After half an hour, the dam gates fall again, and the river slowly returns to the peaceful flow from before.


It’s been around 8 hours of walking – but still time to leap into the river – f.f.f.freezing – and then swim round to the hot pools – the flow of water creating a strange combination of hot and cold.




Well, looks like I got my booking wrong – so another 18NZD to get my bus ride on the right day (the staff were unrelenting, but very nice with it).  And half an hour or so round the lake to Turangi.  Another very nice hostel – and the realisation that I would be up at 5am to go on the walk.  I plan to do the one day Alpine crossing – but a chance conversation at reception plants the idea of doing the 3/4 day Northern Circuit in 2 days.  Walk fast, young Timmy.. I just hope I have enough warm clothes!!!


Anyway, time enough now for a gentle walk up the banks of the Tongariro River.  The water is not as clear as Waikito, and at first site seems to be full of detergent foam.  Closer inspection reveals that it’s foam, but not detergent – it’s actually the light weight pumice rock from volcanic activity from a landslip upstream.  Some of the floating boulders are quite large, and it’s weird to see rocks bobbing downstream.  There’s been a huge slippage of rock upstream, turning the usual jade green translucence into murky brown with floating rocks.  It’s bizarre and yet strangely wonderful.  Apparently the rafting companies are struggling, basically because they can’t see the rocks in the river!

Again, there are some beautiful views along the trail, and despite the fact that this is a plateau…. It ain’t flat, as I discover when I cut through to the riverbank and find it’s 30m below me.




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