Australasia’s largest inland lake was created by an enormous volcanic eruption less than two thousand years ago. Today it’s a hive of activity for lots of different reasons. Roderick Eime visits.
Adrenalin junkies swarm to Taupo and the lake for sky-diving, jet-boating and waterskiing. Motorsport fans congregate in droves for the annual A1GP and fishermen love the challenge of the trout, but the region’s abundant natural beauty is its own attraction.
The great land of Aotearoa was still untroubled by man when the great eruption took place in 181 AD. So fierce was this event it is estimated that 30 cubic kilometres of debris was ejected in just a few minutes and about 100 cubic kilometres in total. We know the date because ancient Roman and Chinese historians recorded the red skies over their cities and ash was found in recent ice core drilling in Greenland.
- “Taupo’s name in full is Taupo-nui-a-Tia. ‘Taupo’ means shoulder cloak, ‘nui’ means big, ‘a’ means of and ‘Tia’ is the name of the discoverer of the lake. Therefore the literal translation is ‘the great cloak of Tia’.
This cataclysm would have emptied the lake and then resealed it with huge pyroclastic (lava) flow, creating the 616 square kilometre freshwater lake we see today. It’s as big as the entire island of Singapore, over 100m deep, full of trout and easily seen from space.
Fed by 47 rivulets and streams, the only outlet is the mighty Waikato River that runs through magnificent canyons where it reaches the famed Huka Falls, one of the most visited natural attractions in New Zealand. Over 200,000 litres of water crashes through the narrow 15 metre wide opening every second and is later harnessed to supply 90 megawatts of hydro-electric power to the city. The ultra-exclusive Huka Lodge is just visible from the lookout.
The volcanic and geothermal landscape typifies the scenery around Taupo and just to the south is the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage listed Tongariro National Park. The 80,000 hectare park was inscribed in 1993 under new criteria covering cultural landscapes. According to UNESCO, “the mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolise the spiritual links between this community and its environment.”
The park is easily accessed via New Zealand’s excellent road system and offers a diverse range of nature-based activities with a particular focus on walking, or ‘tramping’ in the local vernacular. Forests, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, craters, wildlife and dramatic snow capped-ridges all form part of Tongariro’s personality. Those with a more active bent can visit either of the two ski fields, one on an active volcano, or even rock climb.
Craters of the Moon thermal area in Wairakei Park. Walk among steaming mud pools and hot springs in this otherworldly park just outside Taupo. Free admission.
East of Tongariro National Park, the Kaimanawa Forest Park is a large area of ancient native forests, shrublands and tussock grasslands where you can hunt, fish, camp or trek.
Waipahihi Botanical Reserve was established in 1966 as a 35 hectare park of native trees and plants, and a refuge for native birds and has been developed and beautifully maintained by dedicated volunteers.
- NZ Department of Conservation (search Tongariro) www.doc.govt.nz
- Lake Taupo Tourism www.laketauponz.com
- New Zealand www.newzealand.com
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