Taupō has been a town that I have driven through many a time, but never actually stopped to spend much time in.
After this weekend, all I can say to that is more fool me.
Taupō absolutely turned it on for 48 hours for us as NZ Māori Tourism and Destination Great Lake Taupō worked together to host the annual Travcom famil for travel journalists and photographers.
Arriving on Thursday evening to our lakefront accommodation at Millennium Hotel & Resorts Manuels the first thing I did was fling my door open to walk across the grass to admire the stunning sunset. Seriously – the view was incredible and an excellent welcome to Taupō.
I knew there was going to be a lot of excellent food consumed over the weekend, so the next morning I made a concerted effort to get some exercise in. The brilliant track around Lake Taupō was just the ticket, and there was barely anyone else out at that time of the morning. Watching the town awaken to clear blue skies and a glassy lake was just perfect.
Then it was off to meet the lovely Renee and Ramon from Destination Great Lake Taupō. After having emailed and spoken on the phone many times to Renee in organising this weekend, it was great to finally meet in person – and my goodness, is she passionate about Taupō and the fantastic tourism experiences that are on offer there.
At the hotel that evening, we met with the journalists to welcome them to Taupō and what a welcome they received. Snow Rameka and his wife Dini have been involved with the Te Awhiorangi Kapa Haka group at Taupō-nui-a-tia College for years. From the moment Snow (if you call him Geoff, it’s likely he won’t respond to you as everyone has called him Snow for years!) came out to meet our group, along with some whanau of Te Awhiorangi, to explain what the evening was going to involve we knew we were going to be in for a fabulous evening. This was the first time they had performed for visitors at their school marae but you would not have known it from the enthusiasm, professionalism and all round awesomeness of the group, which was made even more astounding when we were told that the average age of the group was 14!
The group welcomed us into the wharenui, where a delicious hangi that was laid down that morning had been prepared for us. The most succulent wild pork, chicken, beef and vegetables filled our puku before Snow and the group came back in to share their stories with us.
When you meet someone who can tell a story in such a way that everyone in their presence is left in awe, you know that person has an incredible gift. And so it was with Snow.
The stories of Tuwharetoa were told and sung to us in an engaging way – the expressions and joy on the kid’s faces as they were singing and moving to tell the stories were just amazing to be a part of. It was obvious that the kids enjoyed what they were doing – sharing their stories with manuhiri (visitors), and getting to learn from Snow for whom it was obvious they had the upmost respect for.
The kids were an absolute credit to their school, whanau and Iwi. It was a brilliant start to the weekend and allowed the journalists to learn some of the stories of the area in a way they may not have heard them before.
The next morning dawned another stunning day – you could actually see the change in the snow levels of Ngauruhoe each day as the weather started to warm up.
We arrived in Murupara (an hour out of Taupō) to be met by Chris Birt of Rainforest Experiences New Zealand. Admittedly, it did surprise me to learn that we had rainforests in New Zealand – it was something I’d always associated with countries closer to the equator. To be classified as a rainforest, it must receive at least 200cm of rain per year. Thankfully, the rainforest decided to hold off on the rain for the day we were there – although our guides joked that we weren’t seeing her in all her glory. For the sake of having dry feet and non foggy/wet glasses, I was more than happy for it to be a sunforest for the day!
We left our car in Murupara as Chris took us all in van up into the rainforest. On the way we stopped at the site of a collection of pou which have been erected to symbolise the relationship between the various iwi of the region and the land they are kaitiaki, or guardians of.
We passed through the small community of Minginui – where we all delighted to learn that Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, the young boy who played Rocky (the brother with ‘magical powers’ in Boy, was raised. A bit of celebrity, all the way in Minginui!
We arrived at the start of the rainforest – where within what seemed like mere minutes an astonishing lunch selection was laid out for us on one of the picnic tables. We were encouraged to create our own sandwich selections to take with us (as well as making one to eat then and there). Fruit and muesli bars were also provided. We all took Chris’ well timed advice to make more than we thought we might want – after two decades he knew that the rainforest had a way of making you hungrier than you think!
A karanga from one of our guides, Naphtali, and we commenced our walk. With only seven of us in the group, along with our two guides, it was an intimate experience and one that was thoroughly enjoyable.
Our group was incredibly privileged to have Himiona and Naphtali as our knowledgeable guides for the day. They stopped us along the path to explain the different uses of the plants and trees. One of the plants that grows naturally in the rainforest is an anaesthetic – the true story of how it was used to enable an injured man to walk out of the forest with a broken leg is astounding – yet that is the power of this plant!
Himiona and Naphtali bought to life what it was like for Māori living in this forest in the years gone by – and how the forest still provides for those who call this place home. They let us set the pace, and were more than able to answer our many questions over the day.
After lunch, Himiona took his hiking boots off for the return trek and I have to admit, it did look tempting. However, I don’t think my city feet could have handled it! There were so many moments along the track where you could just stop and take it all in. The stillness, the birdsong, the waterfalls – it all served as a reminder to just slow down. It also had me thinking about how New Zealand would have looked hundreds of years ago, and to be thankful that pockets like the Whirinaki Rainforest still exist and are accessible to all.
While I was off walking, Simon and his group of journalists were having a day of adventures and pampering! Their first stop was to Hukafalls Jet. Having viewed Huka Falls from above, it’s a completely different experience to actually be on the river and so close that you could feel the spray from the falls! It was an incredible rush when the boat was driven to do ‘Hamilton turns’ (named after the man who invented the Hamilton inboard jet). The jets only require six inches of water to fly – and fly they do.
After that rush, it was time to slow it down a bit with a visit to Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa. The mirimiri (Māori massage) to kickstart the afternoon of relaxing was just the ticket, before we moved to the mineral hot-pools for the remainder of the afternoon. It was an absolutely stunning day in Taupō, and there really wasn’t a better place to relax and korero (talk) for the afternoon.
My group had worked up an appetite for dinner (I’m not so sure that Simon’s had!), and what a dinner we had ahead of us.
Ariki Hamilton is a very talented young Māori chef who has worked overseas and has now moved back to Taupō to open up a gastropub, Rose on Roberts, to introduce Māori flavours to his visitors.
We opted to go with the degustation – the menu looked deceptively simple but my goodness, the food was phenomenal.
The first course was a stunning presentation of creamed paua, served on the original shell. The following courses of trout from Waitahanui, local pork and puha, and venison and cabbage before a dessert of strawberries and chocolate were all delectable.
Everyone was absolutely satiated by the end of the evening – how could you not be when you’re eating fabulous food, drinking beautiful Tohu wine and having excellent conservation?!
Ariki came out at the end of dinner to introduce himself – it’s always neat when the person who has prepared your food for the evening comes out to talk about their food philosophy and what brought them home to share their knowledge and passion. He is a remarkable young man, and we will watch as he continues to do great things in the culinary space.
Sunday morning again dawned with clear skies – perfect weather for a brunch cruise on Lake Taupō, courtesy of Chris Jolly Outdoors.
A cruise on the lake is the perfect vantage point to comprehend just how large Lake Taupō is. Having been to Singapore, I was astonished to learn that all of Singapore could fit on Lake Taupō. That’s how big it is! I was out the back of the boat, chatting to the captain when suddenly there was a shout – one of the fishing lines they had put out had a bite on it! One of the tourists on the boat was given the task of reeling the fish in – not an easy job when he had the entire boat watching! Finally the trout was pulled in and measured – unfortunately he was not up to size so there was time for a quick photo op before he was popped back into the lake. Not ten minutes later the call went up again and another line had a bite and fortunately the fish on the end of this one was deemed to be of suitable size. The entire boat was stoked when the Captain offered to cook it up for us on the BBQ right then – now that’s fresh fish!
The lake was clear and with the sun shining down it was almost tempting to dive on in, but I might wait until summer is officially here before I try that! The famous Mine Bay Māori Rrock carvings are beautiful – you can see the aroha and hard mahi (work) that has gone in to them, Labour weekend 2016 will mark a milestone of 40 years. The boat was able to get us reasonably close to them – however not quite as close as the kayaker we saw. Next time that’s going to be my vehicle of choice!
Back on dry land, Ngahere from Native Xperience was there to meet the journalists who would be spending the afternoon with him and his whanau out in Waitahanui. The afternoon that Ngahere had planned sounded absolutely wonderful – we all hoped that the success of trout fishing on the lake in the morning extended to the fish biting on the river that afternoon!
The wonderful Adrienne and Mere at Wahine Toa Luxury Travel had kindly transported our group around Taupō for the weekend. It was wonderful to be able to relax and talk with the journalists rather than having to concentrate on driving! They took Simon, Renee and a couple of the journalists to meet with Delani Brown, Tohunga Whakairo (Master Carver). Delani’s work can be seen all around Taupō, and in many homes around the world. He took the time to explain how he works and the process behind his pieces. He has a seven step process that he takes towards his work – and it would be spoiling it for you if it was to be repeated here. Needless to say, he is an incredibly talented individual, and one with immense skill.
Due to tikanga (protocol), only men are allowed in the carving house while a piece is being carved. Learning how and why this protocol exists provides a deeper understanding into what goes into these amazing pieces.
Then it was time for us to say ka kite to Taupō and head back to Wellington – and as Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe faded into the darkness, I made a promise to myself that I would be back again, soon.
Our thanks and aroha to all involved in our visit.
Director of Regions, Simon Phillips, and Communications Manager Amy Hodgkinson were in Taupō recently to co-host a media famil with Destination Great Lake Taupō to showcase Māori tourism experiences in the region.
To contact the people/businesses above:
Millenium Hotel & Resort Manuels Taupō
Phone 07 378 5110 or firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.millenniumhotels.co.nz/millenniumtaupo/
Te Awhiorangi Kapa Haka – Taupō-nui-a-tia
Kapa haka performance, story-telling, hangi dinner
Phone 021 299 5661 or email@example.com
Destination Great Lake Taupo
1/32 Roberts Street, Taupo
Phone 07 376 0400 or www.GreatLakeTaupo.com
Closest Passenger Airport: Taupō Airport
Driving distance from Auckland: 3.5 hours/264km
Driving distance from Wellington: 5 hours/371km
Driving distance from Napier: 2 hours/142km
Closest town: Taupō