Paddling New Zealand's Taupo Lake
October 22, 2003
There is something quite unique about an experience that exceeds your expectations, and kayaking New Zealand's Taupo Lake was exactly that - a unique experience.
We were invited on a three-day sea kayaking expedition around the shores of lake Taupo. Ok so it's a big pond, it's got trout, a mountain in the background,
a national park and some outstanding restaurants and bars, and it didn't fill me with expectation. I've always considered Taupo the Queenstown of the North
Island. But as for being stunning, exciting, and breathtaking, these are words surely to be used in connection with the snow covered mountains, vast plains,
huge forests, but a lake? I was wrong.
David Otway and his boat the Kayaking Kiwi picked us up from Jerusalem Bay. A bay pretty much as you would expect Taupo to be: nice houses, clean boats and a
huge array of ducks. Once on board we were introduced to the crew and shown the boat and a map of the lake, which had our three-day trip clearly marked out
and some highlights what the next few days held in store. David Otway's enthusiasm was, to say the least, contagious that although I felt things where going
to be fairly tame he was obviously pumped and ready.
We cruising out of the bay and the first vision of the lake is one of a huge expanse of water. In every direction the lake spills to the edge of the land.
From the shore there are degrees of appreciation of its size, but once out on the water the massive nature of this body of water is overwhelming.
Lake Taupo itself was created by a volcanic eruption in 186 AD, and the explosion was so big the sun went hazy in China and it was recorded by Roman historians.
At the southern end of the Lake is one of the world's most spectacular parks - Tongariro National Park. It is one of only 20 places in the world to have been
awarded dual World Heritage status as both a natural and cultural icon.
The lake is 43kms long and 28 kms wide and it covers approximately 616 sq km, about the same size as Singapore!
From the moment that the launch set off with the kayaks on top we were given information about every nook and cranny of the coastline. The local knowledge
of David and his crew became a major part of the trip and gave insights that you would never have gained on your own.
Rounding the top of Whakamoega Point we came to our first stop, which was obviously the tourist thing to do, since here were these huge carving on the
face of the rock. This modern Maori carving of a face had an eerie feel to it. Here it was, only visible by boat on the edge of this huge lake. Around
the shore line were lizards and other carving. Unfortunately, while we where there the carving was in shadow and we could not photograph it but anyone
visiting the area must go have a look since it has a rare spiritual quality for such a modern piece of work.
Leaving the carving behind we headed towards Mine Point. Legend has it that in the 1920s a professor Clark Negro noticed that the volcanic quartz was
similar to those found in the South Island gold area, so rubbing his hands together he bought the mining rights only to find the area was nothing but
fancy rock. Being inventive he then shot the rock with ground-up rock and gold flakes and resold the mining right to some other poor unsuspecting soul
- and then left the area!
We put in at Mine Point and already the area was becoming quite remote. We paddled along the undulating cliff edge where the water was crystal clear and
the bottom was easily visible close to the shore. With over 170 km of shoreline there's a lot of coast. The lake has an average depth of 100 meters with
178 meters at its deepest point. We cruised under the cliffs at Waikarariki Pt where the towering cliffs rose to over a hundred meters. This aspect of
the trip was really the first indication that Taupo was not exactly what I expected. I expected grass verges with mallard ducks and the odd trout but
we were already experiencing some dramatic scenery.
As we came to Tahunatare Pt and across Whakaipo bay it was pointed out where the coastline had dropped in 1922. A massive earthquake dropped the land some
4 meters into the lake causing a mini tidal wave. A local house that had a panoramic view of the lake ended up with a lakeside vista. It was clear where
the shoreline used to be and how it had changed just such a short time ago.
Across the bay we were shown Masons rock, where there was a rock face that looked as if it had been carefully put together by a mason (the named actually
comes from a man who ran his boat aground here) The rock fitted together perfectly and in the same way that the Maori carving seemed out of place, these
rocks too have a spiritual quality all of their own.
Normally on a day trip this is where the Kayaking Kiwi would take out and head for home, but we continued on a little further, finding a quite little bay
where we ate like kings, told lies like sailors and headed to bed early in expectation for the next day.
We were awoken by the sound of the boat leaving the bay, and the bacon smells of breakfast. As we each appeared blurry eyed the day's events were explained
Due to the wind pattern we headed towards the Western Bays. The Western Bays reared in the distance, and the calmer water we could see as
we approached the cliffs gave an indication to how high they were. The westerly wind, which had continued to rise, was blowing off the top
of the cliffs leaving the water below calm as a pond.
As we approached the Western Bays you couldn't help but draw the comparison with the famous Milford Sounds of the South Island. I was staggered
by the impact of the scenery. Although there were towering cliffs, there were also good areas where you could come ashore and camp (unlike Milford Sound).
Putting in the water we headed along the front of the cliff face. We passed rock gardens, white sand beaches and lazing trout sunning themselves on
the surface. The launch followed at some distant gave a real sense of security for a couple of the paddlers that did not feel totally comfortable. One
of the highlights of the Western Bays was Waihora Bay, where we ventured up a narrow river to still water like glass. The trees were reflected as if in a
Coming out again onto the lake we pushed on toward Te Poroporo Point where the Otupoto stream waterfalled into the lake. It's a serious waterfall and our
guide took each of the paddlers in turn up and under the gushing water.
We headed back to the launch and lunched in typical kingly fashion. But out to the west the skies started to look dark and foreboding. David went on to tells
us how quickly the lake conditions can change and highlighted the value of knowing what to look out for. He pointed out a dark line on the surface of
the lake that seemed to be heading our way. Sure enough, within fifteen minutes the dark wind line was upon us and what had been a flat pond became
an wind blown and uncomfortable paddle. In most situations, you would have had to battle against the wind, but we just loaded the kayaks in the launch
and motored to a quieter portion of the lake.
As evening began to close the sky continued to darken. It was suggested that we head back to Taupo. The real pleasure of having the support vessel is that
we could pull out of one area to another, plus always having the confidence of being able to get out of the weather.
As the sun began to set we lazed on the launch discussing the next trip and what areas of the lake we wanted to visit. With such a huge coastline the
opportunities seemed limitless.
To find out more about the Kayaking Kiwi, check out www.kayaking-kiwi.co.nz
Courtesy of New Zealand Adventure