Here’s something funny: After researching Taupo’s Huka Lodge for ages, I was anxious to take a quick tour of the property and sample some of their renowned breakfast buffet. As a huge fan of The Crown, I couldn’t wait to enjoy Queen Elizabeth’s favorite New Zealand haunt. Well, apparently breakfast is not open to non-guests. Slash, non-guests really aren’t supposed to be there… Oops. As we’d already ordered, the server graciously allowed us to stay for breakfast. Definitely still feeling the embarrassment.
Taupo is a 1.5 hour drive from Rotorua, and a beloved spot for outdoorsy adventures. Chilly in early winter, we were well-dressed in scarves, hats and fleeces. I’d also recommend thick, woolen socks, but I’m easily cold. On top of this, if you’re interested in fishing, Lake Taupo’s trout selection is out of control. Only available if self-caught, these light-orange trout are the ultimate Lake Taupo trophy. Many restaurants will prepare your trout for you in place of their fish of the day option.
Huka Falls: Huka Falls is an explosive waterfall transferring hundreds of gallons of water per second. Visitors can view the Falls from an elevated platform, or from the water, on one of New Zealand’s classic jet boat tours. A sight to behold, Huka Falls is simply magnificent—the clear water coupled with the Falls’ fearsome roar, just excellent.
Taupo Jet Boat: Who here loves spinning around 360° in a motorboat? I sure do! Especially with a handsome Kiwi guide. I could listen to that accent for hours…Even my sister Haley, a chick who’s usually more than a little afraid of boats, had a blast. The experience feels reckless, but the boat is made for these thrilling spins. Hugging super close to the coast, ducking in between two giant logs, I was screaming the entire time. The experience’s best element is its access to Huka Falls.
Chris Jolly Lake Cruise: Skimming the surface of Lake Taupo’s calm waters, Grace, Haley and I had an awesome time on the Chris Jolly Lake Cruise. An hour and a half excursion, our Cruise was guided by Gregg, a native New Zealander with a love of ducks, talking and freely giving the wheel to novice drivers. Taking guests to the Maori Carvings, providing a fishing demonstration and offering free muffins and coffee, what more could you ask for? (Maybe one trout per person…Although fishing limits benefit the environment, I would have loved to try some fresh trout!)
Lake Taupo Maori Carvings: Don’t leave Lake Taupo without venturing to the Maori Carvings, only accessible by boat. Completed in the 1970s, these artistic Maori carvings appear three-dimensional. Be sure to look out for the giant lizard to the left of the main carvings! It was so lifelike that Haley and I were reminded of our Crocodile Cruise on the Daintree River.
Trout Fishing: I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m not a good fisherwoman. I’m pretty impatient, and I don’t like killing things. To be fair, I eat most forms of meat, but the act of killing…Not my thing. However, if you want trout from Lake Taupo, you’d better be prepared to catch your own fish. Charter a boat or a Chris Jolly tour, and start scouting for trout.
Inflight Helicopter Tours: Since my Interlaken skydiving adventure, I’ve become more open to traveling on small planes—including traveling on helicopters! (I pronounce this world hill-ih-cupter. Incorrect. I’ve been told.) A twenty minute flight is not cheap, but it’s worth the price. Incredible views await you, as well as the thrill of feeling the helicopter’s propellers lift you upwards. If you’re in New Zealand, I say, why not?! You’ve got to choose between helicoptering, skydiving or bungee jumping.
Huka Lodge: This place is spectacular. Not available for breakfast, unless you’re willing to severely embarrass yourself, Huka Lodge is decked out in tartan, plush club chairs and chocolate wood. With a magnificent view of the Huka, and close proximity to Huka Falls, Huka Lodge is for luxury travelers only. After checking out room rates, I’ve determined that I may never be visiting the Lodge again. Nevertheless, I’m so grateful for our server’s kindness and the kitchen’s excellent Country Skillet: roast tomatoes, streaky bacon, sausage, eggs and toast. During the off-season, dinner reservations are available to non-guests upon request.
Portofino: Feeling the pressure to carbo-load prior to our Tongariro Alpine Crossing journey, Grace, Haley and I dined at Portofino in Taupo’s city center. A homey Italian restaurant, Portofino’s open kitchen offers views into the head chef’s creative process. I adored my penne all’arrabbiata—it was definitely angry! Also, the tiramisu is can’t-miss. Artfully displayed in a coupe, our crew had to order two servings to satisfy our needs. It wasn’t a small portion.