From Taupo to Tokaanu

I have driven from Taupo to Tokaanu along the lake’s eastern shore so often that I had stopped considering it a place of interest. It was merely a method of transportation from one destination to another. A few weeks back, I travelled the same old route with Ingrid, a visiting German friend, who was not blinded by familiarity. “Why didn’t you tell me it’s so lovely?” she said as we passed the Rainbow Point and the Sailing Centre at Two Mile Bay. ‘Lovely’ hadn’t occurred to me. Ingrid owns a motorhome and she was interested in an NZMCA camp eight kilometres out of town and adjacent to the Taupo airport. A little further east, I showed her Five Mile Bay where there is a freedom camping area for CSC vehicles. “Free and right beside the beautiful lake,” she exclaimed. The drive follows the lake’s edge, and where it is flat, lakeside reserves shaded by willows provide daytime parking. We drove through pine forests, up and down rocky bluffs and hardly-there villages, catching glimpses of snow shimmering on the mountain peaks and sunlight dancing across the surface of the water. At the spring-fed Waitahanui River, we walked along the bushy bank, and I told her about Taupo’s trout. Near the river’s mouth, seven anglers pinned to the water formed the famous ‘picket fence’. Ingrid liked the look of the holiday park at Motutere. I pointed out that SH1 passed through its heart and so earplugs would be mandatory. There’s a quieter lakeside camp at the foot of a rocky escarpment in Motuoapa Bay. “So cute,” she said, indicating the colourful cabins modelled on VW campers. A few metres away is the Licorice Café, which in the past has won awards for its food. We wondered why, as our lunch was only average. We inspected the Motuoapa Marina and park, which is undergoing a $5 million upgrade and currently looks like a large, disturbed sandpit. We then skipped through Turangi and drove to Tokaanu. Through a kanuka forest behind the thermal pools, a walkway traces steaming ponds and burbling mud pools. Ingrid was mesmerised. “Erstaunt,” she muttered, which I think means ‘amazing’ in German. The swimming pools have been smartened up since I was last there but not too much, and the price is still reasonable. We sank into the warm water—wunderbar—and I thanked her for showing me my country through her eyes. Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.
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