Hooked on Tūrangi

New Zealand is dotted with tiny townships we often drive through on the way to our next adventure. But in doing so, we might just bypass some of our greatest treasures. Each month, MCD highlights one of Aotearoa’s smaller towns so you can plan a stop, show them your support, and discover their hidden gems. This month, we’re stopping in Tūrangi.

The little town of Tūrangi is well known for being an angler’s paradise. Claire Smith shares her childhood memories of trout fishing, adrenaline rides and some great Kiwi pies.

My dad has always been a keen fisherman, so Tūrangi was our regular holiday spot when I was young. Trout was on the menu most nights when we stayed, along with roasted chestnuts we’d forage from the trees nearby. Dad loved it so much that he eventually moved there permanently. With young children of my own by then, I’ve enjoyed exploring this tiny town with a population of under 4000 people a little more each time we visit.

See the trout babies (and eat one)

There IS more to Tūrangi than just trout. But I couldn’t do a story about the region without sharing one of the best places to see them, the Tongariro National Trout Centre. We took our tribe here when they were still at the age of wanting to do things with their parents, and they loved it. The centre has a native aquarium that is home to a collection of native freshwater fish, you can also check out the fly fishing museum, and see where baby trout get raised in the rainbow trout hatchery. But the biggest drawcard is the chance for the kids to catch their own trout. For $45, the budding angler in the family (aged 5-16) can fish for rainbow trout with the help of an instructor – all gear included. Once they’ve hooked their catch, it will be prepared and smoked ready for them to eat or take home. Find out more at troutcentre.com.

Trout fishing in Turangi
Claire’s daughter Paige is the next generation to get a lesson in trout fishing

Go around the loop

The 15km Tongiriro River Trail loop takes you along the banks of the Tongariro River, past farmland, and through native bush. It’s an easy, mostly flat track so it’s suitable for all ages. The walk takes around 2-3 hours, or about an hour by bike. Dogs are allowed on the track too, so it’s a good opportunity for them to have a decent walk. Bear in mind that the river is home to the endangered whio, so it’s important to keep your dog well controlled and on a lead, especially during nesting season (August-October).

Start the trail at the Tūrangi i-SITE and use the underpass under the road – you’ll join the trail at Taupahi Reserve and can avoid crossing busy SH1. If you don’t fancy the full walk, there are several shorter options within the trail, including the Waikari Reserve loop and the Taupahi Reserve track on the town side of the river, and the lookout track and Tongariro Walkway on the far side.

Exploring Mt Pirongia

Indulge your inner adrenaline junkie

I really didn’t think white water rafting was my thing (I prefer a quiet kayak on a still lake), but sometimes you just have to challenge yourself, and as it happened, this was a pretty fun challenge. Tongariro River Rafting is a family-owned business run by outdoor enthusiasts and rafting experts who know the area well and love sharing it with visitors. Rafters are well set up with safety gear and wetsuits; all you need to bring is a swimsuit and towel. Once you’re geared up and ready, rafters are taken by van to the Tongariro River where the fun begins. And it really is good fun. The river’s grade 3 rapids are perfect for beginners, with enough thrills and spills to keep the adrenaline pumping. You’ll also get to paddle past some of New Zealand’s most captivating scenery; you might even spot a few whio and trout along the way. Find out more at trr.co.nz.

Tongariro river rafting
Enjoy thrills and spills with Tongariro River Rafting

Soak away the day

The little village of Tokaanu is just a few minutes’ drive north of Tūrangi on SH41. Here you’ll find the small but very well-maintained Tokaanu Hot Pools. The pools are a great way to soothe and warm up tired muscles after a busy day of trail walking or winter skiing. The thermal waters are a taonga of the Ngāti Kurauia people (a hapū of Ngāti Tūwharetoa) and have been cherished for generations as wai ora (healing waters). The pools are open daily from 10am-9pm, and are located at 379 Maungaroa Street. Entry is very reasonable at $8 for adults and $6 for children. Find out more at facebook.com/tokaanuthermalpools.

Exploring Murchison
Tokaanu Thermal Pools
Soak the day away at the Tokaanu Hot Pools

Grab a bite to eat

Fancy a decent pie, a piece of tasty fried chicken, or a good old-fashioned sandwich and cake? The queue outside the Tūrangi Bakery & Café (opposite the i-SITE on Te Rangitautahanga Rd) suggested that this might be a good place to stop when we last visited. And indeed it was, with more than 40 different varieties of pie, a great selection of cakes and slices. Their hot cross buns are apparently very good too – good to know if you’re in the area for Easter. If you’d rather enjoy a seated lunch, the Creel Tackle House & Café at 189 Taupahi Road has a reputation for great food (apparently the brioche is very good) and friendly service. The café has its own tackle shop too, so you can stock up on fishing gear while you’re there.

The replica Kombi van cabins at Motuoapa

Park up and stay

  • Motuoapa Bay Holiday Park
    This cool little park has something just a bit different on offer… cabins that are built to look exactly like oversized Kombi vans (windows and wheels included!) that sleep two people. Very clever. Obviously, they’re no substitute for the real thing, but their colourful presence adds fun and interest to this lovely holiday park. The holiday park is adjacent to the new marina and a short walk to the lakefront, with powered and unpowered sites and all the usual must-have facilities. The park is located at 2 Motuoapa Esplanade.
  • For NZMCA members, Tūrangi has a great NZMCA park at 175 Atirau Road.
  • The Motutere Bay TOP 10 Holiday Park is just 15 minutes before Tūrangi (from Taupō). Located right on the shore of Lake Taupō with lakefront sites, the park is very popular and handy to both Tūrangi and Taupō.

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