Tales from the road: Tāupo

Tales from the road: Tāupo

Keen traveller and writer Peter Mead has spent extensive time motorhoming in New Zealand and Australia. Now permanently settled back in Aotearoa, Peter shares one of his more recent adventures.

When I first met my grandfather, he was old enough to be my grandfather, so I never knew him in his youth. I thought of him as Shelley and I crossed Whanganui River in our Kea Dreamtime recently, driving through Taumarunui down to National Park.

Grandad spent much of his youth in this area. He travelled extensively up and down the Whanganui mapping its rapids and the Māori settlements that lined its shores. He spent countless hours climbing and skiing on Ruapehu crafting his first skis from kauri and lashing them to his tramping boots. He loved this area, yet I know so little about his time here.

Shelley and I initially saw motorhoming as a way to see New Zealand, but as we travel, we find it stirs up a longing to know New Zealand, to know its history, its character, and where we fit in. After 20 years in Australia, we were returning to our heartland, our whenua, our mother’s milk, to which we’re intimately connected – both through our ancestors and through future generations.

Heavy rain obscured our view of the mountains as we pulled into National Park.

“I think Ruapehu’s over there,” I said, waving my hand vaguely out our back window.

“No, I think it’s that way,” said Shelley, pointing out the front window. Neither of us had a real clue but it was worth a good marital argument.

The next morning, with the weather cleared, the peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro rose up to greet us through a side window.

“See, I told you,” I said.

Tales from the road: Tāupo
Shelley Mead at Huka Falls

After a brief visit to Whakapapa village, we stopped to see boiling water and mud at Tokaanu then continued on to Tāupo; the road over the Hatepe Hill nothing like I remember from more than 20 years ago. No steep, narrow, windy corners; no being stuck behind a logging truck or some old codger meandering his way up like he had all day to get nowhere. We had all day but, with a much-improved road, we got nowhere in no time.

We visited the prerequisite sites of Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids that, along with the natural hot springs and mud pools we’d seen earlier, inspired both awe and contemplation. Then to camp.

Whakaipo Bay Recreational Reserve is a DOC camp on the northern shores of Lake Tāupo. A large grassy paddock slopes gently down to a narrow strip of bush surrounding Whakaipo Bay. The beach can’t quite decide if it’s a pebble beach or a sandy one, but it’s definitely a pleasant place to take a stroll. We found a flat area to park high up with views of the lake over the treeline.

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Groups of mountain bikers peddled by, full of bravado and confidence at conquering the steep climb ahead. Horsey girls arrived with trailers in tow, horses out, saddles on and off they rode. Next, the doggie lovers arrived. They stopped, opened the door, threw Jabba the Mutt out, then drove off with stereo up, window down, beckoning and calling for Jabba to run alongside. How ingenious: get off work, take a leisurely drive in a beautiful lakeside park, listen to your favourite sounds, let the day fall away, and walk your dog all at the same time. Is this a New Zealand-wide phenomenon or do Tāuporeans have bragging rights? And did our horsey friends learn from this? No, they stuck to the old method of riding rather than simply dangling a carrot out the car window and encouraging McWhinney to trot along behind.

There’s a sublime pleasure to be had in watching the world revolve from a motorhome. We’re the modern version of granddad sitting in his rocking chair on the front porch, but we can park our rocking chair wherever we like.

The sun set in what I swear was due south and Shelley thought was east and we cosied down for the night.

Tales from the road: Tāupo
The bubbling natural hot pools are endlessly fascinating

Now I must pause to issue a warning: If you don’t want to read about Shelley’s and my sleeping arrangements and our nightly toilet woes, please close your eyes for the next few paragraphs.

Due to incessant snoring by one of us, Shelley insists we sleep at different ends of the motorhome. Shelley sleeps in the low space above the driving area (the Luton, I’m told it’s called.) I sleep down the back. Sad as it sounds but our love for each other is not diminished by distance or by lack of playing footsies at midnight. Lust in a low Luton may be fun but snoring in a low Luton is potentially fatal.

Why, you ask, does Shelley get the Luton? Well, throughout her abundance of years, Shelley has remained reasonably agile. Sure, she can no longer suck her big toe, but she’s dealt with that. When it comes to low Lutons and climbing up and down ladders, she still has the necessary skills whereas I’m Mr Unco from Klutz City. She gets the Luton.


We each tuck into bed after a goodnight kiss. The only sounds are a soft, occasional breeze rustling the nearby trees and a late-night bird that should have gone to its nest hours ago.

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I’m deep down, far away in dreamland when–

“Bloody hell, Pete.”

“What?”

“Where’s my bloody ladder?”

“How would I know? Where do you normally keep it?”

The light comes on, blinding me. I see the ladder leaning up against the shower door and I remember.

“Oh, that’s right, I moved it to get into the cab. Don’t stress yourself, I’ll get it for you.” These last words seem to make her madder.

She clambers down and into the toilet cubicle. She leaves the Luton light on, a slight annoyance, but nevertheless, I start to drift off. Then, “Pete, guess what I’ve done?”

Tales from the road: Tāupo
Aratiatia Rapid just north of Taupō

I’m not in the mood for chitchat.

I pretend to be asleep.

“What I’ve done,” said Shelley, ignoring me ignoring her, “is forgotten to open the toilet thingy and I’ve peed on the cassette and not in it.”

I hate to admit it, but I get a perverse sense of satisfaction when she does this. It’s one of the few things in our motorhoming life (in our whole life, for that matter) that she can’t blame on me.

If we roll up at a camping spot she doesn’t like, it’s my fault. If our camp neighbours are noisy, it’s my fault. If her ladder is moved when she’s asleep, it’s my fault. If mud from my shoes gets all over the motorhome carpet, it’s my fault. I could go on forever. But she has not yet found a way to blame me for her forgetting to open the toilet thingy.

You can open your eyes now; toily tales are over.

We wake to a bright blue sky sitting still and content over a rippled Lake Tāupo.

I step outside to breathe in the cool, fresh air. Our nearest neighbours, 50 metres away, wave hello and begin setting out camping chairs in the morning sun. Further along and down, a group of motorhomes huddle together for comfort and company like pioneers in a wagon train, no one stirring yet. A couple of backpackers open the back of their van, set up a small table, pull out a camp cooker and begin preparing breakfast. The first cyclists appear, followed shortly by the dog drivers.

“Cup of tea?” I call out to Shelley.

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