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If you are making your first visit to New Zealand, Lake Taupo in the Taupo Region of the North Island is an excellent first choice. New Zealand's largest freshwater lake, Lake Taupo is located in the very heart of New Zealand's volcanic and geothermal district. Here, one can explore the surrounding hot springs, geysers, boiling mud pits, mountains and semi-active volcanoes surrounding this clear lake. Miles of hiking trails, botanical refuges and wildlife preserves surround the lake, each with its own special emphasis.
The Ngati Tuwharetoa iwi (iwi: Maori tribe) arrived at Lake Taupo approximately 700 years ago. Tribal legend says that Ngatoirangi, the priest-leader actually created the lake, however geologists say the lake itself is the caldera of a volcano that has erupted at least 27 times, the last being around 181 AD. The deep clear lake supported few fish and the iwi stayed mainly around the southern, more productive end. The tribe survived primarily by hunting in the nearby forests and mountains, always in awe of the gods embodied in the many geothermal springs and features in the vicinity. Today, the Maori descendants still comprise 36% of the population and are an active part of the conservation community.
European settlers arrived in 1830s but found farming unproductive due to the ashy soil. Now, soil amendments have make the land fertile for farming. Brown trout were introduced into the lake in the 1890s as a food source and grew rapidly but proved elusive to catch so rainbow trout were stocked and quickly became the prized game fish in the lake. Logging enterprises quickly decimated much of the local tree cover, which was quickly replaced with non-native species. Even with all the changes brought about by European settlement, the Lake Taupo area remains the epitome of a New Zealand landscape.
The area around Lake Taupo is a photographer's dream. The lake's exceedingly clear waters carry a deep blue hue due to the chemical composition of the surrounding caldera. Much of the land area around the lake is under the protection of a loose confederation of conservancies assuring protection of the delicate landscape while providing access to the many visitors who come each year. Most visitors come first to the township of Taupo on the northeast shore of the lake near the outlet of the Wairakei River. Taupo and the small villages of Hatepe, Tokaanu and Motuopa cater to tourists and are well-supplied with vacation rentals and other types of lodgings. Real estate is available in the area for both personal and business use. New subdivisions and condos have sprung up around the larger towns but most of the shoreline is still wild and pristine.
Most visitors to Lake Taupo will head for the marina at the Taupo Boat Harbor. Here, charters for sightseeing and river cruises are available for business at the Booking Office along with float planes, para-sailing, jet-skiing and power boating. Tour guides here can provide a cruise on Lake Taupo or a trip on the mighty Wairakei River. The thirty-foot high Maori rock carving on the lake is best seen from the water via cruise. From here, charter tours can be located for fishing expeditions to capture the huge rainbow trout the lake is famous for. There are plenty of prime fly-casting waters at the mouths of the many streams entering the lake. The water level is controlled by gates at the outlet to the Wairakei River for power generation downstream but the lake levels don't vary much from season to season. Hydropower and geothermal power from the Wairakei River region supply much of New Zealand's electricity. There are many sand beach areas for swimming, kayaking and canoeing.
A good first stop for the first-time Lake Taupo visitor is the Taupo Museum where visitors can explore the region via computerized tour information after viewing the exhibits. The selections appear endless, from the miles of walking trails, mountain bike paths, areas for ATVs and horseback riding. The explorer may decide to visit the Pureora Forest, one of the finest rainforests in the world, located west of Lake Taupo. The thousand-year-old podocarp trees still grow where they did when dinosaurs roamed the area; the massive trucks of podocarps blown down by the last volcanic eruption in 181 still lie covered in ash. Others may head for Huka Falls, a few miles downriver to see the fabulous blue falls on the Wairakei River. And no visitor can leave New Zealand without visiting the Craters of the Moon geothermal area to walk on the boardwalks among geysers, boiling mud springs, hot pools and steam vents. Visitors interested in native flora will want to visit the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve in Taupo overlooking the lake before venturing into the many reserve areas surrounding the lake. The reserves support many varieties of native birds such as the rare kokako and the kaka, kakarihi, kereru, the long tailed and shining cuckow and North Island robin.
Those looking for adventure can sample the interesting and unique active sport choices in the Lake Taupo area including a bungee-jump area over one of the smaller bays. Taupo is often the jumping-off point for climbers on Mount Ruapehu a few miles south of Lake Taupo. Mount Ruapehu is the highest point on the North Island and the largest active volcano in New Zealand. Here in its foothills originate the headwaters of the Wairakei River. There are many camping areas located near Lake Taupo and many visitors spend days exploring from a remote campsite in the reserves. The visitor should follow established trails and use a published trail guide to assure they find their way back. Locals suggest always letting someone know your destination and expected return time to assure your safety.
Other cultural activities abound in Taupo including the arts, music and Maori cultural activities and events. Taupo is known for the many unusual and somewhat adventurous bars for the seeker of nightlife. All in all, Lake Taupo can be the vacation of your dreams. Vacation rentals are plentiful as are other lodgings and resorts. One visit to Lake Taupo may lead to regular visits over a lifetime. Follow the trail of the ancient Ngati Tuwharetoa. Your first visit wont be your last.
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