A Day Paddling On Lake Taupo

Spending a day kayaking around Lake Taupo’s edge with my son was one of the most memorable experience we’ve had.

By Vaughan Camborne

We were on a summer holiday with Taupo being one of our final stops. I came across a brochure for Taupo Kayak Adventures promoting a trip around the lake edge. I decided this would be a great trip for my son and I to take on. With the weather the next day looking okay, we made a booking with owner operator Lisa. As my boy was only ten I was keen to ensure he would be able to manage the trip and I was given this reassurance by Lisa.

The day arrived and we made our way to the meeting place in Acacia Bay. Lisa was our guide for the day and we were joined by another party as well. After we had been shown all safety procedures and had been kitted up with life jackets, we hit the water.

The first thing I noticed was safety was a high priority as Lisa had a single kayak while the rest of us had double kayaks. She made sure we stayed together whilst also giving history on local legends and sites.

The first story was of a local Maori woman called Ruatohu who lived by the lake with her husband, a Maori chief of the Towharetoa. During a war with a neighbouring tribe, the chief strapped his son to Ruatohu and made them swim across the lake to safety. The next day when they thought the fighting had stopped, Ruatohu began the trip back to her village on a canoe but unfortunately, they capsized and both child and mum drowned. Legendary beliefs are that a distant mountain, visible from the lake is in the shape of a woman lying on her back (Ruahohu) and a smaller peak next to her is her son.

Padding on further, Lisa now drew our attention to Acacia trees, hence the name Acacia Bay. These trees were planted to produce twigs for starting fires and we could see a large mass of them from our position on the water.

As we worked our way through, the paddling burned in our shoulders, largely resulting from going into a head wind that had picked up. We were going past a point with houses on the hills; one of these homes belonging to the international singer Rod Stewart. You cannot drive up to these houses as access is restricted so to see them from the water was a privilege.

Rounding one of the next bays we were asked to draw our attention to a distant hill range. We all had to guess what animal it represented and after numerous attempts was believed to be a shape of a crocodile.

I had been to this next stop before. As we rounded the next corner, I realised it was the site for viewing a steep rock face that had Maori carvings on it. These carvings were not ancient, but were done back in the early 1980's they are still very impressive. When I was here last time it was by boat and we were limited on time and how close we could get to the rock. This time on the kayak we had the advantage of getting right up close and were not pressured to hurry on. lt was awesome to have the time to admire the workmanship.

As we started to leave the carvings, whilst still in the same bay, Lisa directed us to paddle onto a flat rocky area and assemble together. We were taken on a small walk through the bush which led to a hidden cave. My boy loved this, which also allowed a welcome stretch of the legs.

Returning to our own kayaks, Lisa pulled out a folding table and provided us with surprise refreshments. As we consumed a feast including gourmet muffins, quiche and coffee, Lisa continued with her knowledge of interesting facts. She referred to her picnic as a floating cafe.

We had travelled about 4km on the water, and it was now time to start our return journey. The wind had turned back towards our group, meaning we had a tough paddle ahead of us. My boy met this challenge and exceeded my expectations.

Lisa was not done with her stories. She explained how Taupo is a volcano and is called a caldera, meaning it had collapsed in on itself. lt had begun erupting about 300,000 years ago and the caldera that exists today was the result of an eruption 27,000 years ago called Oruanui. Further eruptions caused part of the caldera to fill with water, forming what we know as Lake Taupo. The last major eruption was 1,800 years ago, but the boiling mud, geysers and smoking craters still show the area still has a lot of geothermal activity.

Within about 2km of our starting point, the wind challenged our abilities. Where we could, we paddled close to the hills which offered some shelter and when we had to cross open bays, we had to put extra effort to gain ground. The motivation for drive was a cold beer at the end.

Finally, making it back, we felt a sense of accomplishment as we had paddled a very long distance. The scenery was breathtaking, accompanied by great stories. The kayaks were easy to control and at no point did we feel unsafe even when the wind chopped up the water.

Being on the water and appreciating the views and general surroundings made this trip very special. The good company and commentary from our informative guide leaves me no hesitation to recommend this trip to anyone who loves the outdoors, whatever their abilities.

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