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WHAT’S so great about catching Malaysian prawns, you might ask? Well, how about catching these prawns half-way across the world, in a town that sits on the shore of a lake bigger than Singapore? I’m talking about the Great Lake Taupo region, smack in the centre of North Island, New Zealand.
Even when we are in a different country, it is always nice to have certain things that remind us of home. I was quite tickled when I heard that the Huka Prawn Park, New Zealand’s only prawn park, breeds Macrobrachium rosenbergii, otherwise known as the Giant Malaysian River Prawn.
I just had to see it for myself. The species was chosen for their good commercial production. As they grow big and breed fast, they can be harvested quickly after just eight months. It puts a whole new meaning to the phrase buatan Malaysia (Malaysian made). Our guide told us that their largest prawn was named “Horse” – an amazing 68cm fellow who died of old age at two years.
But wait a minute, aren’t these tropical prawns? So how are they able to survive in the much cooler temperatures here? Well, Taupo being a volcanic region, the farmers are able to utilise the geothermal waters to heat up the pond to 20°C. Their bill would have been NZ$40,000 (RM102,000) a month if they had had to use electricity to generate the heat!
There are guided tours every hour, so time your visit accordingly. You will be taken through the nursery and hatchery where you will learn all about the breeding habits of the prawns. A male stud will have seven girlfriends who spawn up to five times per year − producing up to 50.000 eggs each time. That’s a lot of prawns. You will also be taught prawn fishing techniques which is completely different from fishing.
Try your new skills at the large ponds outside. You can cook what you catch on the spot by dropping the prawns into buckets of boiling water. Since I only caught a grand total of one prawn, I made up for this by rewarding myself with a large prawn platter from the Riverside Restaurant.
Back to this lake which is bigger than Singapore: Lake Taupo is the largest lake in Australasia, sitting in a caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption which occurred 26,500 years ago. The plumes of another eruption here at 180AD, considered one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the last 5,000 years, are said to have been seen from as far away as China and Rome. All this sounds a little disconcerting, but Lake Taupo is said to have stabilised and is not likely to erupt anytime soon, so don’t you worry. Stroll along the lakefront – the views are simply breathtaking. Sit by the beach, feed the ducks and swans, take in the sound of the waves as they lap gently against the shore. You might be forgiven for thinking you’re by the sea. The lake is that big! Best of all, there’s no saltwater to mess up your hair, so jump in if it’s not too cold. Or at least dip your toes in.
Here’s a beauty tip: you know those pumice stones used to remove dead skin from heels and elbows? The volcanic pumice rocks lying around the lake shore do the same thing. It’s a good souvenir for those at home but make sure you are not travelling via Australia as they have strict laws about bringing in rocks and dirt. There’s also the Hole-In-One Golf at the lakefront where you can practise your swing. Besides being rated one of the top 100 things to do in New Zealand, the golf range here offers fabulous prizes, including NZ$10,000 (RM25,500) if you get the red flag hole-in-one.
The postcard-perfect lake is framed by Tongariro National Park’s shimmering snowy peaks. See if you can identify the ominous Mt Doom (real name Mt Ngauruhoe) from The Lord Of The Rings fame. Gollum and his precious ring come to mind every time I look at those mountains.
During the ski season, you might want to give skiing or snowboarding a go on Mt Ruapehu, which has New Zealand’s largest ski fields. If you want to explore the Land of Mordor, I recommend doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, voted New Zealand’s best one-day walk and named one of the best walks in the world by Lonely Planet. It’s certainly on every backpacker’s “must do” list in New Zealand. A warning, though: only attempt the walk if you are relatively fit as the eight-hour hike in changing alpine weather can be quite challenging. I’ve done the hike twice, once in summer and recently in the winter, and it is exhilarating each time to traverse the spectacular volcanic and alpine terrain. I would gladly do it again. It is that rewarding. If you book yourself on one of the many shuttle services for the Crossing, they can sort all your gear for you, including hiking boots, jackets, ice picks and crampons during winter. You generally don’t need a guide in the summer but if there’s snow and ice on the mountains, a guide is compulsory.
Adrenaline junkies and the young-at-heart will love this region because it offers an abundance of adventurous activities. With more than 30,000 jumps a year, Taupo is THE skydiving capital of the world. It is New Zealand’s largest commercial skydive drop zone and supposedly the cheapest place in New Zealand to do it. It certainly provided one of the best experiences of my life! A definite must-do.
If hurling yourself out of a plane isn’t enough, why not hurl yourself off a cliff? The picturesque Taupo Bungy is New Zealand’s highest water-touch bungy and considered one of New Zealand’s most scenic bungy sites. It features the world’s first cantilever platform which projects out from the cliff-top 47m above the clear waters of the Waikato River below. If you don’t like the idea of hanging upside down but still want to do something extreme, opt for the Taupo Cliff Hangar with swing speeds of up to 70kph. The thrills just never end.
Experience an exhilarating ride on a jet boat, another Kiwi invention capable of shooting you across the waters at 80kph. The Great Lake Taupo region has three jet boat operators, each offering totally different experiences. Take in the majestic Huka Falls, New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction, on Hukafalls Jet. Ride some spectacular white water and see the impressive Aratiatia Rapids on Rapids Jet or throw in a thermal experience with New Zealand Riverjet which takes you to the geothermal Hidden Valley of Orakei Korako.
The Great Lake Taupo region is never short of activities and unique must-do’s that will keep the bold, as well as the faint-hearted, occupied. Another thing: see if you can spot a decommissioned DC3 aircraft in town brightly painted in the Golden Arches’ colours. A photo of one of the “World’s Most Unique McDonald’s” should be a keeper.
Visit www.GreatLakeTaupo.com to plan your holiday in the Great Lake Taupo region. The region is roughly three and half hours’ drive south of Auckland. Malaysia Airlines flies to Auckland, New Zealand.
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