Lake Aniwhenua, sixty-five kilometers southeast of Rotorua, is not your typical tourist destination and you won’t find it on any “must-see” lists of New Zealand, or perhaps not even on some maps! But this is precisely the reason why you should visit.
This well-kept secret is the perfect stop between Rotorua and Taupo or Whakatane for White Island and Whale Island tours. The lake itself is peaceful and beautiful, teeming with trout, eels and birdlife. The area surrounding the lake is rich in Maori history, native bush and waterfalls, and is protected by the mighty mountains of the Te Urewera National Park, a popular park for game hunters of deer and wild boar.
Nestled on the edge of the lake you will find Kohutapu Lodge, a charming gem run by a passionate family giving the entire place a lot more heart and soul than your average lodge.
Guests can expect to be greeted by friendly farm animals and find comfortable lakeside cabins set on manicured grounds with volleyball nets, a private jetty leading to the lake, lounge areas and the ‘Taniwha Bar,’ the perfect spot for a sunset drink.
The owners Nadine and Karl ToeToe are passionate about ensuring their guests don’t only have a good night’s sleep, but also learn about the history of the area and the ways of the local Maori who been firmly settled here for many generations.
Guests can sign up to go “night time eeling” with Karl, learn skills of a Maori warrior, how to cook Maori fried bread, weave baskets from flax weaving or they can take the kayaks out to explore the tranquil lake.
Several times a week Nadine and Karl cook a delicious dinner in the traditional Maori way – in a hangi. This style of cooking was the Maori’s solution to a roast, in which food is cooked underground over hot stones to create incredible, succulent juicy meats and slow cooked vegetables with a distinct smoky flavor. This is something you don’t want to miss and simply must try while you’re in New Zealand! Kohutapu Lodge have a traditional hangi pit and use cooking techniques passed down from generation to generation ensure the food is expertly placed in the hangi to bring out the delicious mouth-watering flavours.
A little over a year ago Stray changed its North Island travel route to include an overnight stay at Kohutapu Lodge. Kohutapu Lodge is now a firm passenger favourite and is well aligned to Stray’s ‘off the beaten track’ style of travel and focus on responsible tourism.
Part of Kohutapu Lodge’s operating ethos involved giving back to the local community and in particular the local primary school. Many of the children at this school come from under-privileged backgrounds and had never had contact with anyone outside the local area, let alone outside New Zealand before the Stray bus came to visit. Stray passengers bring food parcels from the hangi , a nutritious meal for children who would have gone without, and join a classroom session to interact with the children and show them that the world is bigger than their small town and that their hopes and dreams are achievable.