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Take a helicopter to a remote fishing spot, lunch in the famous Hawke’s Bay wine region and see Huka Falls. This is a day you will never forget.
Beside the Waikato River, near the famous Huka Falls, sits one of the country’s most well-known fishing lodges. But Huka Lodge wasn’t always the luxurious retreat it is now: back in 1924, Alan Pye established a basic lodge, which went on to attract film stars and politicians, who came for Pye’s legendary hospitality and world-beating trout fishing in the streams and rivers that feed Lake Taupo. Many things have changed at Huka since, but the exceptional hospitality remains.
The lodge is close to some of the North Island’s best attractions. Taupo was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions starting 300,000 years ago and the area is still an active geothermal zone, with live snow-capped volcanoes, azure lakes and hot springs. In the streams that feed the lake, there is still some very good trout fishing, while the Hawke’s Bay wine region is just over the ranges. All of which makes for a remarkable day.
6AM: If you’re going to catch fish, you’ll need to get up early. If you’re lucky, Huka Lodge will be shrouded by mist first thing in the morning making for an ethereal landscape, grey-green trees on the opposite bank emerging from the fog and the river steaming in front of the lodge’s manicured green lawn.
7AM: Breakfast is perfect at Huka, a generous spread of fresh fruit as well as freshly baked pastries in the lodge’s main dining room, or outside on the sunny terrace, washed down with espresso coffee and followed – if you can fit it – by breakfast from the a la carte menu. Take your time, and appreciate the view of the river.
8.30AM: The sun’s out and your fly-fishing guide from Chris Jolly Outdoors has arrived – and so has your helicopter, ready to whisk you into the wilds of the Rangitikei River in the wilds of the Kaimanawa Ranges, touching down beside the river.
8.40AM: But first, the helicopter heads north to the Huka Falls, a few hundred metres from the lodge, where the mighty Waikato River narrows into a gorge just 15 metres wide, the water frothing and surging its way down a series of waterfalls and down into a 20m gorge – and it’s most spectacular from the air.
9AM: After touching down on the banks of the Rangitikei River, your guide will help you into your waders and talk you through the intricacies of fly fishing or – if you’ve fished before – will help you with your technique. It’s peaceful here: the river is slow moving, shallow and clear, the gentle swish of the rod back and forth the only noise as you attempt to drop the fly in the perfect place so that it drifts past you and downstream.
11AM: There’s a thermos of strong hot coffee and muffins for morning tea waiting on the riverbank. Sit back and appreciate the landscape with its dense, primordial trees.
11.30AM: Get back into the helicopter and keep an eye out for the famous Kaimanawa horses of the region as the helicopter climbs and heads east, the thick bush eventually giving way to the patchwork of vineyards and farms that is Hawke’s Bay.
12PM: You’re heading to Te Awanga, for lunch at Elephant Hill just across the road from the beach, in a spectacular modern building sheathed in copper, where you’ll feast on local venison, say, with a glass of the vineyard’s syrah.
2.30PM: Buckle up again in the helicopter and head west, back over those ranges and down around the south-eastern side of Lake Taupo glittering below. In the distance, you’ll see the snow-capped triple peaks of the Tongariro National Park, the country’s first national park, containing three live volcanoes – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.
3PM: The landscape of the Tongariro National Park couldn't be more different than where you’ve come from – there is sparse tussock and azure lakes heated by geothermal activity below you.
4PM: The helicopter touches down on the front lawn of the lodge, where you’ll be greeted by one of the staff. Relax and refresh in time for dinner – get a massage in the lodge’s spa, or just relax fireside with a book and afternoon tea of fresh baking.
6.30PM: Gather in the drawing room of the lodge for drinks and canapés in front of a blazing fire. It’s a convivial spot, with big leather couches and fishing memorabilia that make it feel more like a beautifully curated private home than a lodge.
7.30PM: Make your way to one of Huka Lodge’s intimate dining spaces for a multi-course dinner showcasing the best of New Zealand produce, matched with local wines. Huka’s executive chef Paul Froggat takes fresh, local produce and treats it simply and deftly. And if you’ve been lucky enough to catch a trout, he’ll cook that for you too.
10PM: Return to the drawing room fire for what may be the country’s finest cheese platter, a selection of artisan New Zealand cheeses and petit fours matched with port, poured from a cut crystal decanter, while you’re serenaded by the soft sound of the river and the morepork, or ruru, the New Zealand owl that keeps watch over the lodge by night.