28 January 2020 – water fun in Taupo……

We had another full day ahead of us in Taupo, New Zealand. We were nearing the end of our Summer Kiwi adventure, but still had plenty of activities planned.

The kids made sure we had plenty of time to enjoy the day, with Zinnia being up by 6am, after actually sleeping through the night, and the big kids not long after her. Since it was going to be another warm day we had nice cooked eggy breakfast in the Airbnb and were organised before 8am to make the most of the cooler morning. Our plans for the day had a bit of a water theme with visits to the Huka falls, the Aratiatia rapids and the Spa Thermal Park on the agenda.

Our first stop was the Huka Falls. We were originally planning to do the long hike, but at 1.5 hours and on a warm day, we decided we’d do a shorter version. While you can park at a car park right near the top section of the falls, and access the falls with a gentle stroll (this is where the tour buses go) we opted for a walk that was 15 minutes each way and a much quieter car park. The walk took us through the bush and up to the falls and was a nice little leg stretch.

We think the 15 minutes estimate was a bit generous as it was a mere 5 or 6 minutes even at kid-pace! We did get our first view of the Huka Falls from a lower viewing platform, not that we were in any doubt as to where they are as the noise from all the water is rather impressive. The kids were running along the trail following the roar of the water….

The Huka Falls are only an 11m drop (hardly impressive by world waterfall standards) but have nearly a quarter of a million litres of water per second flowing over them. That is where all that noise comes from! The viewing platform we were at, below the falls, gave us a good view back up towards the falls….. and plenty of opportunity to take a few photos of the massive amounts of water flowing down.

The top photo (below) is captured at a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second and the bottom photo at 1 second. You can see the amount of water that passes by in a mere second!

The Huka Falls are created where the Waikato River narrows from it’s usual 100m wide down to 15m wide as it passes through a hard volcanic canyon. If it’s hard to visualise the amount of water going over the falls it’s equivalent to 9 olympic sized swimming pools a minute. We all concluded that we did not want to go for a swim or kayak in that water and over those falls, although apparently some people do (intentionally). You’d want to be a very skilled kayaker!

We wandered over to the other side of the falls for some different views and photos but before too long a bus load of tourists arrived. It is one of the most visited sites in New Zealand so we had been lucky to have it mostly to ourselves to marvel at that volume of water and the magical blue-green colour.

After a few more photos we went back around to our quiet side of the falls and watched all the tourists from afar.

I love the colour of the water, it doesn’t look so ferocious when you see it this way (this is a 4 second exposure) but I wasn’t volunteering for a swim!

We bid the roar of the falls goodbye and set off back up the hill to the car, again not taking more than 5 minutes, even in the uphill direction!

Our next stop for the morning was Aratiatia Dam. The dam gates are opened 4 times a day over Summer – at 10am, 12, 2 and 4pm. We were so efficient with our morning walk and falls photography that we had time to swing past yesterdays lunch stop – Kefi at the Hub (aka the helicopter cafe) for take away coffee before making it to the dam in plenty of time for the 10am release.

Just in case anyone was in any doubt that a lot of water was about to be released there were warning signs everywhere. If this was Scandinavia there would be no signs and no fences, but apparently quite a few people have managed to be killed in the rapids, so there were the requisite signs to prevent dumb things happening.

It is best to get a look at the dam and river before the gates open. There are various viewing platforms, including one on the bridge right over the dam, and 2 platforms a further 5 or so minutes down the river. We opted to walk down the river and get a view back towards the spillway. Another family with kids were also there so we had a chat while waiting for the water release to start.

Sirens sound at intervals from 5 minutes out and when the final siren sounded we saw the gates slowly open and water start to flow. It took quite some time for the water to build up and the previously calm river to become much less so.

Around 15 minutes after the water release began the rapids were awash with white water. While you could see why people might be tempted to swim there in the calm water with the gates closed, you do not want to be in that water once the dam has opened. The change was quite impressive.

After we watched the water rise to it’s high point we wandered back to the car. As we reached the bridge, it all looked calm again up the top but there was still some raging rapids further downstream.

Back in the car and we decided to pay nearby Huka Honey a visit. We’d seen the signs during our drives around the area and the kids had been asking to have a look. Our household honey consumption is rather high and we have several honey connoisseurs, so they had fun watching the bees make one of their favourite foods and getting to taste several varieties of honey.

We managed to escape without purchasing the 20 different varieties of honey Astrid had her eyes on, and stopped past a lookout approaching our Airbnb. There were some impressive clouds in the sky but we could still see straight over Lake Taupo.

Sadly no lunches of pizza while sailing on the lake today (the kids would have happily repeated the previous days adventure) and it was back to our Airbnb for Zinnia’s nap and a far less exciting lunch of toasted sandwiches.

After Zinnia had napped. and the adults had commenced the never-ending washing and repacking, it was time to head out for our afternoon activity, a visit to another free thermal park. The Spa Thermal Park and Otumuheke Stream hot pools is a 25 minute walk from the Taupo city centre or a fairly short drive from where we were staying. It had pretty good reviews and we were continuing our theme or free activities for the day so decided to give it a go as the kids are always fans of swimming.

While it was a short drive, the car park was unfortunately a fair distance from the water. Not a problem other than us forgetting to bring the ergo and having to carry miss pudding (aka Zinnia) and the swimming gear for quite some distance.

On another sunny afternoon the spot was popular but there was plenty of water to go around! Despite being a free attraction the paths were great, there were boardwalks in some areas and clean toilets and changing facilities (including a baby-change).

Like most of the thermal pools, the water was different temperatures in different areas and we had to find a spot at the right temperature. There was even a little waterfall and the section above the waterfall was on the hot side, but we found our ‘just right’ bit and enjoyed a soak in the warm water.

The Otumuheke Stream is lovely and calm but if you venture out into the main Waikato River the water moves very fast. This section of the river is upstream from the Huka Falls (which we had visited that morning). There were plenty of signs warning that there was only 1 exit point before the falls so to be careful if swimming out into the river. There was no way we were keen on going over those falls so the kids happily stayed in the quiet thermal area. This was a much better temperature for Zinnia and she was happy to splash all day!

After plenty of soaking in warm water, we had to drag them away or we would have been there all day. There might have been a little bribery involved, the big kids were promised a return visit to the Taupo McDonald’s for a play on the DC-3 plane (it had been closed the previous day) while I stayed back at the Airbnb with Zinnia while she had her afternoon nap.

As our entire day of activities was free and we were down to only breakfast supplies left in the Airbnb, we thought we’d go out for a restaurant meal for dinner. We hadn’t been out for dinner much at all on this trip, and with only a couple of days to go we figured a nice dinner was in order.

We settled on ‘The Bistro‘ which conveniently had a table for us at 5pm and a an early bird special that meant that Anto and I had to have 3 very nice courses and the kids got some excellent kids choices and dessert.

Zinnia being Zinnia just had a bit of everything! The food was very good and we were all feeling rather full by the time we even got to dessert.

It was a fitting end to a lovely stay in Taupo. I’d enjoyed my visit to Taupo some 20-odd years earlier and it was just as fun this time around – with plenty of beautiful sights and a lot of free attractions amongst the more touristy options. Maybe on our next visit the kids will be old enough to con us into letting the para-sail or skydive …….. probably over my dead body! I did skydive in Taupo in my youth but I now know why my Mum agreed to also skydive, as she had to go after me when I jumped out of that plane!

We were bidding farewell to Taupo in the morning and heading to Waitomo for it’s world-famous glow worms and some very special animal fun for the kids with a farm-stay.

Daily statistics

The daily statistics for Tuesday the 28th of January in Taupo, New Zealand. The temperature range for the day was a very pleasant 13 to 25 degrees Celsius. Another lovely New Zealand Summer’s day. Our total walking for the day 7.7km, just enough to burn off that delicious food!

Up next……

The final instalment of the New Zealand adventure with glow worms, ostriches, alpacas and rained out hikes. The last couple of days of our trip had a few surprises in store and it was the end of our lucky run of weather!

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