Taupo floats our boat

Kirsty Wynn and her family take on the Taupo Family Float, an inflatable boat ride down the lower stretches of the Tongariro River.
Kirsty Wynn and her family take on the Taupo Family Float, an inflatable boat ride down the lower stretches of the Tongariro River. Supplied

"ARE we at Taw-po yet?" enquired Miss Three as we inched along the southern motorway, just 20 minutes into the four-hour drive from Auckland to Lake Taupo for our autumn adventure.

Ah no, how about you look out the window love? Count the trees ...

It wasn't the easiest start to the weekend away, but the fun at the end of the countless questions, six toilet stops, and a fight with the GPS was worth it.

We booked into the Bayview Waiariki Resort, taking in the geysers, steam and bubbling mud en route, and treated Miss Three and her 5-year-old sister to a relaxed dinner at The Pavilion Restaurant.

We had a self-catering room, so we could have taken the essentials and dined in, but a much easier option was presented in the form of barbecued steak, prawns and wine and DIY hamburgers for the kids. The staff were good-humoured and came armed with coloured pencils and plenty to scribble on.

The resort has a gym, sauna and spa and is great for worn-out adventurers.

An early start the next day saw us discover one of Taupo's best kept secrets. Huka Prawn Park is tucked away in a semi-industrial area and proved great value for money. Established in 1987, it is a working farm pumping out 32 tonnes of plump prawns each year.

It's also set up as a family adventure. Wooden jetties jut out over prawn pools, sun umbrellas shade Cape Cod chairs, there are thermally heated seats for cooler days, and adventure walks lead to a fantastic family restaurant. Prawn facts are scattered about, such as the fact that male prawns have two sets of reproductive gear.

The staff know their prawns, the Macrobrachium rosenbergii (giant Malaysian river prawn) to be exact, and all you need to catch the crafty crustaceans is provided in the cover price.

You get to cook and eat your catch, but prawns are clever critters and we were too embarrassed to take our two little fellas to the kitchen. Instead we boiled our prawns at the well-equipped cooking hut and ate them immediately.

Be warned though. Miss Five had lovingly carried our two teeny prawns around the park in a bucket of cold water (to make them sleep). After much deliberation we plonked them in the bubbling urn. Miss Five locked me in her steely gaze. "They don't like that - you've just killed them," she said as they turned pink. Um, yes, well ... let's go and see the bees.

Five minutes down the road, with the prawn murder forgotten, we sampled some sweet treats and honey wine at the Huka Honey Hive. There is plenty for kids to see here with live beehive viewing, interactive displays and lots of products made with honey to try. Entry is free.

A quick drive away, Puzzle World is worth a look in. The Lego exhibit - 22 years in the making - had the young ones entertained for ages and the older ones pointing out the "I had one of those" pieces. Miss Five loved the maze, and the golf and gun range simulators got a workout, too.

If the weather is behaving, a dinner of fish'n'chips lakeside is a great end to the day, or there are plenty of restaurants and eateries along the waterfront.

Two worn-out kids and a good night's sleep later we embarked on another welcome surprise for families in Taupo - Tongariro River Rafting and its Family Float.

After an easy 40-minute drive to Turangi we were ready for this gentle family-friendly rafting experience.

We would never have considered this as an activity for young ones but the company takes children as young as 3 on the lazy river journey.

Miss Five was in tears when she had to put on a full-body wetsuit but they dissolved at the sniff of a chocolate offering and by the time we were afloat she was ecstatic and would have gone down a waterfall had we let her.

The 90-minute journey down river was a fantastic way for kids to learn about the Tongariro River from a great vantage point.

Lake Taupo is the site of the world's largest volcanic eruption in the past 5000 years and the results of different eruptions can be seen in the cliff faces along with river ride.

Our Colorado-born guide, Dan, was well-versed on each eruption and it's resulting layer of rock or pumice and knew his Maori mythology.

The tumbling waters are relaxing but there was still an opportunity to paddle.

Other activities on the Turangi side include the National Trout Centre (just up the road from rafting) where children can learn all about the famous fish and, on certain weekends, also catch, smoke and eat them. The pond catch is guaranteed (think shooting fish in a barrel) and friendly staff love to share their vast knowledge.

At the end of day two we finished up our autumn adventure with a relaxing soak at De Bretts Thermal Baths.

Much of the resort has been refurbished in the past two months, with the private spas and mineral baths freshened up.

There is a spa treatment centre with body wraps, massage and all expected treats. It's popular, so book.

We thought bubbling away like prawns would have wiped out Miss Five and Miss Three just in time for the journey home to Auckland.

But just 20 minutes along State Highway 1 the all-important question was raised: "Why do prawns have two doodles" and ... "Are we there yet?"

>> Read more travel stories.

Topics:  lake taupo new zealand travel travelling

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