It has been 11 years since the Hilton, Lake Taupō first opened its doors. With the Heritage Wing oozing character and Victorian charm, and the Mountain Wing offering spectacular views over the lake, this grand hotel has lost none of its allure.
In a time when international travel is not an option, it was a treat to head south, escape the frenetic workday hustle of Auckland and experience the Hilton (hilton.com/taupo), and Taupō, on a weekend escape. One unanticipated bonus of our closed borders has been the incentive to revisit beloved New Zealand destinations, as with my too-short trip.
Ascending the sweeping driveway, the hotel is instantly impressive, with the original historic buildings – dating from 1889 – on the left, and a modern, stylish new wing on the right. As you’d expect of any first-rate hotel, I was swiftly and efficiently checked in, and nothing was too much to ask during my stay. The professional Hilton team had organised just the right combination of exhilarating and relaxing activities for me to enjoy, beginning with a heart-stopping jet boat ride courtesy of Hukafalls Jet.
Once set with life jacket and clear plastic glasses (a fetching look), we roared around for about half an hour, doing 360-degree spins along the Waikato River, passing as close as it is possible to get to the stunning Huka Falls along the way.
Having recovered the use of my legs, I spent a pleasant afternoon pootling around Taupō central, popping in and out of boutiques and homewares stores, including the outrageously well stocked Chef’s Complements (chefscomplements.co.nz), a must-visit for any foodie in the area. In the evening I made my way to the Hilton’s Bistro Lago, having built up an impressive appetite after my day’s adventures. I promptly devoured a plate of salt and chilli squid brought to life with green harissa, followed by potato gnocchi with luscious slow-cooked beef cheek, kale chips and parmesan. Utterly delicious, thanks to chef Adrian Walker.
The weather gods were smiling on Sunday morning as I made my way around the Wairākei Terraces, which seemed appropriate given the intensely spiritual nature that pervades the area. Māori
settled here more than 1000 years ago, drawn to the abundant surroundings but also, just as importantly, to the almost magical healing powers of the thermal waters. These days the geyser is man-made, but the silica-rich water, reaching up to 40°C in the hottest pool, is all natural. It is impossible not to come away feeling rejuvenated – I would return in a heartbeat.
From utter relaxation, my day continued with the invigoration of heading onto the lake aboard Waikare II with Chris Jolly Outdoors. I felt obliged to explain to our captain that I am known as the veritable banana on the boat and that he should expect my fishing endeavours to be fruitless, and no mark on his reputation. Clearly I had underestimated his abilities, as he somehow managed to tempt a rainbow trout to the end of my line and talk me through reeling it in.
Once photographed for posterity and released back into the lake, we headed to Mine Bay to view the 14 metre-high Māori Rock Carvings of Ngātoroirangi (pictured top), a visionary Māori navigator who lived more than 1000 years ago. Surrounded by smaller sculptures depicting tūpuna (ancestors) and kaitiaki (guardians), the carving is one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions.
Feeling totally rejuvenated after my day’s activities, I returned to the Hilton to lie pool-side in the afternoon sun until cocktail hour. That night I flopped into my indulgently comfortable bed, wishing that my trip had only just begun.
Whether for a weekend or a week, Taupō and the Hilton are a fabulous choice for travellers seeking a balance of activity and leisure.
Hilton Lake Taupō
Chris Jolly Outdoors