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Just about everywhere you look you’ll see a volcano. The most serene is Lake Taupo itself, created by an eruption so big the sun went hazy in China. At the southern end of the Lake is one of the world’s most spectacular parks – Tongariro National Park.

It is one of only 20 places in the world to have been awarded dual World Heritage status as both a natural and cultural icon. Ruapehu erupted in 1996, putting on a spectacular fireworks display that made world news. But its rumblings have long since stopped and once again thousands of skiers and snow boarders flock here in winter.

In summer the Park is just as spectacular. The Tongariro Crossing is now recognised as New Zealand¹s best one-day hike. But a lot less strenuous way to work up an appetite is to take a chairlift 2000 metres up the Whakapapa ski area to lunch at New Zealands highest restaurant.

The region is one of the last true wild trout fisheries left in the world. It’s now over 100 years since the first trout were released here. Today anglers flock from around the world to fish for “rainbows” and “browns”. The record is a little over 8kg (17.6lb)!

Lake Taupo itself is the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. Water sports are naturally very big here and boats of every kind are available for charter. Here you really are far from the maddening crowds. You can also tandem sky dive or bungy jump with the mighty Waikato River 45 metres below. Then try jet boating right up to the foot of thundering Huka Falls. 300,000 litres of water hurtle through this narrow chasm every second.

Other options include 4×4 motorbiking, horse trekking, aerobatics in a biplane, white water rafting, kayaking, windsurfing, jet skiing, waterskiing, parasailing, mountain biking forest trails, rock climbing or abseiling.

There are six golf courses in the region including the magnificent Wairakei International Golf Course. Or spend a few hours soaking in hot mineral springs that have been soothing weary souls for centuries.

‘ the eruption devastated an area now populated by over 200,000 people

‘ if the same eruption occurred today, ashfall and other debris would cause chaos from Hamilton to Palmerston North, and buildings in Rotorua and Gisborne could be damaged or destroyed.

Lake Taupo has a smorgasbord of eating-out choices, from world class lodges to fine New Zealand home style cooking. Even the coffee tastes better – call into any of the many sunny, outdoor cafés and enjoy a cappuccino served with fresh air, not traffic fumes.

Getting here is easy – Lake Taupo is around half way between Auckland and Wellington. The two main towns are Taupo at the northern end of the Lake and Turangi at the southern end. A forty five-minute drive separates these two towns.
Facts & figures on the District – Altitude
Lake Taupo     370m
Lake Taupo (depth)     164m
Mt Ruapehu     2,797m
Mt Ngaruahoe     2,290m
Mt Tongariro     1,968m

Facts & figures on the District – Lake Taupo
Length     25 nautical miles (46 km)
Width     18 nautical miles (33 km)
Perimeter     104 nautical miles (193 km)
Area     60,000 hectares (600 sq km, 150,000 acres)
Volume     59 cubic kilometres
Height above sea level     Minimum (chart datum) 355.85 m
Depth     Maximum 186.84 m (102.2 fathoms) below chart datum. Average 110 m (60.1 fathoms)
Surface temperature     Coldest winter 10.6’C
Summer average 18.0’C (up to 25’C in the shallows in summer)

Early Settlement

Taupo first made a dent on the world stage in around 186 AD. It began its fiery evolution 300,000 years ago, then 2000 years ago the Western Shore was formed in a bang that covered some 20,000 square miles creating a ‘deadlands’ swept by dust storms, with the 186 bang finally creating the lake.

In a cataclysmic eruption, the 186 bang blew a 660 square kilometre hole in the earth and send the ash over a huge area ‘ the Chinese noticed it and even mighty Rome enjoyed dazzling sunsets as a result. There’ll be fireworks again tonight at the boat harbour to mark the end of the old and beginning of the new millennium. Once the fiery birth was done, vegetation recovered and the first Maori from the 13th century.

Taupo first entered the tourism trade in around 1845 when travellers crossed from Maketu on the east coast on their way to Wellington. George F. Angus painted various local scenes in around 1844, and missionaries became interested in the region in the mid 1830’s with the first service held at Hallets Bay in 1843. The first church was established at Motutere by an American, Seymour Spencer, ordained as a deacon by Bishop Selwyn. Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter visited in 1859 to record points of geological interest.

Lake travel began in 1874 with the 60 foot steamer Victoria. It blossomed along with the visitor numbers in the 1880s with the building of the Tauhara and in 1899 Tongariro until the 1920s when visitors were ferried to Waihi to continue by coach to Wellington. The opening of the road between Taupo and Turangi killed off the lake boat link, but created recreational boating instead.

Brown trout arrived in 1885, released by Major David Scannell of the Armed Constabulary. Rainbow trout were released by Forestina and Malcolm Ross in 1898. By the 1900s word had spread and Lake Taupo was recording catches of 20 pounds and attracting more and more keen fishermen.

In 1891 Taupo town’s population was 56, the entire district was around 400. Taupo town had a post office, telegraph office (first built in 1871), postal savings bank, three hotels, a school, police station and a town hall. Travellers recorded seeing: ‘Pumice, nothing but pumice.”

About the Taupo Volcano
The vast and scenic Lake Taupo is not always recognised as a volcano, yet it has had a fiery and violent history. It has erupted 28 times in the past 27,000 years. Although most of these eruptions were small, the most recent — the Taupo eruption of 181AD — was extremely large and violent.

The shape of Lake Taupo was largely created by the Oruanui eruption 26,500 years ago. This eruption formed a 500m-deep caldera (large collapsed crater) that was enlarged by the 181AD Taupo eruption.

The 26,500 year-old and 181AD eruptions were extraordinarily complex and violent, and they have attracted interest from scientists internationally. The other 26 eruptions in between were small, many not much larger than a typical Mt Ruapehu eruption.

What is a caldera volcano?
There are two very different types of volcano — cones and calderas. Cone volcanoes generate many small eruption eruptions from the same site. An example is Mt Ruapehu which has been erupting almost continuously for about 260,000 years. The amount of ash and lava they erupt is usually between 0.001 to 0.2km3 . The many frequent eruptions from cone volcanoes result in the accumulation of large volumes of volcanic debris close to the vent producing steep-sided cones like Ruapehu, Egmont, and Ngauruhoe.

Caldera volcanoes such as Taupo produce larger and less frequent eruptions. Sometimes their eruptions are as large as 50km3 or even bigger, and form new caldera structures. Other eruptions are smaller and contained within the existing caldera like many of Taupo’s eruptions over the past 20,000 years. These small eruptions are typically between 0.5 and 10km3. Caldera-forming eruptions drain the magma reservoir beneath the volcano, causing the ground to collapse, so that the eruption forms a depression in the earth’s surface. New Zealand’s two most active caldera volcanoes are Taupo and Okataina (which last erupted from Mt Tarawera in 1886, killing 108 people).

The 181AD Taupo eruption is unusual in several ways.

‘ it produced an eruption column 50km high — twice as high as the 1980 Mt St Helens eruption column

‘ it was the most violent eruption in the world in the past 5000 years

‘ the effects of the eruption were seen in the sky as far away as Europe and China