The unobtrusive resort town of Taupo, 80km south of Rotorua and slap in the centre of the North Island, is slung around the northern shores of Lake Taupo, the country's largest lake. It attracts Kiwi and foreign tourists alike, the latter increasingly due to its attraction as the skydiving capital of New Zealand. From Taupo, views stretch 30km southwest towards the three snow-capped volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park, the reflected light from the lake's glassy surface combining with the 360-metre altitude to create an almost alpine radiance. Here, the impossibly deep-blue waters of the Waikato River ("flowing water" in Maori) begin their long journey to the Tasman Sea and both lake and river frontages are lined with parks, lending Taupo a slow pace and appealing tenor.
For decades, Kiwi families have been descending en masse for a couple of weeks' holiday, bathing in the crisp cool waters of the lake, fishing its depths and lounging around holiday homes that fringe the lakeshore. Although you could easily follow their lead and just relax, there's no shortage of stuff to see and do, most notably around the spectacular rapids and geothermal badlands of Wairakei Park, immediately north of town. Thousands more come specifically for the fishing: the Taupo area is a most fecund trout fishery, extending south to Turangi and along the Tongariro River, with an enviable reputation for the quality of its fish. Year-round, you'll see boats drifting across the lake with lines trailing and, particularly in the evenings, rivermouths choked with fly casters in waist-high waders.