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Van-tastic fun in Lake Taupo

On our recent camper van holiday in New Zealand we visited Lake Taupo and discovered some hidden gems nearby. The length and breadth of Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake, is best appreciated by boat. The lake averages 110m deep, and I had to keep reminding myself that we were indeed atop freshwater! Several tour operators offer scenic cruises. We joined Chris Jolly Cruises for a twilight cruise and ticked all the Lake Taupo boxes in a few enjoyable hours. The carving of Ngatoroirangi, the navigator who guided the Maori tribes to the Taupo area over a thousand years ago, is a site to behold. The ten-metre carving took a team of artists several years to complete and is said to protect Taupo from further volcanic eruptions. On the trip home the crew even landed a trout, much to the delight of our girls, who themselves are keen fisherwomen.

There was no shortage of options to pull up for the van for the night. We camped a night Taupo DeBretts. The complex includes a big bounce air mattress and playground. The giant outdoor mineral spa that adjoins the complex has three enormous water slides - just the trick for a family who’d been in the camper van for many hours! On our second night in Taupo, we scored a lovely free camp site on the banks of Lake Taupo. The girls watched athletes training for the Taupo Ironman while they ate their breakfast the following morning.

Taupo boasts a few lesser-known treasures that made our holiday. AC Baths - a large swimming complex operated by the local council are a hidden gem. The complex is open from 6am - 9pm daily and entry includes access to several all-weather, thermally heated pools. The slides and rope swings had our girls entertained long after their fingers turned pruney. Our family pass was just $18 - a family-friendly and wallet-friendly few hours. Outside the temperature was cool enough that steam was rising from the pools while we swam - a treat for a family from tropical Queensland.

When we planned our trip to New Zealand I didn't anticipate that the highlight of our kids trip would involve Shawn the Prawn. Located a few kilometres out of Taupo, Huka Prawn Park is a fun-filled family friendly destination designed around - you guessed it - prawns. Entry to the park includes a licence to fish the thermally-heated pools for prawns. Best of all? The kitchen will cook your catch free of charge! We didn’t have much luck in the prawn department, Bearhands was responsible for our single catch but the kids found plenty of other things to entertain themselves with.

On our farm tour we learned about the history of the park, the farming process and the life stages of the Malaysian River Prawn. The girls enjoyed watching the prawns in their tanks using underwater viewers. Hand feeding the prawns brought squeals of delight. Afterwards, we explored the adventure course, fed rainbow trout and the girls used pedal power to squirt us with water bikes.

Bearhands and the kids took an opportunity to dip their toes in the beautiful Waikato River, but I opted for a soak in the thermal footbath sipping a Sav Blanc instead. The Little Sister is still asking when we can return and as the mornings turn colder, I wouldn’t mind another turn in the footbath either!

On her blog, Cooker and a Looker, Amanda Smyth serves up great tucker with a side of farm life. When she's not writing, she's spelling words out loud for her eldest daughter, distracting her youngest from unpacking the dishwasher and helping her husband on the farm all while dreaming of their next escape.

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