Thermal springs, bubbling mud pools, steam-cooked kai … and all the crowds that go with! Visit the central North Island and its volcanic treasures and you’ll be sharing the experience with coach loads of others, unless, of course, you head for secretive Tokaanu at the untouched southern end of beautiful Lake Taupo.
Backed by reedy wetlands where wildfowl call through the early morning mists, this timeless village has been home to the people of Ngāti Kurauia for over 300 years. A place of rest and recovery for early Maori travellers, the region’s therapeutic mineral pools and healing muds were highly valued for their medicinal powers. Today, children from the local school still use the village’s steam vents to cook kai, and are among the many in the community who speak te reo. This priceless backwater, where time stands still, is discovered by only a handful of visitors each year so after you’ve been hooked by its spell, it’s best to keep mum!
What to see
Thermal Bathing Pools
Access to Tokaanu’s tranquil, public, thermally-heated pools and private mineral pools in Mangaroa Street is free when you stay at Oasis Motels and Caravan Park but if you’re only visiting for the day, you won’t have to dig deep to take family and friends along with you. Unpretentious, clean and well cared for, the low-key facility offers a large pool (36-38°C) and a children’s pool (36°C) right next door. Both are filled with chlorinated water so you can swim without safety being compromised. For a soak in the real McCoy, private mineral pools (39-41°C) can be hired. Whatever time of year you’re visiting, you’re sure to be sharing the pools with locals so don’t be shy – strike up a conversation and let yourself in for a few tips about where to venture next in this intriguing part of the country.
Tokaanu Thermal Walk
Entry is free so leave your wallet behind and be sure to return more than once to appreciate the many moods of Tokaanu’s very own thermal park. Emerald mineral pools, bubbling mud and hissing steam vents set amidst a native shrub backdrop provide a stunning introduction to the volcanic activity that lies beneath the surface of this thermal region. Meander slowly along the 20-minute return loop track but don’t be tempted to put a finger in the water which is frequently at boiling point. While you’re on the trail, glance around you at the hills that back the village, and you make catch glimpses of steam emerging eerily between the folds of forest. As you enjoy your surroundings, remember this is not bustling Taupo. There are no guides. You have the place to yourself so obey the safety signs you meet along the trail.
The Old Tokaanu Wharf
At 260m long, Tokaanu’s 120-year-old historic wharf is an imposing sight. Whether you’re a history buff, looking for a fabulous place from which to fish for the trout the lake is renowned for, or just plain curious, it’s a must-see sight. Lying derelict in 2002, it’s restoration and rebuild was achieved in 2003 when DOC, Internal Affairs and the Tongariro Natural History Society joined forces to bring the past back to life. An integral part of farming in the late 1800s, the wharf enabled the shipping of dairy products, wool, and flax to the northern end of Lake Taupo while, at the same time, providing an unloading point for tourists making what was known at the time as ‘The Grand Tour’ of the volcanic North Island. Today the wharf is the perching place of herons, shags, ducks and kingfisher, and is a perfect destination for bird watching or spotting iridescent dragonfly. Lie on the deck and gaze into the water, and you may even catch a glimpse of a trout or eel.