En Route to Tongariro National Park
The 94km (58-mile) drive from Taupo to Tongariro National Park is an easy one along the eastern shore of Lake Taupo. At the southern end of the lake, stop at Turangi if trout fishing is your passion. The Tongariro River is one of the best-known trout-fishing sites in the world. If you have time, also detour to Tokaanu Thermal Pools. Even if you don't swim, there's a nice nature walk. Or call in at the National Trout Centre, south of Turangi (tel. 07/386-9243; www.doc.govt.nz), which features interactive displays and an award-winning underwater viewing chamber that allows you to observe trout in their natural habitat.
If you didn't fancy stopping in Taupo, let me introduce you to a hidden gem -- River Birches Lodge, 19 Koura St., Turangi (tel. 0800/102-025; www.riverbirches.co.nz), which is a serene hideaway on the banks of the Tongariro River, with three beautiful suites. Cedar tubs, big decks, lovely gardens, fine cuisine and, should you be a fisherman, a webcam that monitors the river's best fishing spots, make this an almost perfect stay. It's an incredible value at NZ$385 to NZ$515, or NZ$1,100 for the whole house. Meals are NZ$75 per person for three courses.
State Highway 47 cuts off from State Highway 1 to lead you through plateau tussock land to State Highway 48 and the entrance to park headquarters. It's clearly signposted. As you leave Lake Taupo behind, you enter a world dominated by the grand volcanic landscape. Drive with great care on the Desert Road in winter, when ice and snow cause major traffic hazards.