I think I have found one of New Zealand’s most peaceful and picturesque hidden gems!
Four of us converged upon Tokaanu for a weekend of relaxing, catching up, fishing and a cheeky high tea thrown in.
Where on earth is Tokaanu, I hear you ask?
Good question. I’d never heard of it either. It’s a little settlement, barely a village, on the southern shores of Lake Taupo, about five minutes drive from Turangi and 40 minutes from Taupo.
My husband and I drove from Auckland (just under four hours) and met my sister and brother-in-law who’d arrived from Hawkes Bay (under three hours) via Taupo, where they stopped to pick up the family boat to try our luck at catching a trout.
So they came armed with boat and bikes. We came with cameras and wine. The perfect combination!
Where to stay in Tokaanu
Braxmere is a former fishing lodge that some might know as a bit of a boys weekend pad from back in the day. But it fell into disrepair – and by that I mean there were no windows, doors, or ceilings. Just live wires and brick walls with blackberry growing through it. But two couples, Nick and Annabel Whisker and Bill and Jodi Jamieson, saw its potential and in 2013, after a year-long complete rebuild, they opened for business.
The footprint was reused, but pretty much everything else is brand spanking new. Ten units, all opening onto the lake, each with verandas and barbecues. All with self-contained kitchenettes with a fridge (for that wine) and microwaves. Each unit is one bedroom with a fold-out couch if needed in the lounge/dining room and a huge bathroom with a double shower.
The furnishings were done to the highest spec by well known Hawkes Bay company Hutchinson’s. But it’s the location that will have you at Kia Ora!
The grass rolls gently to the lake studded with magnolia trees and other natives that the Tuis love, flitting back and forth chirping to their friends, while black swans peck around on the lawn before heading off for a swim.
They have their own private boat ramp with a jetty and plenty of parking for boats, so down we backed her and off we zoomed with a couple of rods for jigging (a technique only my sister seems to have mastered) and a rod for trawling and a natural hot water steam running to the side of the property into the lake, which is fantastic for sitting and relaxing!
Note: before you can go fishing in Lake Taupo you need a fishing license. You can do this easily online from the DOC website and we did it on our phones after checking the weather on the day. $17 per adult for 24 hours or $90 for a whole season. We bought two – and caught only one fish. But it was worth it when we cooked it on our barbecue for lunch with a bit of butter, salt and pepper!
Where to eat in Tokaanu
Lakeland House is the restaurant attached to Braxmere and is owned by chef Francis Whitcombe and his wife Tarsh who manages Braxmere. It has been running for 9 years – long before the units were rebuilt. It has a great reputation in the community and is known for generous servings. The night we arrived we were just keen to stay in and have a natter, so ordered their pasta dishes which were delivered to our room. I can hand-on-heart say I think this was the best fettucine I’ve ever had! We ordered three main sizes for four of us and it just kept on coming. We couldn’t eat it all actually.
The next night we had booked a table for dinner and enjoyed steak, venison and chicken dishes. You’ll pay Auckland prices ($40 for steak, $39.50 for venison and lamb) so it’s not for every night, but with your own facilities in your room and Turangi just down the road for some more dining options, it’s a treat.
What to do in Tokaanu
If you can tear yourself away from the serenity of Braxmere, you’ll find cycle trails from Turangi which will take you past (or to and get your sister to pick you up in the ute) the Tongariro National Trout Centre with its Trout Hatchery. This is free to walk around any time, good for the kids, but if you pay you can go into the discovery centre and also buy some pellets to feed them as you walk around.
The Tongariro Chateau is about a half-hour drive from Tokaanu. We decided to scoot up there for a coffee, tea and a wine. You can also book high tea, lunch or dinner at this grand old lady of the mountain.
Thermal Pools. We didn’t actually make to the thermal pools, but it’s one of the key attractions for families – apart from swimming, skiing or playing in the lake. From Wiki: “A short walking track through the Tokaanu thermal area leads past steaming hot mineral pools and small mud pools dotted amongst the native bush.” Go find it!
If you’re a fisherman, either river or lake, this is the place to be. The whole family can enjoy the lake at Braxmere and you can head out with a guide or take everyone out on your boat.
From here you also have easy access to mountain biking, skiing (either water or snow) and rafting. And that, my friends, as well as its seclusion, is why I think this is one of New Zealand’s hidden gems!