Huka Falls in Taupo, New Zealand. - Tim Clayton

Flights to the Lakes: Water, water, everywhere

Back to nature

As New Zealand's largest lake, Taupo reigns supreme. Or does it? Nearly 20 vie for your attention on a Lakes holiday. And there's more: majestic forests, steaming thermal springs, volcano views and raftable rivers that fairly burst with trout. Walking tracks and mountain bike trails crisscross the forests. Scenic cruises ply most lakes, but the extraordinary colours of the Blue and Green Lakes are best seen from the air.

Get cultured

Take a cruise or kayak to see Maori rock carvings at Lake Taupo's western bays. The carvings, by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, are accessible only by boat and feature legendary Maori navigator Ngatoroirangi. Plunge even more deeply into Maori culture in the replica village at Wairakei Terraces near Taupo. Watch vibrant indigenous cultural performances and tuck into a traditional hangi feast while you're there.

Go slow

Take the load off after your flight to the Lakes. Sink into a steaming mineral pool at Rotorua's Polynesian Spa. Or take your partner to the geothermal Blue Baths. These decadent pools have been restored to their 1930s glory, when they dared to introduce mixed bathing. Get silky (and smelly) in the mud at Hells Gate & Wai Ora Spa. Or get horizontal for a traditional mirimiri (massage) at Wairakei Terraces, wherelandscaped geothermal pools nestle at the base of colourful silica terraces.

Adrenaline rush

Button up and hang on tight: a Waikato River jet boat ride to the broiling base of Huka Falls is a scream a second. There’s more heart-pumping action shooting the rapids – all 50 of them – on a Tongariro River white-water rafting adventure. Prefer to stay dry? Taupo also promises sky-diving, parasailing, and one of New Zealand’s spectacular bungy jumps – from a tiny platform 47m above the Waikato River.

Fast facts

Where? Some 20 or so lakes are scattered within a couple of hours’ drive of each other in central North Island. Taupo and Rotorua are the big guys.

Getting about: The easiest way of getting around the Lakes is by car. Make sure you get a map that gives times as well as distances, the latter of which can be deceiving.

Key dates: The Te Arawa tribe first settled near Rotorua about 600 years ago. Their ancestor Ihenga is credited with discovering neighbouring lakes Rotoiti and Rotorua.

Did you know? Lake Taupo is the source of the Huka Falls, New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction.