Imagine being surrounded by crystal clear water, paddling across a volcanic lake in a small kayak while you hunt for artwork and sculptures carved into the side of a cliff face.
It sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones movie but it is, in fact, an experience we had with Taupō Kayaking Adventures while visiting Lake Taupō in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, and it’s one that needs to be on your bucket list – here’s where and how to find the Lake Taupo Maori Carvings!
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What are the Taupo Maori carvings and how can you find them?
The Māori rock carvings are an impressive piece of contemporary artwork that was created by a traditional Māori carver in 1980. It includes a huge 14-metre tattooed face carved into the side of the cliff and a collection of smaller, but still impressive, sculptures in the rock formations that surround the cliff.
They’re not just random designs put there to look pretty though. They have a deep-rooted meaning to the local Māori tribes; the large face is a representation of Ngātoroirangi, an ancestor of modern Māori who is said to have arrived in Aotearoa/New Zealand from his faraway homeland by Canoe, while the surrounding sculptures represent guardians and other ancestors.
So where exactly are they? I mean, Lake Taupō is roughly the size of singapore, you’d be paddling all day without an exact location.
You’ll find the Māori carvings in the cliffs of Mine Bay on the North shores of Lake Taupō, about 11km (by road) from Taupo, but don’t expect an easy stroll from your car.
What makes this artwork even more unique is the fact that they’re not accessible from land. A special effort has to be made to reach them and if you go via kayak, once you turn the corner and see the towering face it will feel like you’ve earned the experience of drifting next to the water guardians.
Kayaking on Lake Taupō – Finding the Taupo Maori Carvings;
If you really want to see the carvings up close, you have two viable options; hire kayaks or join a boat tour. You’ll know by now that we’re not big fans of tours, preferring to explore at our own pace without being surrounded by other tourists… there’s nothing worse than other tourists, am I right? Luckily, that’s where Taupō Kayaking Adventures stepped in for us.
With Taupō Kayaking Adventures we were able to hire our own double kayak for the afternoon, and because they’re based in Acacia Bay, they’re closer to the carvings than other companies based in Taupō. This meant we had less time paddling and more time at the carvings.
They made me feel really safe too! I’m not a particularly strong swimmer and I’d never been in a kayak before, so my biggest concern was what if I flip my kayak! Lisa, our kayaking professional, reassured me that their double kayaks were super sturdy and it would take a lot for us to get tipped from it.
Nevertheless, she ran through the safety procedures and showed me how I would get out if that were to happen but thankfully, just like she said, it didn’t.
TAK also provide group kayaking tours of Lake Taupō for those who don’t feel confident enough to be out there alone. While this was my first time, Dec had done it plenty before so I knew I was in pretty safe hands without a professional.
Once we were all set to go, Lisa waved us off and we were free to paddle ‘till our arms dropped off. It’s roughly 5km from Acacia Bay to Lake Taupō Māori carvings which took us a little over an hour in smooth water.
The journey passes four little bays that you can zig-zag in and out so you stay close to the shore (this will add time to your travel) or you can dash across and experience a little bit of open water – good fun when it’s calm, a bit sick inducing when it’s not.
Look out for sea-birds and fish too! Some weren’t phased by us approaching, so we even managed to see a Pied Cormorant catch crayfish right by our kayak!
I learnt two things on our trip towards the Taupo Maori carvings; I’m very uncoordinated and I need to work on my arm strength.
Arriving at the carvings was a little win for me, 5km for my first Kayaking experience felt a lot longer than I expected it to but I managed it without throwing up, having a panic attack or just generally freaking out.
We found the perfect little nook for mooring the kayak just behind the sculptures, so we were able to get up onto the rocks to relax for a bit and take some photos – I even braved a paddle on my own while Dec took some more snaps! I imagine in the summer it gets pretty crowded here, but for us it was blissfully quiet!
We spent the best part of 90 minutes just hanging out and waving to a few surprised tourists who arrived on a boat tour and clearly weren’t expecting to see anyone else there – especially people who seemingly didn’t have a boat with them. If you have time and get bored with the Taupo Maori Carvings, or it gets too busy, there’s a small pebble beach nearby that looked perfect for a picnic or a spot of sunbathing in the summer.
By the time we headed back to Acacia Bay the weather turned on us, it had started to rain and the water was a little more rocky – yay – this time I did start to feel a little sick but we powered through and made it back in just under two hours.
Quick tip – If you’re paddling against the current it will take you longer to get where you’re going.
How do private kayak hires work?
When hiring a kayak from Taupō Kayaking Adventures there are several options to choose from. They’re set out in time slots, so if you’re wanting to visit the carvings you’ll need at least 4 hours if you want to see them properly or nip to the beach and not be racing to get back in time. This will cost you $45-$100, depending on which kayak you choose.
It’s best to arrive early for your booking to ensure you have plenty of time for your safety chat and to ask any questions you might have. No experience is necessary for kayaking on Lake Taupo, as Lisa or one of the hand-on team are very thorough in explaining everything you need to know. However, I personally think you need to be somewhat confident in your own ability to swim to shore if you do tip.
Once you’ve had the safety briefing you’ll be provided with everything you need to enjoy being on the water including a lifejacket, splash cover if you choose a sit-in kayak and a map to help you reach Mine Bay. The only thing you’ll need to take with you is a waterproof jacket, snacks and a camera! We took our Canon EOS R in a waterproof bag and the go-pro on its chest harness.
Then that’s it, the waters all yours!
Kayaking to the Taupo Maori Carvings – important things to know;
Lake Taupo can be a very busy lake, especially in the summer. There’s not only boats and other kayaks to think about, but water planes too! We found fishing boats were pretty considerate when it came to giving you space, the locals are used to novice kayakers by now.
That being said, always be aware of your surroundings and try to keep out of the way of other people.
Watch out for rocks
A fairly obvious one I think, but parts of the lake get unexpectedly shallow pretty quickly, meaning rocks can sneak up on you out of nowhere. Hitting a rock at speed might not be enough to tip you, but it’s certainly enough to startle you or damage the paddles.
If you’re kayaking on Lake Taupo during winter, you’re going to need layers. While you’re paddling I can guarantee you’ll be too hot, it’s like a full on work out if you’re not used to the motions, but once you stop it can get a bit chilly.
Wearing gloves can prevent blisters. Trust me. You’ll probably get them in odd places after a few hours of paddling!
I can’t stress enough how important snacks are for this kind of activity. Two hours paddling a kayak, even in gentle waters, is enough to work up an appetite. We took OSM protein bars but I really wish we’d packed more! Also, take water!
Pack your phone!
You might be worried about taking your phone out onto the water with you but anything could happen on the water, so it’s better to have it and not need it than the opposite! You can keep your phone splash proof by putting it in a zip-lock bag and celotaping it up or waterproof phone cases are relatively cheap now. Make sure it’s easily accessible too!!
Final say about our trip to the Taupo Maori Carvings;
All in all, we had a great day kayaking to the Lake Taupo Maori Carvings and I’d fully recommend Taupō Kayaking Adventures for your own trip to the Māori carvings, especially if you’re a beginner like me!
Lisa is an absolute delight and went out of her way to make me feel at ease in the Kayak before sending us out. Plus the fact they’re just around the corner from Mine Bay made the thought of kayaking a long distance a little less daunting for me. They have a good mix of different types of kayaks; including fishing ones, so if you’re a little more experienced and fancy trying your hand at fishing on New Zealand’s great lake you can.
So what do you think? Will kayaking to the Lake Taupo Maori Carvings be added to your adventure bucket list? Have you done something similar to this before? We’d love to hear about it. Let us know in the comments or join us over on facebook or twitter!