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International Dog Day: Is Taupo the most dog-friendly town in New Zealand?

by Megan Wood for nzherald.co.nz

I had never visited Taupo before and neither had Rocket. Sure, it was the first time for the kids too, but this trip was all about Rocket, a 5-year-old Maltese-Shi Tzu cross, who only weighs about 4kg, is fiercely loyal and usually spends her days sleeping. Rocket was, however, going to get off the couch in Taupō as this trip was jammed-packed with activities, and she was coming on every single one of them.

This story has been republished with permission from the author.

As a dog owner, one of the biggest challenges when travelling with your fur family is finding accommodation that allows pets. This wasn't going to a problem in Taupo, as Cascades Lakefront Motel welcomed four-legged guests with open arms and ear rubs.

Cascades Lakefront motel is not just perfectly positioned right on the water, it is also dog friendly.

Our room was right on the lake, as close to water as you could get without actually being on a houseboat and, although it was much too cold to swim, there were stunning views across the lake from every window. To our left, along the waterfront walkway, we noticed a white building with a long jetty that jutted into the lake. We were pretty sure this was Two Mile Bay Sailing Club, our next stop.

Two Mile Bay Sailing Club welcomes dogs to enjoy its waterfront location

Rocket had been invited to dinner by the friendly owners of the sailing club and the rest of us decided to tag along as we heard they make really wonderful wood-fired pizzas. We expected to be relegated to an outside area and it was a cold and rainy night, so it wasn't going to be ideal. As we poked our heads into the warm interior, however, we were delighted to be told "sit anywhere, dogs are welcome everywhere". We found a cosy table and a man with a guitar started to serenade us. Warm and comfortable, we hungrily awaited the arrival of our pizzas. Soon three generously topped beauties arrived our table and we gorged on their cheesy goodness, crunching on their thin, crusty bases. We even saved some for Rocket.

A good night's sleep saw us heading for breakfast at Replete Cafe, a local favourite that serves up cabinet delights and poached eggs alongside a quaint little store stocked with boutique food items and luxury homewares. Rocket was welcome inside, but with an array of shiny things to grab and fondle, the kids had us wolfing our food and drowning our coffee in record time, ready for the next dog-friendly stop.

Being able to take Rocket with us as we explored the gorgeous Orakei Korako Geothermal Park was a real treat.

A shorter leash may have been a good idea as we started exploring the Orakei Korako Geothermal Park. A rustic little boat had ferried us across a narrow section of the Waikato river and now we found ourselves wandering wooden pathways through vibrantly coloured rock formations and geothermal steam that provided much-needed warmth as it was still drizzling. The walk was stunning but Rocket seemed to think she could take a shortcut across the geothermal rocks from time to time, so I kept her close.

The Orakei Korako Geothermal Park welcomes dogs.

Rocket and our 8-year-old had a blast walking the tracks and exploring the other-worldly surrounds, while the 3-year-old ran out of steam about halfway and needed a lift from dad. Returning on the ferry to the main building we happily took a minute to warm up with coffee for the grown-ups and hot chocolate for the kids, before setting off for our next adventure.

The Huka Falls River Cruise gets you up close and personal with the falls, and your pooch can enjoy them too.

Huka Falls is a must-see while in Taupo and although there are lots of ways to enjoy them, not many of them are dog-friendly. So, we found ourselves on a rough and ready little boat, heading off down the Waikato river at a leisurely pace. While the ever-popular jet boat rides will get you out to the falls in about half an hour - with a few rushes of adrenalin thrown in for good measure - they don't accommodate small children or dogs. Luckily anything goes on the Huka Falls River Cruise, including dogs and kids - the captain even let the kids take a turn at driving.

My three-year-old got a chance to steer the boat on the way out to Huka Falls, he loved it, but kept steering us into the shore.

The vibe was relaxed, but the weather was poor and as we meandered slowly out to the falls the kids got a bit restless, doing laps from port to starboard and back again. With the small humans constantly on the move, Rocker was a bit on edge as she likes all of her people together. As we reached the falls, it was all worth it though, they were a delight, with the captain doing several passes so that everyone had a chance to take photos. 

After a long day we were too exhausted to head out for dinner as planned but the amazing staff at diner-style eatery Dixie Brown's barely blinked when we called and asked if we could order it delivered to our accommodation instead. Rocket had barely moved from her comfortable spot since we'd returned and so, despite being very welcome to join us in the covered outdoor area at Dixie Brown's, I think even she was glad we were eating in. From my well-cooked steak to my husband's healthy salmon, the food arrived fast and hot and was just what we needed - and I even saved a little bit of steak for Rocket.

Nothing goes according to plan with kids so the next morning we found ourselves with a very unwell 3-year-old on our hands. Rocket had herself booked in for another boat trip so she and I decided to venture out alone. It was another rainy day so I rugged up well, Rocket was majorly overdue for a haircut though so I was pretty sure she was warm enough. She was greeted with open arms, a bowl of fresh water and a little bag of dog biscuits. This was another slow and steady boat trip so Rocket and I sat back and took in the sights as we headed out to see the famous Māori Rock Carvings.

The Ernest Kemp replica steamboat is a very relaxed and dog friendly way to see the Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo.

Our vessel was the Ernest Kemp, a replica steamboat built in the 1980s. The trip was an unusual one. The boat had the feel of yesteryear, while only being a few decades old. The rock carvings we were on our way to visit were spoken of in such reverent tones, one could be forgiven for thinking they too hail from a distant past but while striking and well worth a visit with your pooch in tow - they were carved only 40 years ago. The boat trip itself was a lovely one and in summer I am told that on a fine day it will moor itself so that passengers can take a swim to cool off. The Ernest Kemp also gets extra points for having a full bar, a service some of my fellow passengers were enjoying with relish.

The Ernest Kemp is a replica steam boat that takes visitors - and their dogs - to the Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings twice daily.

As Rocket and I returned to dry land the weather had improved a little so we took a walk along Taupo's picturesque shorefront, passing the Instagram-worthy #LOVETAUPO sign, taking in the shops, cafes and eateries of the main town. Strolling side by side down Heuheu Street we noticed a hole-in-the-wall coffee kiosk (well I did, I am not sure Rocket likes coffee). Ordering a brew and chatting to the barista at Streetwise about my Janis Joplin T-shirt while I waited, I looked back down Taupo's main street towards the lake, wishing I had more time to explore. Instead, I grabbed my coffee – the best I had in the town - held on tight to Rocket's lead and headed back the way we came telling her: "Taupo time's over Rocket. Good girl".

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