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Tongariro - The River Revered

The Tongariro River, which empties into the southern end of Lake Taupō, is more than a great fishing river. It’s been labeled as trout fishing’s Mecca, has pools named after members of the Royal Family, and is the lifeblood to Tūrangi township. It’s a magnetic river that keeps on giving and has much more to offer than just trophy trout for beginners and advanced anglers alike. We caught up with Garth Oakden, a Tūrangi local with a life-long attachment to the river - and owner/operator of Tongariro River Rafting - to find out what makes the Tongariro so special.

[LT] What makes the Tongariro River such a significant and special place for trout fishing?

[GO] The Tongariro is the largest river feeding into Lake Taupō, so it makes it quite important as a source of water and nutrients to the lake. The number of fish that run up the Tongariro each year to spawn is incomparable to any other river in the Taupō system. So because you have all of those fish running up the river to spawn, you have a huge recruitment of young fish that drop back to the lake every year. It could be described at the hatchery of the Great Lake. There's about 27 different rivers and streams that flow into Lake Taupō, but the Tongariro is by far the largest contributor.

[LT] How do international tourists and visitors view fishing in Taupō and on the Tongariro?

[GO] Zane Gray wrote about fishing the Tongariro back in the day [1927], plus the Queen Mum came and fished - there's even a pool called the ‘Duchess Pool’ because that's where she fished. And so historically, there's been literature around about the Tongariro and what a fantastic fishery it is. I guess the thing about a lot of international anglers is that they tend to be reasonably learned, and quite often well read, and so they will have read these stories, and so it's almost an angler’s journey to Mecca, isn't it?

[LT] What legendary stories are there about the river that might not be commonly known?

[GO] I mentioned the Duchess Pool, but there are a whole lot of pools named after people. Another one is the ‘Admiral Pool’, named after Admiral Hickling, who used to come here quite a bit. While my stories are anecdotal, there’s actually a book that was put out on the history of the Tongariro [Fishing the Tongariro by Grant Henderson], and in it details a lot of history of some of those pools and the river itself. There are lots of neat stories from this river.

[LT] What does the Tongariro offer for beginners versus people who are a little bit more experienced?

[GO] Tongariro, to some anglers, is quite daunting because it's such a big river, so you can't just cross anywhere. You can't just, you know. If you're a beginner angler, there are certain places that are easier to fish than others, and it's just finding that right water. And the great thing about a big river like the Tongariro is it has those sorts of places all over the place. It's not just cookie cut. This is a river where you can poke around and find all the different types of water that you want - from shallow riffles, to deep pools, to fantastic dry fly water, to great nymphing water, to water to swing a wet line. It's sort of got something for everyone right through the whole system.

[LT] Is there any river that compares to the Tongariro in NZ or globally?

[GO] For me personally, the thing about rivers is that they're like people. Every river system has a different personality, and every person or personality is different on different days. They can be quite moody some days and they can be kind and gentle on others. You know, kind of a little bit dependent, of course, with rivers on what's going around with the weather. I'm not going to say that the Tongariro is the best fishing river in the world, but it's just unbelievably special. The mana of the Tongariro absolutely is second to none.

[LT] How does the Tongariro River continue to be such a magnetic place to fish?

[GO] Something that draws people to the Tongariro is the fact that here you've got this legendary river, and you don't actually necessarily need to travel up into the very headwaters of it to get the best of the fishing. Some of that can actually be right here in town [Tūrangi]. It's so accessible, yet so remote at the same time, if that makes sense. That's a great feeling of remoteness.

[LT] What is the most successful way to fish the Tongariro?

[GO] The fishing methods and approach depends on the season. In the winter months when the fish are coming into spawn, nymphing or wet lining is more productive. And in the summer months when there's a lot of insect activity and cicadas around, then dry fly fishing can be absolutely spectacular.

[LT] What is the significance of the Tongariro within Turangi township?

[GO] It links the mountains with the lake and it is the lifeblood of not just the lake, but of Tūrangi as a town. You know, there's some pretty special stuff that goes on out on the river. It's a really special lifeblood in all sorts of ways to the area.

[LT] For international readers who do not know about the Tongariro, how do you describe it in one word?

[GO] Magical.

Hiking guides & transport

Tongariro National Park

A diverse and awe-inspiring landscape born from volcanic eruptions and carved by ice age glaciers, Tongariro National Park is a place of natural wonders and spiritual significance. 

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