Taupo is a sanctuary for those who need a quiet spell. You won’t see any skyscrapers or high-rises there – only the small town features that give it a friendly, non-intimidating character. Scenic backdrops engulf the entire township, with lakes, mountains and clear skies adding to its peaceful nature. Embrace your surroundings, and make sure to head on a stroll around the Great Lake walkway to get the most of the passing scenery.
Along with being the country’s largest, Lake Taupo is also the biggest freshwater lake in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. To put things into perspective, the lake’s surface area is bigger than Singapore and almost the size of 19 Norfolk Islands. An eclectic mix of waterborne sporting activities will help you make the most of this attractive body of water. In fact, there are various ways to enjoy this standout attraction: you can head on a cruise, try your hand at trout fishing, go on a kayak excursion, or simply sit on the lakeside to watch the sun sets.
Picturesque with an adventurous flair, the Huka Falls are revered by all New Zealand visitors who get to see it. The 11-metre (36.1-foot) high waterfall is renowned for its voluminous flows, which amount to 220,000 litres per second (that’s enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in a matter of ten seconds!). There are walking tracks and viewing platforms that allow nature lovers and landscape photographers to relish the Huka Falls at every possible angle. If you’re looking for a thrill, hop on a jet boat – that will get you up close and personal to those thundering river rapids.
Love mountain biking? Then you need to add the Waikato River Trail to your bucket list. Considered one of New Zealand’s Great Rides, the 100-kilometre (62.1-mile) journey, which in its entirety would take 2-4 days to complete, follows New Zealand’s longest river on a path that’s filled with native greenery and interesting rock formations. The trail is divided into five sections, starting from Lake Tarapiro near Hamilton and ending at Atiamuri Bridge between Taupo and Tokoroa. For an alternative closer to town, check out the Great Lake Trail – a 71-kilometre (44.1-mile) journey that traverses a series of remote lakeside areas.
The Great Lake Taupo region is home to Tongariro National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its cinematic appearances (Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy being among the best renowned) and incredible alpine hiking terrains. The Tongariro Northern Circuit has been dubbed one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and is an absolute treat for experienced trekkers. For those not wanting to commit to a multi-day hike, there’s always the esteemed Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which, with the help of a guided expert, can be tackled on a full day without any issues.
No adventure trip to New Zealand would be complete without the bungy. Taupo adds its own kick to this adrenaline rush by bringing visitors the only water-touch experience in the country. The jumping platform sits atop the Waikato River, just five minutes from town. As you reach the top, take a deep breath and prepare to plunge 47 metres (154 feet) down into the waters. For a drier, slightly easier alternative there’s always the Cliffhanger Swing, which will whizz you across the exact same location at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour (43.5 miles per hour). Not for the faint hearted!
More than 30,000 visitors come to Taupo each year to try their hand at skydiving – making this New Zealand’s biggest drop-off location. The secret to its success, aside from exhilaration, has to be the awe-inducing vistas from below: coast-to-coast views of the Central Plateau, the snow-capped volcanoes of Tongariro National Park and, of course, Lake Taupo is all its glory. The drop off zones allow keen skydivers to choose between jumping from 9,000 feet, 12,000 feet or 15,000 feet respectively – with the option of filming everything as it happens too.
Whakapapa is the North Island’s only ski field. Mount Ruapehu, and active volcano in the central North Island, is one of its top terrains. Needless to say, it’s not very often that you get to say you’ve skied on a site known for its volcanic activity. And no, there’s no risk of getting caught in the midst of an eruption – but given New Zealand is the land of adventures, this will definitely add a bit of bravado to your visit.
Rotorua is not the only North Island destination for natural thermal wonders. Taupo is home to a trove of geothermal treasures, which can be explored by foot, bike, horseback or even through a scenic flight. Highlights include the exquisite Craters of the Moon, the public spa-like hot springs on the Otumuheke Stream; the several thousands of years old Orakei Kokako; and the culturally significant Wairakei Terraces. All of these are bubbling year-round, making them a perfect spot for some much needed rest and relaxation.
Taupo has a great amount of heritage to share – if you want proof of this, look no further than its museum. Maori carvings and artefacts feature prominently inside its galleries, showcasing local artistry as well as the rich history of Taupo’s Ngati Tuwharetoa iwi (the area’s native tribe). You’ll also find a remarkable homage to the township’s heritage on the rocky outcrops of Mine Bay, where an extraordinary sculpture highlights the ancestral origins and multicultural identity of the community, past and present.
Taupo is right in the middle of the North Island – making it a great place to explore far and wide. To give you an idea, the town is a three and a half hour drive from Auckland to the north; a four and a half hour drive south of Wellington; and a four hour drive east of Gisborne. No car? No worries. Intercity buses depart from various places to get you into (and out of) Taupo, and there are even regional flights that will quickly take you to your chosen destination.
A museum exhibit dedicated entirely to 1950s-1960s Kiwi pop-culture relics. A prawn theme park where visitors can fish for their own lunch. A Honey Hive shop where you can watch the bees as they make the honey for the products and ice cream that the store sells. The McDonald’s restaurant that’s shaped like a plane. You needn’t stray too far in Taupo to discover something interesting, unique and really rather quirky. So, if you’re passing by, make sure to look beyond the typical adventures, and admire the compelling attractions that hide in plain view. The experience will be worth it.