A lake the size of Singapore that was carved out of several thousands of years’ worth of volcanic activity, Lake Taupo, with its 616-square-kilometre (238-square-mile) surface area, sits at the caldera of the Taupo volcano, and is New Zealand’s largest lake. It is a popular spot for white water rafting, jet boating, water-skiing and kayaking. It is also a great place for trout fishing; in fact, it is because of the Lake Taupo’s abundance in these species that the nearby town of Turangi holds the world’s largest natural trout fishery.
Within Lake Taupo, you’ll find the boisterous Huka Falls. Its powerful rapids, created by an abrupt narrowing of the Waikato River as it flows into the north of Lake Taupo, have made the Huka Falls a favourite among keen photographers and adrenaline junkies. There are walking tracks and viewing platforms all around it, so that visitors can truly bask at its beauty. Mountain biking and extreme boating activities are the top choices for thrill-seeking visitors.
Those who have seen Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will know the Aratiatia Rapids from its cinematic cameo – it’s one of the places that features in the scene where the dwarves are escaping captivity. These rapids are formed by the opening of the dam gates in the Waikato River. Arriving at a lookout just before the water is released will get you the best views of this turbulent phenomenon. In summer, the dam is opened at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm, while in winter it is opened at 10am, 12pm and 2pm respectively. The Aratiatia Rapids are not safe for swimming, though there are jet boating experiences that pass through it.
Lake Taupo’s Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings are definitely among New Zealand’s most extraordinary public artworks. Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, a marae-taught carver, was the mastermind behind the project, relying on four other artists to fulfil his vision. Essentially, Matahi wanted to create something that would showcase his family’s connection to the Great Lake Taupo land. The ‘tattooed face’ on show primarily represents Matahi’s ancestor, Ngatoroirangi. New Zealand’s multiculturalism is also highlighted through two small-sized figures of Celtic design. Work on the sculptures began in 1976, taking four years to complete. Visitors can get a glimpse of the completed project through various boat tours.
The Craters of the Moon is a remarkable geothermal phenomenon that came to life in the 1950s. A power station north of Taupo is largely credited for its formation: as underground water pressure levels shifted, steam vents naturally began to pop up, thus creating craters of boiling mud as the super-heated water rose to the surface. Wooden walkways have been fitted around the craters to allow for safe viewing; these, however, need to be shifted regularly to accommodate the creation of new geothermal vents. Still, all tracks lead to viewing platforms that allow the area’s visitors to get the most of this exquisite natural attraction.
A 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) paved trail that can be enjoyed by walkers and cyclists of all abilities, The Great Lake Walkway starts at Taupo Harbour and finishes in Five Mile Bay, passing through Two Mile Bay and Wharewaka Point in between. Scenic highlights include a number of native Kowhai trees, which provide shelter for the local wildlife, as well as expansive views of Tongariro National Park across the lake, which are best enjoyed in the winter period when Mounts Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe are covered in snow.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a one-day trek that has gained traction for its scenic wonders. Hikers tackling the full 19.4-kilometre (12.1-mile) trip will be exposed to some of the country’s most dramatic backdrops, with a cold-mountain spring, lava flows, active craters and an emerald-coloured lake being among its standout features. The area is subject to quite volatile weather conditions – prepare for all climates and, if you’re not an experienced trekker, consider going on a guided tour. Those who are looking for an even bigger challenge can also try their hand at Tongariro’s famous Northern Circuit.
Spa Park is a natural reserve just a 25-minute walk from Taupo’s town centre. As you follow the river path to reach the bridge, you’ll come across the Otumuheke Stream. Walk around the bridge, then under it, to get to the stream’s most famous attraction – the hot pools. From there, all you need to do is sit back, relax, and watch as the crystal clear waters wash all your worries away.
The Taupo Museum is a place where heritage, artistry and whimsical relics come alive. Its Tuwharetoa Gallery showcases the treasures and history of the local iwi (Maori tribe) with the same name, while the Kiwiana Caravan exhibit offers a light-hearted glimpse into the New Zealand lifestyle in the 1950s-1960s. The Ora Garden was opened outside the museum in 2007, earning the status of a ‘Garden of National Significance’ just one year later. An engaging display of native flora makes this garden worthy of a visit. Other museum highlights include a Maori Meeting house, originally carved in the 1920s and now a part of the entrance foyer, a myriad of artworks from local creatives, and the Volcanic Secrets exhibition.
Located 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) outside of Taupo, the Lava Glass Studio amazes all visitors who view its glass-blown creations. A walk around the studio’s garden will expose you to more than 500 art pieces – with the surrounding ponds, native trees, and passing bird species adding to its fairy tale-like setting. The inner galleries and shop are adorned with ornate treasures that are well and truly worth browsing through. There’s also a café on the premises, ideal for visitors who want to unwind after relishing their artistic surroundings.