Why the Taupō region is a holiday hotspot in New Zealand
Let’s talk about Taupō. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and deservedly so. However, Taupō is the new kid on the block that offers almost as many wow-inducing moments. Taupō is in the middle of the North Island – about 3.5 hours’ drive from Auckland and 4.5 hours’ drive from Wellington. There is also an airport at Taupō so you can fly in from Auckland or Wellington. Or fly into Rotorua if you prefer and add a few days to explore its delights.
Taupō sits on the northeastern shores of Lake Taupō – one of the largest freshwater lakes in Australasia. It has a perimeter of 193 kilometres and provides an adventure playground and an elaborate backdrop for any photo or painting.
Things to do in Taupō
Get wet! We took a ride in a Hukafalls jet boat for some thrills and no spills on Taupo’s Waikato River. It was quite the adventure. The boat heads up river to the gushing Huka Falls, at what feels like warp speed. We fly up the narrow river, the skipper turning the boat this way and that, with the odd 360 thrown in for good measure. When we reach the falls, the skipper noses the boats towards the gushing Huka Falls, the water underneath us churning with foam and our faces caressed with its spray. It is exhilarating, slightly scary and a bit wet – but a huge amount of fun.
Try go-karting with Taupō Karts – This is the real deal with the French-built karts boasting the biggest engine of any recreational kart in the world. I don’t put that to the test but gain speed with every lap. I feel pretty good afterwards – until I see some six-year-olds tearing up the track. Taupō Karts has special kids karts for children 5-13 and there are some two-seater karts if kids want to go with a parent.
Fling yourself off a cliff with New Zealand’s highest cliff-top Bungy Jump. AJ Hackett’s Bungy Jump in Taupō is located 47 metres (154 feet) above the Waikato River. Check out the stunning views before taking the plunge towards the crystal clear waters below.
For something a little calmer, do a cruise on Lake Taupō. We boarded the beautiful Waikare II for a private three-hour charter on this stunning lake. Waikare II is one of five vessels in the Chris Jolly Outdoors fleet, and she powered over the lake to Jerusalem Bay where we did what so many locals and visitors do in Taupō – go fishing. We pull in several trout with Simon’s help, and he tells us that in New Zealand, you have to eat any trout you catch, as you cannot sell it. Some restaurants in town will cook the trout for you, or you can cook it yourself if you are staying in an apartment.
Apart from fishing, a highlight of a cruise on the lake is to visit the Māori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay. The magnificent carving of the legendary navigator Ngātoroirangi is surrounded by smaller sculptures of ancestors and guardians and towers 14 metres over the lake.
As we were in trout central, we headed to the Tongariro National Trout Centre in Turangi, a stunningly beautiful place by the Tongariro River. We learned about the history of trout in New Zealand and dropped some feed into the stream and watched the trout in action through an underwater viewing window. We went through the aquarium, learning about conservation. Afterwards, we tackled some of the Tongariro River Trail which took us through beautiful bush and over the scenic Red Hut Bridge, where we paused to watch a local practising his fly fishing.
Get your thermal on
Taupō is part of the Taupō volcanic zone and has a load of geothermal experiences. One of the best sites to visit is the Craters of the Moon. Take the 45-minute stroll around the geothermal walkway that showcases the natural thermal activity of the area including bubbling craters, steam vents and colourful soils.
One of my favourite things to do in Taupō was soaking in a natural hot spring at Otumuheke in the Spa Thermal Park. The water cascades into a series of pools and then into the Waikato River. It is so relaxing sitting there in the hot, mineral-rich water. When you get too hot you can work your way down into the Waikato River, which will cool you off very quickly.
There are several other hot pools around town including the Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa. Relax in the three stunning thermal pools located below the Wairakei silica terraces and waterfall. Make sure you take a stroll around the terraces before or after your soak.
Head for the snow at Ruapehu
Mt Ruapehu is located in the UNESCO dual-World-Heritage Tongariro National Park, listed for its cultural and geological significance. It is New Zealand’s first national park, established in 1894. There are plenty of things to do in Tongariro National Park including dozens of stunning walks and hikes of varying lengths, as well as excellent skiing, snowboarding and sledding on Mt Ruapehu.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is known as the best one day hike in New Zealand. It is a 19km journey through dramatic and beautiful landscapes – cold mountain springs, ancient lava flows, steam vents and the spectacular Emerald Lakes.
Mt Ruapehu is an active volcano and has two ski resorts – Whakapapa and Tūroa. We headed to Whakapapa first. Even the drive is ruggedly beautiful. Whakapapa is the biggest ski resort in New Zealand and boasts one of the best beginner areas I have seen. Happy Valley is accessed by an elevator and leads to a safe, contained area with gentle slopes perfect for learning on. Once learners have progressed, it is up the lift to the main ski area and up, up and away in the very impressive Sky Waka Gondola.
The Gondola operates all year round and sweeps up to the Knoll Ridge Chalet, – a striking building with even more striking views out the walls of glass – and as we fuelled up with a delicious lunch at Pinnacles Restaurant, we eagerly planned our afternoon frolicking around the Valley T-Bar, Knoll Ridge T-Bar, West Ridge Chair and every nook and cranny we could get to.
Next day, after a night in delightful Ohakune at the Powderhorn Chateau, we headed up to Tūroa, which is smaller than Whakapapa but packs a punch with its variety. Tūroa has the longest vertical drop in New Zealand (722 metres) and its High Noon Express chair takes you to the highest lifted point in the country – 2322 metres. The terrain parks are excellent, the runs are long – with the longest being four kilometres – and the panoramas to neighbouring volcanic peaks are truly wonderful.
And more things to do
On a rainy day in Taupō or to entertain your arty side, pay a visit to the Lava Glass Studio. This is like disappearing down the rabbit hole with Alice. It is beautiful and colourful and magnificent. I loved wandering through the manicured grounds admiring over 600 stunning glass sculptures. They are handcrafted by master glass artist Lynden Over and his glassblowing team. You will be blown away by the beauty of the sculptures, from large pieces like the rainbow, which is 4m long by 2.5m high, and the Lava Tree, which is 2.7m tall, to the beautiful big eye-catching coloured tulips. Every piece is absolutely stunning.
Where to stay
Taupō has a huge range of places to stay from holiday parks to lodges to hotels and resorts.
The Heritage Collection Reef Resort is on the lakefront with a lovely heated pool.
Lake Taupō Holiday Resort has exceptional facilities for kids with the best being the huge heated pool – there are even movie nights in it.
Braxmere is a peaceful place on the southern edge of Lake Taupo. It is located on the way to Ruapehu and is near Tongariro National Park. It has ten stylish and comfortable lakeside studios and has easy fishing from the jetty. It is also home to Lakeland House Restaurant, which is excellent.
The Powderhorn Chateau is an icon with cosy suites and the legendary Powderkeg restaurant.