Taupo is a popular holiday destination for New Zealanders and served as our next stop on our Kiwi road trip. Taupo is located on Australasia’s largest lake Lake Taupo, which was formed by a mega volcanic eruption over 20,000 years ago. If you have been doing a bit of travel research on Taupo already, then you know the explosion was massive enough to be noticed in both China and Europe. Imagine the travel delays you would encounter if we had an eruption like that today? Fun fact – the caldera is now full of water (lots of it) and this lakeside town draws in tons of tourists every year.
Summer in Taupo offers plenty of fishing and water sports on the lake, while winter will have you switching your adventure activities to the ski slopes of Mount Ruapehu. We had the opportunity to visit just before the peak summer season. When we weren’t enjoying the lake we were exploring the many activities available in the Wairaikei Tourist Park.
During out stay we booked a room at the kitschy Wellesley Hotel On The Lake. The accommodation was cheap as chips and located within a short drive from everything we did during our weekend lake retreat. The nautical, fishing décor made it a perfect place to properly enjoy true road trip vibes.
Here is a snapshot at how we spent our time in Taupo.
// LAKE TAUPO
Getting on the lake is a must-do when in this beautiful town. Not only does it get you out on this natural, volcanic wonder but it also allows you to check out the beautiful houses that are bank side and enjoy the surrounding mountains.
When planning our time on the lake we were keen to look for options to get to the famous Maori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay. The 14-meter carving of the Maori ancestral high-priest Ngatoroirangi was completed in 1980 and helps preserve the local Maori culture. The Maori people believed that Lake Taupo was the pulsating heart of Maui’s fish – New Zealand’s North Island. The most popular way to get a view of the face and other surrounding carvings is by taking a scenic cruise across the lake. At time of publishing there are three main cruise companies that offer trips out on the water. You just need to choose the type of boating experience you want – steamboat, catamaran or sailboat.
We opted to join Sail Barbary to enjoy the waters aboard one of their two beautiful sailboats. We choose them as they take smaller groups out on the water and have the ability to get the closest to the rock carvings. The team was very friendly and gave us insight into the rich culture and history of Taupo’s local Maori tribe – the Ngati Tuwharetoa.
The rock carvings were fantastic. As you look at this piece of art you begin to notice the smaller carvings surrounding the tattooed face. The Sail Barabary team explained that they depict the ancestors and guardians of the local Maori tribe. Super cool stuff.
//Wairaikei Tourist Park
There is no missing the numerous signs of fun things to do in Taupo as you enter the city. What you will find is that most of those activities take place within the Wairakei Tourist Park. When we were not on the lake, we were out and about exploring the various options that tend to keep tourists busy during their time here. The park uniquely offers a combo of adrenaline activities with nature and active geothermal sights.
Our first stop was checking out the Waikato River plummeting through Huka Falls. There is a great viewing bridge just off the parking lot. It’s at this chasm where a typically 100-meter wide river quickly slims down to 15-meters and aggressively fights its way through a gorge. Looking for a more adventurous way to see the falls? Check out one of the jet boats that zips around and almost gets you underneath.
We opted to enjoy a stroll on one of the great walkways alongside the river to Spa Park. We walked through the lush forests and were treated to lovely views of the Waikato River and surrounding valleys. If splashing about in natural hot springs is your thing, be sure to pack a swimsuit. There are a few options to hop in the water along the way – including the Otumuheke Stream.
Wanting to explore the geothermal activity in a different way, we made our way to the Craters of the Moon geothermal area.
This park lets you wale a 45-minute trail on the largest geothermal field of New Zealand. Meandering along the main pathway lets you to check out multiple volcanic craters and walk through steam pumping from the ground below.
While it felt very safe walking on the wooden boardwalk, I couldn’t help but think about the craziness that was going on meters below us as. It made for a fun day out for sure.
A short drive from Taupo is also Mt. Tongariro National Park – home to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most popular day hikes. If you are planning on tackling this bad boy, be sure to plan in advance for a permit and allow for flexibility due to weather. Our crossing day was cancelled due to extreme winds – which you will find is quite common. Giving yourself a cushion of a day or two might help ensure you do not leave disappointed.
There is plenty to do in Taupo even if you are not interested in geology or water sports. Taupo has plenty of cycle trails, golf courses, health spas and fun options for the kids – including the much visited Huka Honey Hive and Huka Prawn Farm.