Things to see and do in Taupo

By: Road Trip

Heading on a road trip to Taupo? Check out these fun things to see and do there.


With its backdrop of soaring mountains, Taupo’s lake is the most prominent feature of the town, and for over 150 years work-weary citizens from all over the North Island have flocked to the shore of this huge expanse of water for a well-earned respite. Of late, to keep visitors entertained, many man-made attractions have been added to this area, but it is still the imposing natural environment that is Taupo’s strongest drawcard.

From the town’s long frontage you can gaze admiringly at the lake, but the real experience is getting out on the water. Launches, kayaks, and yachts of all shapes and sizes now bob gently in the marina awaiting hire, or join one of the organised cruises. The other singular occupation in Taupo is fishing for its famous rainbow trout. To that end there are also numerous fishing-charter companies and fishing guides luring visitors out onto the lake with the promise of hooking a big one and returning to shore with some fishy tales.

Those who don’t want to get their feet wet can find a network of walking tracks close to town. A popular paved part of the Great Lake Walk skirts the shore from the yacht club to Two Mile Bay. Other lake-shore walks include one at Acacia Bay, which also links to a track that goes to Little Acacia Bay; the Rangatira Point Track (1.5 hours), which leads around the shore to Totara Bay; and the Whakamoenga track (one hour), which cuts through the bush beside the lake around Whakamoenga Point. Away from the lake is a short track to lookouts over the Aratiatia Rapids. The dam’s control gates are opened several times a day and the rush of water makes a spectacular sight (times at the Information Centre).

One of the most recognisable features of Taupo is the Huka Falls – a massive volume of water that squeezes through the cleavage of a narrow gorge and thunders over a nine-metre-high rock face at a rate of 200,000 litres per minute. As it spews over the edge the water fizzes with millions of trapped air bubbles that turn it into an icy blue. The easiest way to see the falls is to drive to the car park and walk a short distance over the bridge. It can also be reached by a longer walk along the river bank from Spa Park. Other alternatives are to take the river cruise from near the Aratiatia Dam or swirl your way towards the falls in the Huka Falls Jet, which leaves from a jetty next to the prawn farm.

On Karetoto Road, off Huka Falls Road, it’s easy to find the Volcanic Activity Centre – the visitor part of the Volcanic Research Station where – among many activities – an earthquake ‘centre’ simulates an earthquake equivalent of 6.3 on the Richter scale.

Wairakei Silica Terraces includes a replica Mãori village and potokowhenua. The foundation for the terraces is man-made but the silica build up has covered them in the pink-hued coating that looks like dripping icing and is reminiscent of The Pink and White Terraces that were once considered one of the wonders of the world.

The Craters of the Moon have been called this because of their otherworldly topography.

In the 1950s this vaporous hot spot appeared as if by magic when activity at the nearby thermal power station lowered underground water levels. Now visitors can take an hour’s walk past the bubbling craters, mudpools, fumaroles and explosion craters that have formed as a result. An even pathway and several elevated viewing platforms make it easier to see these spectacular offerings from the gods of fire.

Back in town, don’t miss the Taupo Super Loo, next to the Information Centre. In 1995 it won the Hygenex Best Loo Competiton. It probably remains the best loo in the land for its spotless presentation and facilities. In the foyer, behind a counter sporting a vase of fresh flowers, is the supervisor, who, for a small fee, provides towels, bathmats, soap, and shampoo and other toiletries. You can shower in these facilities (hair dryer provided) and there are lockers and pegs for your use and plenty to places to rest. It is a lavish loo by any standards.


Local knowledge

Ernest Kemp: hop aboard the nostalgic replica steamboat that sets off on a two-hour cruise around Lake Taupo several times a day.

Waipahihi Botanical Gardens: a 35ha park of forest trees and walkways through gardens where 2000 azaleas, camellias, and rhododendrons have been planted.

Huka Falls: a four-hour (return) walk will take you to the Aratiatia Rapids from Huka Falls. The Waikato river walking track also leaves from the Huka Falls car park and goes all the way to Otupo Flat near Wairekei on the other side of the river.

Taupo Museum has an excellent display of the area’s history, including an old Anglo caravan with 1950s memorabilia, ancient Maori carvings and the remarkable hull of an old waka.

Extreme sports hub: whether bungy jumping, jet boating, or paragliding, Taupo is where it’s at. Visit i-SITE for operator details.

Eat, drink, be merry

Huka Falls Resort and Winery is a pleasant area to have coffee or a meal while you look down over the vineyard, the spread of Taupo township, and beyond to the looming shape of Mt Tauhara.

L’Arte is one of Lonely Planet’s top ten eateries in New Zealand.

Prawn Park: unashamedly touristy, here you can hook your own lunch and eat it in the restaurant overlooking the churning Waikato River.

Steaming Bean is a smartly-painted coffee cart on the waterfront, with plenty of parking alongside.

The Merchant of Taupo: great for specialty foods and wine.

Riverside Market: on the corner of Redoubt St and SH1 for fresh stocks of fruit, meat, fish, and vegetables.

Scenic Cellars is a fine wine specialist on the foreshore and includes New Zealand’s largest underground retail wine cellar.

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