Gi-normously geothermal Taupo has been shaped over thousands of years into New Zealand’s perfect pleasure park. Lake Taupo is NZ’s largest lake – at 619 square kilometres it’s around the size of Singapore – and was created by a volcanic eruption. And you can’t venture out in the surrounding area without stepping on a geyser or hot spring or two – not to mention the boiling mud pools!
Volcanic mountains abound too, including the magnificent Mount Tauhara, making Taupo a dream destination for active sorts. From mountain hiking and skiing, or rafting on the Waikato River (mind you don’t fall over the Huka Falls) - through to bungee jumping, paragliding and abseiling – it’s all here.
Thankfully there’s a flip side to all frenetic activity – these hot springs have sprung spas aplenty – the perfect calming antidote to an adrenaline day packed with adventures.
For centuries, Taupo was occupied by Maori tribes, and was only ‘discovered’ as recently as 1840, with Taupo being dragged into the present with the addition of hydro electricity and roads. To show their appreciation, the Ngati Tuwharetoa people gave the NZ government not one, not two, but three volcanoes – generous by anyone’s standards (they did say they were dormant- right?).
Taupo’s Top 10
10. Craters of the Moon Take a 45 minute moon walk through a geothermal wonderland.
5. Maori Carvings 10 m high and located at Mine Bay these were crafted by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 70s. Only accessible by boat.
9. Kinloch Just 15 minutes drive west of Taupo, this pretty lakeside village is worth a detour.
4. Taupo Floatplane Quick trips over the lake or longer ones to White Island.
8. Aratiatia Dam The first dam in the Waikato Hydro power scheme. Watch the Aratiatia Rapids close up. Awesome.
3. Taupo Hot Springs Spa Treat yourself to some mineral riches + health food at the café.
7. Huka Prawn Park Who ever thought prawns could be this much fun? Land a prawn and watch it get cooked geothermically.
2. Taupo Motorsport Park Calls all thrill seekers to its state of the art 3.5km racetrack. Where the A1 Grand Prix has been staged. Now you can stage yours.
6. Spa Dinosaur Valley Jurassic Park NZ style, only these dinosaurs are made of concrete.
1. Taupo Museum & Art Gallery includes a Maori meeting house and also has displays of forestry, and trout fishing history from years gone past.
While Taupo town has some interesting attractions of its own ,including the museum and thermal baths situated on the Taupo-Napier highway, most visitors will want to get out and about in the Taupo area. The backdrop to the town comprises the mighty volcanoes which rise up tantalisingly close beyond the lake and it’s to here and to the other main town Turangi, that tourists tend to make a beeline for.
One of the most fascinating areas of geothermal activity in NZ is Orakei Korako Thermal Park, also known as the Hidden Valley, located between Taupo and Rotorua, just 25 km from Taupo. Here you can see a series of geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pools. Ruatapu Cave is a unique and spectacular natural cave which is home to a jade green lake, where it is alleged the Maoris used to check out their look in their watery reflections before heading out for a tribal ceremony. The pink and white Silica Terraces are some of the largest in the world.
Turangi is world famous for its trout fishing and is the second largest town in the Taupo district. To view, rather than catch trout, head to the Tongariro Trout Centre which has an underwater viewing area. Turangi is located on the banks of the Tongariro River which offers plenty of opportunity for daredevils to try out the white water rapids or kayaking. It has plenty of good eateries too, including the Red Crater Café, where you can sit and have a snack or a light meal. Walking routes include the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is beautifully scenic, or perhaps you should take a hike in the nearby Kaimanawa Forest Park.
Tongariro National Park was the first national park in New Zealand, a World Heritage site and a major tourist draw. It owes its existence to the generous donation of three volcanoes – the Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. These amazing volcanoes sit in amongst wild scenery which can be accessed on foot, by air or during the winter on skis. Ruapehu is a volcano which still shows it’s not totally out of the game - producing vapour, ash and rock. Run for cover!
Rotorua is located right in the centre of Taupo’s Volcanic Zone and is a major centre for tourism with its hot pools and natural vents encircled by parks and reserves. Lake Rotorua plays host to boat trips to Mokoia Island and has a pretty promenade. The Whakarewarewa Forest, or Redwoods, is a project to see which trees will grow best in New Zealand. 1900 trees have been imported already, and there’s plenty of pleasant bike tracks and bikes for hire at Planet Bikes nearby.
The Wairakei Tourist Park is home to the splendid Volcanic Activity Centre giving visitors an in- depth look at the Taupo Volcanic Zone. The centre features interactive displays and tours can be arranged from the most basic up to degree level if you so desire. The park is located just north of town and also features the Wairakei steam field which offers an insight into how tapping into the earth’s heat feeds the 2nd biggest geothermal power station in the world.
Eat & Drink
Since becoming a popular resort town, Taupo has risen to the challenge of feeding hungry tourists and boasts a plethora of bars, restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets. Most serve fresh local produce, as well as a large range of local NZ wines. Fine dining you are not likely to find in Taupo, but the restaurants are unpretentious and welcoming – good food for a mostly active crowd.
Plateau is an up and coming gastro-pub serving a modern NZ fusion cuisine and good beer. And what’s wrong with that?
Replete When you leave here you will be. Arguably one of Taupo’s best cafes, and a real deli delight with pastries a speciality.
Thyme for Food is a popular Taupo hangout. Pies, burgers and all day brekkies are on this down to earth menu.
L’Arte is a 10 minute drive from Taupo, for delicious fresh pasta and home bakes, plus an arty sculpture garden and gallery.
Beaut Bakery Their award-winning mincemeat and gravy pies are the stuff of legend in Taupo parts.
Tongariro Lodge Where real men’s men like Bob Mitchum, Liam Neeson and Timothy Dalton have come to eat fish, and been presented with – allegedly - their day’s catch.
Lotus Thai Thai food in generous proportions in an authentically welcoming atmosphere.
Brantry Prue Campell and sis Felicity continue to run this Taupo restaurant. Top notch NZ ingredients provide the backbone to the meals.
Award winning Stir Taupo may operate from a caravan by the marina but sniff ye not, for coffee to die for and killer crepes are on sale here.
Pimentos is popular and possibly one of the most upmarket diners, so book ahead. Legendary lamb shanks on the menu.
Winterfest celebrates Taupo’s status as an alpine town. This event takes place in July and offers visitors some good old-fashioned fun.
Turagi Trout & Snow Fest takes place in Taupo’s second largest town during the month of July. If you’re angling for some trout this is the place to come.
The Mizuno Taupo Half Marathon takes place in August on the shores of Lake Taupo with all ages catered for, so there’s no excuse.
The Merchant’s Wine and Food Expo is a yearly August event at Lake Taupo with plenty of food, plenty of wine. What’s not to like.
The Mizuno Off-Road Half Marathon Stunning Lake Taupo scenery to run next to (or walk alongside) with two distances available – half or quarter.
The SIKA Show is NZ’s top hunting and trade show at Lake Taupo and there’s plenty of fun activities for the non bloodthirsty too.
Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is a November event. More than 10,000 riders take part, riding around the Great Lake. One of the biggest Southern Hemisphere events.
Contact National Duathlon Championships is an August sporting event which takes place at the Taupo Motor Sport Park.
The Gypsy Fair Original is held at Taupo Domain during September. Free to all, featuring thirty Gypsy families in trucks and buses, which means tarot and palm reading aplenty plus shows and pony rides.
The Northern Alasklan Malamute Club Dog Shows are an entertaining fixture on the Taupo calendar. Head for Owen Delaney Park during September if performing pooches are your thing.
When To Go
Taupo has a more or less temperate climate, although it can get quite windy and cold at times – compared with some other North Island areas.
Summer temperatures – during November to February – vary from 10°C at night to a daytime high of 25°C. Winter temperatures can dip as low as -3°C to highs of 12°C or so. The coldest months are July and August.
The most rain falls in the winter months of June to September – however there’s not a great amount of rainfall throughout the year – not enough to stop play for long.
What To Miss
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best hikes in the world – but – prepare to give it a miss on a windy day or one where the visibility is poor. Think of the poor old rescue teams who go in whenever someone doesn’t return to their bus. Plus, if you hate crowds, the nearby Waihohonu Traverse is generally far less populated.
Try to miss the traffic on State Highway One which goes through Taupo town – long delays can be expected when it’s hosting a big event.
Visit our partner page Taupo hotels by Hotel.com.au
Taupo is a town of modest proportions which is good, because it doesn’t have a true public transport system in place. Instead it’s served by two taxi companies which, together with a ‘Red Hot’ shuttle bus service provide connections between all the main sights in the area – fortunately at a reasonable cost.
It’s also possible to hire motor scooters and push bikes as well as hire a car to get to attractions. Intercity Coach runs a service to and from Taupo to destinations within the Northern Island – as do Nakedbus.
Taupo has a small airport served by Air New Zealand with flights to and from Auckland and Wellington. Taupo is not on the railway network as yet.
The North Island town of Taupo provides visitors to New Zealand with some of the most idyllic and splendid scenery in the entire country. On the shore of immense Lake Taupo, a freshwater lake which attracts in excess of 1.2 million nature lovers every year, the town is a major focal point of tourism. For rich Maori heritage and adventure sports and recreation, Taupo is a popular draw, with such annual events as the Great Lake Relay, Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge and Oxfam Trailwalker.
Indeed, from Lake Taupo to volcanic Mount Tauhara, awesome Huka Falls and the beauty of the Waikato River, the town of under 30,000 people is a gem. The busy summer tourist season also draws scores of visitors to Tongariro National Park, one of the first to be established in the world. The breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage park is home to three active volcanic peaks, traditional Maori sites and an incredible array of endemic flora and fauna.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurants & Nightlife
Taupo has a temperate climate, with four seasons and mild conditions throughout the year.
- Summer (December to February) 10-23°C
- Fall (March to May) 5-21°C
- Winter (June to September) 2-14°C
- Spring (October to November) 7-19°C
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