‘Time flies when you’re having fun,’ goes the saying, and is it ever true! The past three months have been a blur, spent working, hiking, making new friends, and experiencing the best that Taupo has to offer. I got extremely lucky with my position as a receptionist at Rainbow Lodge Backpackers and was able to participate in so many awesome activities as a result. Based on my experiences, here are 10 awesome things to do in Taupo!
The lake and the mountains have become my landscape, my real world.” – Georges Simenon
Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Mount Doom. For those of us who grew up reading Lord of the Rings, the very name sends a chill up our spine. We imagine fire, orcs, the Eye… The actual mountain featured in the films can be found at the south end of Lake Taupo, and is known as Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s an alien landscape — steam billows from fissures in the ground, minerals turn the earth bright hues of red and yellow, and sulfuric lakes dot the flanks of the peaks.
Several companies run transport from Taupo to the start of the trek and back. In the winter, guided tours are also an option. I went with Tongariro Expeditions and had a blast!
Go on a Cruise to See the Maori Carvings
A relatively new addition to the cliff just around the corner from Acacia Bay, the Maori Rock Carvings have quickly become a Taupo must-do since their creation in the 1970s. The best way to experience them (in my opinion) is by sailboat. Several companies run multiple cruises per day, tacking across the lake until rounding the cape and entering the sheltered bay where the carvings reside. At $40 or less, the cruises make for an excellent morning/ afternoon skimming the waves. I went with Barbary Scenic Cruises and can’t recommend them highly enough!
Go White Water Rafting
White water rafting is one of those things that always delivers. Gorgeous day? Awesome. Pouring down rain? Even awesomer. The first time I went rafting in Taupo there was an absolute deluge, and we had a great day on the Level 3 rapids of the Tongariro River. Several companies are based in Turangi, with pickup options in Taupo. They’re both fantastic — Rafting New Zealand and Tongariro River Rafting — though I’d have to recommend Tongariro River Rafting for the awesome soak in a hot pool afterwards. So refreshing!
Raft through the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
A relatively short drive from Taupo gets you to the Waitomo area, most famous for its glowworm caves and adventure activities within. I went black water rafting with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company and got to spend a couple hours climbing, floating, and splashing through a massive cave complex. The best parts were when we doused our headlamps and floated backwards through the darkness, staring up at the glowworms hanging from the cave ceiling. Magical…
Soak in the Natural Hot Pools
There are numerous paid options for hot pools around Taupo, but my favorite spot is in Spa Thermal Park, a short walk from Rainbow Lodge. It’s free to go for a soak, and is a natural spring instead of a chlorinated pool heated by one. Leave your valuables at home (thieves have been known to hang out and snatch visitor’s belongings), and enjoy a nice long soak in the steaming pool. You can even lay half in the pool and half in the river, if you really feel like confusing your senses.
Walk along the Lake Shore
Lake Taupo is the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand, clocking in at 616 square meters. Formed in the caldera of an erupted volcano, it almost seems like an inland sea when you walk along the shore. There’s a great trail which runs up the river and along the lake shore. Several cafes and coffee trucks line the trail, and it’s dog-friendly if you’ve got a canine companion.
Hike Mount Tauhara
A short distance out of town on Highway 5 towards Napier, Mount Tauhara is the highest point around and affords amazing views out over Taupo, the lake, and across to the volcanic trio of Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu, and Tongariro. It’s about a 3 hr hike round trip, mostly through a dense forest. The views from the top, though…
Visit Huka Falls
Another free attraction, Huka Falls is not known so much for its vertical drop, but for the sheer volume of water which gets blasted through a narrow canyon out into the river below. That volume can reach up to 220,000 liters of water per second when the river is flowing high, and the clear blue of the water makes it an even more impressive sight.
Taupo is well-known as the cheapest place in New Zealand to go skydiving, but that doesn’t mean it’s the least scenic. On the contrary, a dive above Lake Taupo gives you fantastic views of the lake, the mountains, and the surrounding area, making for an absolutely breathtaking (literally) experience. This was my last big hurrah before I leave New Zealand, and I was thrilled to make the jump with Taupo Tandem Skydive. Rob, Elliott, Holly, Josh, and company are all awesome, and really go out of the way to make each jump a special experience.
Take Jess for a Walk!
Adrenaline-pumping activities aside, the thing I’ll miss most about Taupo is this little monster here. Jess is probably the most famous dog on the North Island, and enjoys a hard life of walks on the beach, belly rubs, and chasing golf balls around the hostel. If you’re in Taupo and happen to stay at Rainbow Lodge, give the pooch a walk and a neck scratch for me. She’ll love you for it!
There you have it! Taupo is one of my favorite places in New Zealand — for both the stunning location and the abundance of things to do while in the area. It’s well worth a week or more of your time; I know I’m glad I spent three months here! That time is almost finished now, and it’s time to move on. But Taupo — and Rainbow — will always be my home in New Zealand.
How about you? Where’s a place you’ve stayed which has become a home? What are some of your favorite things to do there? Share in the comments below!