Just over 3 hours’ drive from Auckland, or a short 50 minute flight, you’ll find the ultimate North Island holiday destination - Great Lake Taupō. With its stunning volcanic landscape of lake, mountains and the stunning town of Taupō, this region is an outdoors paradise.
Lake Taupō (pronounced toe-paw) is New Zealand’s largest lake, covering an area roughly the same size as Singapore, and was formed thousands of years ago by a massive eruption.
Taupō town hugs the northern shore of the great lake, and is the main population base for the region. It’s a popular holiday spot for both Kiwis and visitors, and offers great shopping, restaurants, and many accommodation options. Winter sees it become a bustling ski town, with a new $1.5 million snowmaking machine now meaning the Whakapapa ski season can kick off in early June and run right through to the end of October, while the summer season brings a host of fun outdoor adventures on and off the lake.
Not surprisingly, many of the region’s natural attractions are volcanic in origin. Even the main ski areas are on the active volcano Mt Ruapehu, which offers world-class skiing and snowboarding facilities at Whakapapa and Turoa Skifields. Skiers and snowboarders get to take in the cinema-worthy views while speeding down Whakapapa’s many different slopes, from beginner level right through to advanced. Mt Ruapehu is part of Tongariro National Park, which includes two other volcanoes - Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in the film The Lord of the Rings). It was New Zealand’s first national park, and remains incredibly popular with visitors coming from around the globe to experience the snow, hiking, and beautiful vistas.
Ski lessons, Mt Ruapehu
A scenic flight provides an impressive outlook, while at ground level the Volcanic Loop Highway around the lake and mountains is another great way to see the region.
ON AND ABOVE THE WATER
In the warmer months Lake Taupo’s beaches are popular with swimmers and sunbathers and watersports are popular all year round; you can sail and kayak, waterski or parasail behind a speedboat. A lake cruise to the famous Māori rock carvings at Mine Bay is a popular activity at any time of year; the 1920’s sailing yacht Barbary makes the trip every day, and also offers an evening BBQ and Movie cruise, departing at 5pm. For those preferring to catapult above the water, Taupo Bungy & Cliffhanger Swing have exciting options to get your heart racing.
Taupo Bungy & Cliffhanger Swing
The skies above Taupō offer extraordinary views of the lake and across the mountains of the Central Plateau. Taupo’s Floatplane operates from the Taupō Boat Harbour combining a sky-high view of the region with the thrill of a water take-off and landing. Or if you fancy taking in the view as you jump out of an aircraft, Taupo Tandem Skydive are based at Taupō Airport and will pick you up from anywhere in town. Take a scenic one-day tour of all the main highlights in Taupō with Go Explore NZ, including sailing, Huka Falls, Orakei Korako and more www.goexplorenz.com
The region has several very good golf courses. Among these are the Jack Nicklaus designed Kinloch Club, and the Wairakei Golf Course and Sanctuary, which offers an excellent international 18-hole golf course with an ecological edge. The course/sanctuary now has a five-kilometre predator-proof fence around the perimeter, keeping the native wildlife protected and flourishing.
The region’s volcanic past means there are many geothermal attractions, none more spectacular than Orakei Korako. This is a must-see for visitors to the area. Upon arrival you will embark aboard a small, modern boat for the short journey across the Waikato River to a hidden volcanic valley. Here you will experience a world like no other: unbelievable colour, gurgling hot springs, geysers and great natural beauty. It’s no surprise they’ve received an ‘Excellence’ ranking from Trip Advisor 7 years in a row! Minutes north of Taupō near Wairakei village you’ll find boiling mud pools, thermal valleys and steaming geysers, plus brilliantly coloured silica terraces. The man-made Wairakei Terraces are a window into history; there’s also a Taupō village, and the recently reinstated Te Kiri o Hinekai (Honeymoon) Pool. It’s a fabulous place to soak in silica-rich, thermally heated waters that are famous in Taupō folklore for their healing properties for skin ailments.
DeBretts Spa Resort
Those wanting a relaxing soak in hot mineral waters should make their way to the long-established geothermal resort of DeBretts Spa Resort, which draws hot natural mineral waters from the Onekeneke Stream. Its family pools offer lots of fun for kids on the water slides and big water playground; or there are private hot pools for the grown-ups, and a beautiful day spa - Living Waters Spa - providing heavenly treatments.
And nowhere in Taupō is nature’s power as spectacular as the thundering Huka Falls, 3km north of town, the falls can be viewed from above, but to really appreciate the power of the falls, take an exciting jet boat trip to the base with Hukafalls Jet. Further down the Waikato river flood gates open four times daily at 10am, midday, 2pm and 4pm to allow 65 cubic metres per second of gushing white water to fill the Aratiatia Rapids, where the river drops 28 metres in the space of 1 kilometre. Jetboating to the base of these rapids with Rapids Jet is a truly magical experience. Please avoid swimming downstream around these times as it’s dangerous and people have been swept away.
En route stop (or stay a night or two) at Turangi, a small town at the southern end of Lake Taupō. Turangi is just forty minutes from the ski slopes so in winter and spring it buzzes with the feel of an alpine village.
It’s situated where the fast-flowing Tongariro River feeds into the lake, a river that is legendary among trout fishers. There you’ll also find the Tongariro National Trout Centre, which gives an interesting overview of trout fishing in New Zealand, and boasts a new underwater viewing room with a unique view of the fish. As well as fishing, the Tongariro and other rivers in the area provide brilliant rafting opportunities, ranging from fun, family trips to exhilarating adventures on remote, hidden gems. Contact Tongariro River Rafting to discuss your options. After all this invigorating outdoor activity, soak your aching bones in the hot springs at nearby Tokaanu.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING
Active people who want to experience a truly volcanic landscape can traverse Mt Tongariro on the spectacular 17-kilometre Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often proclaimed to be the best one-day hike in New Zealand. Alpine conditions change rapidly so check weather forecasts and make sure you’re well-prepared. In winter and spring you’ll need specialised equipment and hiring an experienced guide is highly recommended. For more information, visit www.greatwalks.co.nz.
Northwest of Taupō town, the laid-back village of Mangakino is centred on Lake Maraetai, one of a series of hydro-dams on the Waikato River. There are many picturesque walkways and cycle-ways in the area, including the fantastic Waikato River Trails. It’s also close to the wilderness of Pureora Forest Park, where you can view New Zealand’s largest tōtara tree, Pouākani, and stand on the true centre of the North Island.