Destination Taupo: Overview.
Lake Taupo: a vast, water-filled crater that formed just shy of 27,000 years ago in the aftermath of a massive volcanic blast – one of the largest ever. The lake and the town of the same name sit towards the northern end of the Central Plateau; don’t let the name fool you, this is one exciting elevated flat landmass (really).
You can expect a number of water-based activities to keep you busy on a visit to the area: be they trout fishing in the lake or surrounding rivers, kayak trips, jet boating or cruises on the lake, you’re bound to enjoy your visit to this utterly scenic area of New Zealand’s North Island.
On the North Shore of the lake is the town of Taupo – a well-trafficked town worn well onto New Zealand’s backpacker trail. Taupo caters extremely well to the backpacker or budget traveller; a thriving restaurant and cafe scene in town result in a huge variety of dining (and drinking) options for your visit. Add to this a huge selection of budget accommodation, fantastic day walks and mountain bike trails and the North Island’s largest selection of adventure-based activities and we think you’ll rank Taupo as one of New Zealand’s best regions.
Lake Taupo sits more or less smack dab in the middle of the North Island.
Traveling from the North, you’re about a one hour drive away from Rotorua and three hours from Auckland. Traveling from the South, you’re five hours from Wellington – or, more likely, two hours from Ohakune in the Ruapehu region.
Taupo does have a domestic airport, but like most non-international airports in New Zealand, unless you grab a good fare well in advance, flights are normally cost prohibitive.
Taupo is the logical place to spend a couple nights before setting off on the Tongariro Crossing in Ruapehu.
Destination Taupo: Hot Spots.
Taupo is one of the many spots in New Zealand where you’ll want to add a couple extra days to your itinerary. Not necessarily because you’re doing anything specific; rather, for the opposite – because you’ll find the lake and mountain views, the sunny outdoor cafes and the friendly locals will keep you around for longer than you planned.
Be sure to check out any or all of these spots during your visit backpacking in Taupo.
Situated at the northeastern corner of the lake, the town of Taupo itself is a fantastic place to base yourself for a couple days. A lovely cafe scene is topped off with year-round stellar views across the emerald blue waters of Lake Taupo. On clear day you can see all the way to the peaks of the Tongariro National Park – snow covered during the winter and equally impressive during the summer.
The township is well positioned on the lake with a number of cafes, bars and restaurants on the lakefront. Just outside of town there are plenty of walks, bike trails and adventure-based activities to keep you busy in between lakeside coffees.
Skydiving in Taupo
Tossing yourself out of a perfectly functional airplane is arguably a questionable decision; nevertheless, it’s something that over 35,000 people do in Taupo each year. One of Taupo’s claims to fame is the ‘skydiving capital of the world’ and it doesn’t take much thought to figure out why. The mountains of Tongariro National Park and the sprawling Lake Taupo provide a pretty good view as you’re tumbling back to earth at 100+ km/hour.
Jump from up to 15,000 feet with a selection of operators all based at the airport. With a number of companies all looking for your business, Taupo is one of the cheapest places in NZ to skydive.
Lake Taupo is the origin of New Zealand’s longest river – the mighty Waikato. The Waikato River leaves the lake at the town, gushes through Huka Falls before slowing down for the remainder of its journey to the Tasman just south of Auckland.
A lovely 30 minute walk from town will drop you at the narrow chasm where the Waikato drops 100 metres into a bursting pool. Prior to the chasm the river is about 100 metres wide, yet at its narrowest point there is only 10 metres of space for 220,000 litres per second to make their way downstream.
The resulting series of waterfalls is a fantastic sight and a terrific spot to take some photos. The water is exceptionally clear and takes on a vivid blue color on especially clear and sunny days.
Taupo to Aratiatia Walk
If you’re keen to stretch the legs, a fantastic day walk leaves from Taupo and follows the east bank of the Waikato River all the way to Aratiatia. You’ll pass a hot stream, the Taupo Bungy site and the Huka Falls. It’s about an hour – two hours from the centre of Taupo to Huka Falls. From here, it’s another 7 kms along the Taupo Walkway to Aratiatia and the rapids.
Trout Fishing Capital of the World
Turangi, at the southern end of Lake Taupo, is often billed the Trout Fishing Capital of the World. The whole of the Lake Taupo region is world-famous (and justifiably so!) for its trout fishing. Over 25,000 fish of legal size are landed in the Lake Taupo and surrounding rivers each year – odds favor you’ll catch one too if you check out one of the operators in town.
You can expect to catch either brown or rainbow trout and rainbow trout are especially prominent from April to November during spawning season. It’s the running of the trout at this time with over 80,000 running up the Tongariro River.
You must have a license to trout fish – so if you’re not going with a guide, be sure to head into the i-site to grab a license or risk paying a hefty fine if DOC catches you (no pun intended).
Wairakei Geothermal Power Project & Craters of the Moon
About 7 kms outside of Taupo on the way to Rotorua are two interesting geothermal areas worth checking out. The Wairakei Geothermal Power Project is home to seemingly sci-fi influenced pipes and powerhouse. Believe it or not, this collection of buildings produces enough electricity to power Taupo, Rotorua and Napier combined.
A km or so away is the Craters of the Moon. In the 1950s when they were creating the above power project, the Craters of the Life sprang to life as a result. Underground water levels shifted and this resulted in a change in pressure – today, you’ll see steam vents and bubbling mud pools dotting the landscape. It’s a great spot for a walk around and you’re guaranteed some pretty sweet photos.
Destination Taupo: Final Thoughts & Recommendations.
Taupo is well worn on the backpacker trail for a number of reasons – and after spending a couple days here you’ll certainly understand why. There really is something for everyone – from day hikes, to bike trails, to sunny cafes and a host of adrenaline inducing activities. Taupo is, in many ways, the Queenstown of the North Island.
A trip to Taupo doesn’t have to break your budget – sit back, soak up some sun and take in the outstanding views from this uber chilled out town.