Taupo is a vibrant town on the northern shore of a large, freshwater crater-lake of the same name. This picturesque spot is situated in the middle of New Zealand’s volcanic plateau – a region populated by ancient volcanoes (some still very active) and bubbling thermal springs.
Known internationally as a trout-fishing destination, the town is also a mecca for outdoor watersports and, with a Taupo car hire, a gateway to winter snow activities further south. If you’re an adrenalin junky, or you just fancy a lazy day at the beach, Taupo has it covered.
There are plenty of daredevil attractions, from flinging yourself out of a plane and the ritual of a bungy jump/swing, to jet-boating down a gorge or quad-biking through native bush. Huka Falls, where the jet boats stop at a thunderous wall of gushing water, is a must. The sheer power and noise of the cascade is magnificent.
In summer, the lake is the perfect place for kids to let off steam. It’s clean and safe, with shallow, sandy beaches. For active swimmers, and for families wanting to play together in warmer water than the lake offers, AC Baths has several pools, two water slides and a bombing zone. For those longing for a slow soak in thermal waters in a natural setting, or to hire a private pool, head to DeBretts Spa Resort.
Other places to while away the hours, or keep the kids entertained, include taking a cruise on the lake or visiting Huka Prawn Park for a quirky fishing adventure. At Huka Honey Hive you can see the bees in action, or explore local history at Taupo Museum. Lava Glass hosts a gallery, café and glass-blowing demonstrations, and L’Arté at Acacia Bay, the lakeside village visible on the western shore, has a sculpture/mosaic gallery and café. Learn about this geothermal region just north of Taupo at Wairakei or walk through the steaming ground at Craters of the Moon.
Walking trails of varying lengths abound. Taupo’s northern backdrop of Mount Tauhara, though steep in parts, can be safely climbed in under two hours and the reward at the top is a vista of the lake plateau. For a more tranquil walk through native bush, park your Taupo car rental at Spa Park and head by foot (1 hour) to Huka Falls, hugging the river and passing by local bathers sitting in the thermally heated river’s edge. (There’s a dangerous current in the river, so don’t venture too far out.) Lions Walk offers a pleasant, paved meander along the eastern edge of the lake or you can drive/walk around the 35 hectares of the Botanical Reserve.
Taupo’s shops range from fish ‘n’ trek emporiums to arty gift stores. The town centre is dotted with cafés offering yummy, locally produced food. There’s plenty of choice, from fast-food (try NZ-chain Burger Fuel) to Thai, Indian, Italian, Japanese and Mexican restaurants.
Accommodation is plentiful and varied, ranging from summer holiday parks and buzzing backpacker lodges to the comfortable self-catering motels lining the waterfront. Book ahead in the summer months, and for special events such as Ironman, as rooms fill up quickly. The Hilton Lake Taupo Hotel is located in a colonial homestead on the outskirts of town, but if you’re looking for exclusive luxury, book into Huka Lodge.
Driving down the eastern side of the lake, along the main highway south, you pass other picturesque settlements, all with unspoiled beaches and views, until you reach the small town (and trout-fishing capital) of Turangi at the southern tip of the lake. Then head further south to the snow-capped mountains for winter skiing, summer walking to pristine waterfalls or, if the weather’s good, the famous one-day trek across Mount Tongariro.