12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Taupo
The little town of Taupo is an excellent base to explore the central region of the North Island. Sitting on the shore of vast Lake Taupo and close to the mountains of Tongariro National Park, Taupo has grown into an action-adventure center with an abundance of hiking, boating, and river rafting opportunities for travelers who want to explore New Zealand's famed natural scenery. Both the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and hiking on Mount Ruapehu are among the best day hikes you'll find anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Like Rotorua, the Taupo region is full of geothermal activity with wild-colored silica terraces, hot springs, and steam vents bursting from the ground. For visitors not looking to get hot and sweaty while trekking up a volcanic cone, these areas, such as Orakei Korako, offer an easy way to witness the geological wonders of New Zealand's volcanic foundations.
1 Lake Taupo
Created from the seismic forces of a supervolcano eruption, the vast and shimmering Lake Taupo lies in the volcano's caldera and is New Zealand's largest lake (616 square kilometers). Today, the tranquil waters offer a bounty of outdoor activities. For keen anglers, Lake Taupo is all about the trout fishing with abundant stocks of brown trout and rainbow trout (introduced by settlers to the lake in the late 19th century). For visitors not so interested in casting a line, the deep, blue waters are perfect for swimming, kayaking, and scenic cruises. Both sailboats and motorboats can be chartered from Taupo's harbor, or shorter jaunts can be made by hopping on one of the many tour boats that ply the lake.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Taupo
2 Huka Falls
Although not a particularly high waterfall, the thundering Huka Falls is a majestic sight for the sheer force and spray whipped up as the waters of the Waikato River plunge over the rocky ledge into the gorge eight meters below. A startling 22,000 liters of water is funneled over the ledge every single second in a deafening fury of foam. Close-up access to the churning waters is provided by a pedestrian bridge and variety of platforms, while travelers looking for a more exciting viewpoint can choose to jet-boat through the turquoise waters of the gorge right up to the falls' base. For nature lovers wanting to combine a visit with a stroll, there is an excellent (and easy) one hour hiking trail from Taupo to Huka Falls.
Location: Wairakei Park, 10 kilometers north of Taupo
3 Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings
In the 1970s, Maori carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell gifted the Taupo region with a dazzling display of Maori art when he crafted a series of Maori rock carvings into the cliffs of Lake Taupo's Mine Bay. The main carving rises a mammoth 10 meters above the water's surface and depicts the Maori navigator, Ngatoroirangi, who brought the Maori to New Zealand in the 13th century. This stunning piece of contemporary art can only be seen from the water, and a kayak is the best way to get close up to the rock wall and really admire Whakataka-Brightwell's artistry.
Location: Lake Taupo
4 Tongariro Alpine Crossing
It's been called one of the top 10 day walks in the world for good reason. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (19.5 kilometers and between seven-nine hours) is a slice of New Zealand's raw nature, where you can trek amid the volcanic craters and emerald-hued lakes of Tongariro National Park. Hikers traverse a barren yet beautiful lunarscape of craters and active volcanoes, pitted by ancient lava flows and speckled with steam vents and mountain springs. The spectacular alpine views, which can reach as far as Mount Taranaki on a clear day, are worth the sweat of the ascent, while experienced walkers keen to fit in more exercise can add side trips to climb either Mount Tongariro or Mount Ngauruhoe (which stood in for Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy) if they set off early in the morning.
Location: Tongariro National Park, 80 kilometers southwest of Taupo
5 Orakei Korako
If you only visit one geothermal area in New Zealand, make it this one. Just 25 minutes north of Taupo, Orakei Korako (also known as the Hidden Valley) is an otherworldly place of geysers and bubbling mud amid surreal silica terraces coated in weird and wonderful splodges of green, yellow, and orange algae. Don't miss 40-meter-long Te Kapua Terrace (also known as the Golden Fleece Terrace), covered in a rippling, white sinter coating. Following the walkways around the area brings visitors to a platform overlooking Ruatapu Cave, the only geothermal cave in New Zealand and one of only two in the world. This unique natural feature (no entry allowed) plummets down for 35 meters to an acid-water hot pool.
Address: Orakei Korako Road, Reporoa
6 Craters of the Moon
The Craters of the Moon walking trail is an easy 45-minute loop that gets you up close with New Zealand's weird and wonderful geothermal scenery. A wooden boardwalk traverses the gentle hills of the scrub-lined countryside, allowing easy viewing of a multitude of steam vents, billowing white funnels of smoke out of the ground, and vast craters that bite into the landscape. For the overall scope across the entire area, head up the steep trail of stairs (an extra 20-minute walk) to the lookout platform where the bizarre panorama of steamy, smoky terrain can be seen in full.
Address: Karapiti Road, Taupo
7 Wairakei Terraces
Rich in minerals, the hot springs of the Wairakei Terraces are a great place to soothe travel-weary joints. Used by the local Maori tribes for centuries, these therapeutic waters are now a top Taupo spot for a few hours of relaxation. A series of thermal pools of varying heat sit below a white silica terrace with a gushing waterfall replenishing the aqua blue water. For travelers who want to explore the area further, a boardwalk leads over a series of silica terraces nearby, complete with steam vents and geysers. Culture-vultures can discover New Zealand's Maori heritage and artistry with an evening tour (including a traditional dinner) of Wairakei Terraces' Marae (Maori meeting house) and Maori village.
8 Mount Ruapehu
Mount Ruapehu gives adventure fans plenty of reasons to don their hiking shoes. Although this is one of New Zealand's highest peaks outside of the South Island's Southern Alps, you don't need to be a mountaineer to experience its rugged, volcanic beauty. If you want jaw-dropping alpine views without the sweat, a scenic chair-lift ride can whizz you up to 2,020 meters above sea level to sit amid a landscape surrounded by Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro, and Mount Ngauruhoe. Otherwise, the real highlight is scaling the mountain ridge up to the crater lake on a guided tour. During winter (June-September) visitors can ski on Mount Ruapehu's lower slopes.
Location: Tongariro National Park, 80 kilometers southwest of Taupo
9 Aratiatia Scenic Reserve
The Aratiatia Scenic Reserve is a slice of lush forest packed with family-friendly walking trails and mountain biking tracks. For those only on a short stay in Taupo, this area offers a good chance to get acquainted with New Zealand's native fauna on an afternoon stroll. The reserve's highlight is watching the opening of the Aratiatia Dam gates. Three times daily, the gates are opened to turn the dry Aratiatia Gorge into a turbulent series of rapids flowing at approximately 90,000 liters per second. A pedestrian bridge right over the dam gates offers prime viewing territory to perch as it happens.
Location: Aratiatia Dam, 10 kilometers north of Taupo
10 Taupo Bungy
No self-respecting tourist center in New Zealand is without its own bungee experience, and Taupo doesn't disappoint. Taupo Bungy plunges you headfirst for 47 meters down to the Waikato River below and lays claim to being New Zealand's highest water-touch bungee experience. If diving off a platform, perched on a sheer cliff face over a river, with only an elastic cord tied around your ankles isn't your idea of a good time, there's also the extreme-swing, which arcs you over the river, reaching speeds of 70 kilometers per hour. These tourist attractions are definitely not for those afraid of heights, but adrenaline-junkies will relish them.
Address: 22 Spa Road, Taupo
11 Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs
After all of Taupo's hiking, biking, and boating activities are ticked off, a soak at Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs is a worthwhile spot of pampering. The mineral-rich thermal pools here sit within lushly manicured gardens full of ferns and native flowers, while the on-site spa offers a tempting array of local mud wraps and other rejuvenating treatments for a truly luxurious way to top off your Taupo stay. The hot springs are family-friendly with a dedicated children's warm-water pool (complete with aquatic playground) and hydroslides.
Address: 76 Napier-Taupo Road, Taupo
12 Waipahihi Botanical Reserve
With fantastic views of both Lake Taupo and the peaks of Tongariro National Park, Waipahihi Botanical Reserve is a gorgeous place to take a stroll. The gardens here span 35 hectares, sitting on a hill above the town of Taupo, and are full of trails leading between native kauri and rata trees and colorful flower beds brimming with rhododendrons and azaleas. It's a great place to take an easy amble and soak up the tranquil ambience. The reserve was envisioned in 1966 by a group of local volunteers, and astonishingly, the vast and beautiful gardens and park land here are still maintained nearly completely by volunteer workers. It's one of Taupo's most serene spots and a definite must-do for nature lovers.
Address: Shepherd Road, Taupo