Lake Taupo & Around
If you love the outdoors, beautiful scenery, mountains, waterways, history and culture, look no further than the Lake Taupo Area on New Zealand’s North Island. It brims with outdoor activities, from relaxing to adrenaline pumping, surrounded by natural beauty. From New Zealand’s largest lake to the steaming peaks at Tongariro National Park, the area is a feast for the eyes. Over a million people a year visit this area.
Lake Taupo is a diverse area with star attractions, most from its geothermal activity. Spend time learning about the volcanic activity that began over 300,000 years ago and is still active today. The volcanic activity creates fascinating topography and fantastic thermal hot spots. Play in the water, or spend time learning about the local indigenous culture and history of the Maori people.
No matter what level of exertion or learning, there are plenty of activities for all ages and physical abilities. You can have a great time either being active or relaxing at very little cost. Try any of the activities your budget allows. Take a look at some…
Huka Falls is New Zealand’s highest volume waterfall on the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river. Waikato River originates from Lake Taupo and crashes through Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids, then becomes calm as it wanders on to the west coast out to the Tasman Sea. It is north of Lake Taupo on the east side of the lake.
At Huka Falls, watch from above, take a jet boat to rocket up the Waikato and into the Falls, or take a serene informative boat ride to the Falls. Learn about the history of the area, the wildlife, stop to see wildlife both in and out of the water.
Rather than a speedy jet boat tossing around as it travels to the Falls, we chose a tranquil boat ride with Huka Falls River Cruise. We prefer to glide along the river to see the birdlife, the bush, and fish – mostly trout, which are visible in the crystal clear water. Huka Falls River Cruise boat has indoor and outdoor viewing platforms, offering protection from the weather, a place to take great photos, and get closer to the water. Dave the owner, our captain and tour guide, has been giving tours here for 20 years and guided over 12,000 trips. He generously shares his wealth of knowledge about the river, its animal life, the bush, and all the other activities around Lake Taupo. People were able to get advice on activities that suited their interests from Dave. Passengers also have a chance to drive the boat.
Dave talked to us about the native birds on the river, the New Zealand black duck, or diving sculp duck, and birds that migrated from Australia, like the Coot, Pied Shags, Black Swans. He regaled us with stories about the very clean blue river, the flora, the rainbow and brown trout. Apparently, this area was once considered the best trout fishing in the world. Dave also educated us on the first hydroelectric power station in the area, which the boat passes on this trip.
The most exciting part of the trip is experiencing the Falls flowing at the boat. It is fun to be in the outside seating as Dave zips the boat through the Falls. Huka Falls River Cruise is the best combination to learn about the area, the river, wildlife, and zipping through the falls, with most of the boat ride being calm, allowing for better photography.
Huka Falls River Cruise, our morning activity, was timed perfectly ending just before the Aratiatia Dam gate opening. We had the thrill of watching the fierce rushing water as it burst from the dam, temporarily restoring the rapids to their normal operation.
While we were invited guests by Huka Falls River Cruise, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.
Water sports at Lake Taupo and Waikato River
Water sports are the highlight of the Lake Taupo area. In addition to the boating and fishing options, there are great swimming spots at:
- Hot water beach – immediately south of town
- Acacia Bay – 5 km west of town
- Whakaipo Bay – undeveloped waterfront reserve.
Also enjoy the hot springs and thermal spas:
- The free spa park at the Otumuheke Stream
- Taupo Debretts – charges an entry fee.
We stayed in Turangi, which has a local thermal spa and pools run by the Maori for only $8 NZ per person entry, rather than the $21 NZ at Taupo Debretts.
Other water activities include canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and motor boating. Adrenaline sports like skydiving, bungee jumping, white water rafting, and jet boating are all nearby options for those more adventurous. The area has golf courses, too.
Huka Prawn Park
First order of business after our water activities was lunch. Dave told us about the Huka Prawn Farm, with its restaurant, shrimp nursery, fishing and water activity park. The open air restaurant at Huka Prawn Park is situated on the Waikato River, and of course, its specialty is shrimp. Dine on shrimp prepared almost any way imaginable. Our preference is good old steamed shrimp or whole prawns. Or lunch on other types of fresh fish and salads. There is a special kids menu if they prefer basic landlubber cuisine.
Huka Prawn Farm is terrific for families visiting with children. They offer fishing for prawns, pedal boats, fish feeding, taking bush walks, a playground, and more. You can also try to catch your lunch; the restaurant will cook it for you.
While we were invited guests Huka Prawn Farm for a guided tour only, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.
Interesting for all ages is touring the hatchery and learning how the shrimp are raised. In the nursery, try hand feeding the juvenile shrimp – it tickles. The children were enthralled with the shrimp and had a good time feeding them.
Definitely try the restaurant, and if you have kids with you, the park will occupy them, and the tour will teach them about shrimp.
After our activities at Lake Taupo and Huka Falls, our interests took us to the volcanoes and mountains of the Taupo area for our next adventure.
Tongariro National Park and Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Immediately south of Lake Taupo, you’ll find the stunning Tongariro National Park, a dual heritage area, important to the Maori culture and famous for its volcanic topographies. Tongariro National Park surrounds 3 volcanoes; all 3 volcanoes are active, with the last eruption in 2012. Lord of the Rings Trilogy features one of these volcanoes. The park boasts contrasting vistas and volcanic features – Views of dry arid expanses, volcanic rock, red rock from the volcanoes, snow in winter, blue and emerald crater lakes, steaming thermal vents, and alpine meadows.
Summer and fall are the best time to hike this park. Often snow covers it in winter, so there is skiing in the area. Luckily we visited in early Fall and hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – a 1-day hike.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a well-known ‘Great Walk of New Zealand’ at approximately 20 km up and over ridges between the volcano peaks, with views into the steam vents. The hike took us from flat dirt paths to steep rocky climbs, steep descents through deep scree, around the mountain, and down into the lush greenery to overlooks of mountain meadows and the lake below.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a strenuous hike that can take 6-12 hours, depending on fitness level, number of stops, and speed. As 60-somethings, even though we are fit we stopped quite a bit, mostly for me, and for photo opportunities. It took us 10 hours. While totally beat, we were pleased to have completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
There are visitor centers with info on the park, mountains, and activities. Weather varies at different elevations; in early Fall, I wore 2 layers at some points and only my sleeveless tee shirt during some of the climb.
It is free to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We went by ourselves; there were plenty of hikers along the way. Guides are available for hire, and some bring your food, and walking sticks. I thought a hiking stick was a must on this hike. In order to hike the whole crossing, use either 2 cars, or the ride services that meet about 1 km from the parking lot at the end of hike and to drive hikers to the start. Reservations and tickets in advance are essential to guarantee a ride to the start.
An option is to go up and back from the start, where you’ll see everything except for the greenery, and the ability to get up close to the crater lakes.
The Lake Taupo area offers many great things to do and see. Fill your days with free activities, like hiking, swimming, picnic at the lake, walk around the huge lake, visit free hot springs, walks that encompass watching Huka Falls from above to the dam releases.
Or enjoy paid activities. For example – Visit a hot spring spa, take a scenic boat ride, rent a watercraft on the lake, go on a trout fishing trip, go white water rafting or jet boating, and more. Take the Huka Falls Cruise; it is a terrific low cost choice to see the Falls, learn about the area, and wildlife. For more complete information on the Lake Taupo area – http://www.greatlaketaupo.com/.
For information on other places to visit in New Zealand:
- Milford Sound – Scenery Photographers Dream About
- Akaroa New Zealand – for beach, wildlife, great seafood
- Franz Josef Glacier Activities on the Glacier
Stay tuned for our next blog post on Mount Taranaki and New Plymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island.