Top 10 Things to Do in Taupo, New Zealand

A look at Lake Taupo during sunset

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Taupo, New Zealand, a town nestled in the middle of the North Island and located on the northeastern shore of Lake Taupo (New Zealand's largest lake and "inland sea"), is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. This adventure capital of the North Island provides a home base for those looking to hike the surrounding bush and volcanoes, kayak to ancient rock carvings, and sail in an eco-yacht. Surrounded by the Tongariro National Park, this playground will keep you occupied for days. Then, after you've completed your outdoor pursuits, retire to one of the area's geothermal hot springs to rejuvenate your tired muscles with water steeped in soothing minerals from the earth.

01 of 10

Kayak to the Māori Carvings

Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupo

Boy_Anupong / Getty Images

Accessible only by boat or kayak, the Māori Rock Carvings located in Mine Bay on Lake Taupo stand 45 feet (14 meters) tall. After completing a 10-year training period with Māori elders in 1970, the late master carver, Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, commemorated his accomplishment with a carving in the bay on his grandmother's land. This carving depicts Ngatoroirangi, a visionary Māori navigator, and took four summers to complete. The artwork, considered "a gift to Taupo," has become an iconic display of the culture of the region, and can be viewed by booking a kayak trip that takes you by the treasured carvings and past other interesting features around the lake. Tours depart from Acacia Bay in Taupo.

02 of 10

Swim at Kinloch Beach

Swimming in Lake Taupo

Andrew Peacock / Getty Images

Kinloch 3377, New Zealand

Just 12 miles (20 kilometers) west of Taupo, Kinloch Beach is a sandy stretch of lakefront suitable for watersports like swimming, fishing, and boating. The beach is situated in the middle of the Whangamata Stream Scenic Reserve, complete with hiking and biking trails, and dense, lush forests. Kinloch was originally a sheep station, but has turned into a holiday destination, complete with a golf course and a marina. Waterskiers, kayakers, and paddleboarders also hang out on this stretch of beach, as the water is crystal clear and a pontoon-style floating dock provides a platform for diving and docking a floatation device.

03 of 10

Hike to Huka Falls

Huka Falls

Alisha McDarris / TripSavvy

Wairakei, Taupō 3384, New Zealand

The outflow of Lake Taupo, a portion of the Waikato River that gushes through a narrow gorge at the rate of 220,000 liters per second, forms Huka Falls. This 36-foot waterfall is a spectacular sight to see from several viewing points, including a footbridge precariously placed right above the cascading water. To access the bridge, hike the Spa Park to Huka Falls Trail, an easy one-hour walk that takes you by the tranquil river and through exotic native forests. Huka Falls is located 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from Taupo, and can be accessed by driving yourself or taking a tourist bus from the town center that stops at several attractions along the route.

04 of 10

Soak in Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs

Hot Springs near Rotorua city in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand

scott1346 / Flickr

76 Napier-Taupo Road, State Highway 5, Hilltop, Taupō 3330, New Zealand
Phone +64 7 378 8559 ext. 2

Taupo is located in the center of a large geothermal area that includes the volcanoes of Rotorua and White Island. This underground energy source creates the hot pools at Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs Spa Resort, a tranquil spot to ease your tired muscles. Soak in one of the outdoor pools, or choose from an indoor private pool of varying temperatures. Families with kids will love the hydro slide complex, the warm water playground, and the splash park. There is also a cafe and day spa on site. The resort is located about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from Taupo and can be accessed via New Zealand State Highway 5 from Napier.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Sail Lake Taupo

Relax sailing on the Barbary

Courtesy of Sail Barbary

Berths 9 &, 10 Redoubt Street, Nukuhau, Taupō 3330, New Zealand
Phone +64 800 326 7245

A day sail aboard an eco-yacht or a 39-foot catamaran is one of the most exhilarating ways to see Lake Taupo. The zero-emission electric yacht provides a peaceful sailing experience as you explore the hidden bays and historical rock carvings of Mine Bay. Depending on the weather, the eco-vessel will glide you along via sail power or a silent electric motor. Choose the catamaran adventure if you like more action, as this boat trip includes trout fishing, clay bird shooting, barbecuing, stand-up paddleboarding, and swimming. Sail Barbary departs from the mouth of the river in the heart of Taupo's center.

06 of 10

Take a Geothermal Walk in Craters of the Moon

Craters of the moon, One of the craters of the moon just north of Taupo

Andrew Parnell / Flickr

171 Karapiti Road, Wairakei, Taupō 3377, New Zealand
Phone +64 27 656 4684

Craters of the Moon is situated 3.5 miles (5.5 kilometers) north of Taupo, near Huka Falls. This protected geothermal field is filled with bubbling mud pools, steaming vents, and ​sulfurous gases. Trails on the grounds consist of the Main Walkway, a 40-minute easy walk that takes you by the field's main crater, and the Upper Walkway, a 20-minute moderate hike that takes you up to a lookout. As you hike along the mix of boardwalk and gravel pathways (to shield you from the hot earth below), you'll be shrouded in steam at certain points before emerging into a clearing. This site is a fascinating and worthwhile stop.​​

07 of 10

Smell the Flowers at Waipahihi Botanical Gardens

Orange-red rock rose shrub

Josie Elias / Getty Images

Cnr Hyde Avenue &, Shepherd Road, Waipahihi, Taupō 3330, New Zealand
Phone +64 27 748 5642

The 86 acres at Waipahihi Botanical Gardens are filled with a large variety of native plants, including well over 2,000 rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas intermingled with trees and other plantings. A 1.2-mile (2-kilometer) driving loop provides plenty of opportunities to view the gardens, while stopping along the way to take in the sight of Mount Tauhara and Taupo Lake. Themed walking trails allow visitors to peruse certain species of plants and flowers, and birdwatching abounds on the garden's grounds. You can reach the garden by taking Shepherd Road to the top.

08 of 10

Play a Round of Golf at Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary

Wairakei International Golf Course

Courtesy of Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary

Wairakei Drive, Thermal Explorer Highway, Wairakei, Taupō 3377, New Zealand
Phone +64 7 374 8152

Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary is not only one of the finest golf courses in New Zealand, but it's also a wildlife sanctuary. This first-of-its-kind golf course works closely with New Zealand's Department of Conservation to create habitats for native birds and wildlife. The world-class, 18-hole golf course encompasses 444 acres of natural rolling countryside and uses natural terrain features and man-made bunkers as obstacles. Set in a geothermal area of Wairakei on the outskirts of town, the grounds also contain a hotel, restaurants, a conference center, a pro shop, and practice areas. The resort is located on Wairakei Drive in Taupo.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Jet Boat the Waikato River

Huka Jet nearing the falls

Al404 / Flickr

Waikato River, Waikato, New Zealand

The Waikato River—in particular, the stretch between Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Dam—provides an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride for those looking to up their vacation's ante. For the adventurists, hired jet boats cruise the waterway at up to 55 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour), avoiding obstacles and pulling donut maneuvers. Cruise by volcanic river banks and view geothermal features, like mud pots and steaming geysers, Or, maneuver through 164-foot (50-meter) cliff walls in the Tutukau Gorge, checking out hidden caves and silica terraces. This area offers some of the best jet boating on the North Island, and most rides depart from Mihi, 23 miles (37 kilometers) upriver from Taupo.

10 of 10

Go Skiing at Whakapapa Ski Field and Happy Valley

Whakapapa Skifield

Malene Holm

Manawatu-Wanganui 3989, New Zealand
Phone +64 800 468 235

The Whakapapa Ski Field in Tongariro National Park is located 64 miles (103 kilometers, or about an hour and a half drive) from Taupo township. The volcanic nature of this ski area provides skiers and snowboarders terrain features like groomed trails, snow-filled basins, steep chutes, and secret powder stashes. New Zealand's largest commercial ski field operates from early June through late October, claiming the longest ski season offered in the country. The resort also boasts the longest gondola in New Zealand, an extensive beginner area, and its own cafe and ski school. In the summer, take the gondola to the top and dine at Knoll Ridge Chalet, while taking in spectacular views of Tongariro National Park.

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Top 10 Things to Do in Taupo, New Zealand