Lake Taupo Activities
Worth getting out of bed for...
- This is not an area short on great vantage points, but climbing to the summit of Mount Tauhura on Lake Taupo’s north-eastern shore is an especially easy-access look-out with just as much aesthetic reward. It should take about two hours to get to the top, 1,088 metres above sea level. From there, you can see over the lake and Taupo town and, on a clear day, over most of the plateau. The weather changes quickly around here, so take a warm, waterproof jacket.
- Arts and culture
- There’s a strong Maori culture here, the home of the Tuwharetoa iwi (tribe). At Wairakei Terraces, about five kilometres north-east of Taupo, take part in the evening Maori Cultural Experience (www.wairakei terraces.co.nz). Displays of traditional greetings, stories and dance culminate in a hangi (a meal cooked in coals below ground) and the awe-inspiring haka, a war dance familiar to anyone who’s seen the All Blacks play.
- Something for nothing
- Actually this is two free things rolled into one. An easy trot from Taupo along the Waikato River is the impressive Huka Falls, an absolute must-do. Many people scoot to the bottom in a jet boat, but if you do the walk, don your swimwear: there’s a hot swimming hole just off the walkway fed by a thermal creek.
- Taupo isn’t really a destination for spending hours splashing cash, but worth a look is Kura Gallery at 47a Heu Heu Street (07 377 4068), which showcases contemporary ethnic art from paintings and sculpture to jewellery. Also try Zea You Contemporary NZ Art, on the corner of Heu Heu and Ruapehu Streets (07 378 1361). On Saturday morning, the Riverside Park Market (off Tongariro and Redoubt Streets) sells local produce, art and craft, clothes, collectables and more.
- If the local geothermal activity has you wide-eyed, then a drive to Rotorua, about 75 minutes to the north, could be in order. Once you get used to the unusual smell, there’s plenty to explore. At Te Puia (www.tepuia.com) you can see the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, attend a hangi, watch concerts or wait for Pohutu (Big Splash) to erupt. The local people still live at Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (www.whakarewarewa.com) and show visitors around.
- Best beach
- Walk along Taupo’s Lake Terrace and only about five minutes out of town you’ll come across Hot Water Beach. Even on the coldest days hot water seeps to the sand’s surface at low tide. Take care though: it can be really hot.
- Perfect picnic
- On a schedule, but not a budget? A flight with Helistar Helicopters (www.helistar.co.nz) will take you out of town, over snow-capped mountains, buzzing past Huka Falls, over Maori rock carvings on the lake shore (otherwise only accessible by water) and inside the crater of Mount Tuahara. Some journeys include a landing, so take a sandwich with you, or speak to the operators about tailoring a special heli-picnic journey.
- This is a tramper’s paradise. People hail the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as one of the best single-day hikes in New Zealand. It’s not easy though, so you have to be in good condition and an experienced rambler. The weather can change rapidly, so make sure you’re fully equipped and always tell someone where you’re going and when you intend to be back. The DOC (Department of Conservation) office in Whakapapa Village has maps and displays current weather conditions.
- A lot of what goes on around Taupo might be a bit rough and tumble for little kids, but big ones will love the adrenalin-surge activities on tap. Mountain biking around the lake or in the forests just outside of Taupo should use up some excess energy. Hire a bike from Life Cycles (07 378 6117) and take off. The tourist office has a map of bike trails around the lake, and Bike Taupo (www.biketaupo.org.nz) also has area maps.
- Calling all would-be daredevils. This is one big drop zone, with more skydivers taking the plunge here than anywhere else in the world. To book in for a tandem jump contact Skydive Taupo (www.skydivetaupo.co.nz), Taupo Tandem Skydiving (www.taupotandemskydiving.com) or Freefall (www.freefall.net.nz). For white-water rafting head for the Tongariro River (www.raftingnewzealand.com). If you prefer something more sedate, catch dinner on the lake. Hire a guide at Taupo Fly Fishing (www.taupoflyfishing).
- Here’s something for the 13-year-old boy in everyone. When it comes to Maori names, the letters ‘wh’ are pronounced like an ‘f’. The ski region on Mount Ruapehu is called Whakapapa. Go on, you’re allowed to giggle.
March Some of the world’s fittest athletes head to Taupo to take part in Ironman New Zealand (www.ironman.co.nz). Don’t worry, you can join the rest of us watching from the footpath. Also in March, the tiny town of Taihape – which claims to be the galoshes-throwing capital of New Zealand – holds an annual Gumboot Day festival (www.taihape.co.nz). September Taupo Day–Night Thriller (www.daynightthriller.co.nz) is the biggest mountain bike event in New Zealand, with about 3,000 riders pouring into town to take part in a 12-hour race near the Spa Park. October During Ohakune Carrot Carnival (www.carrotcarnival.org.nz), held on one Saturday a year, this mountain community goes carrot crazy. There’s a parade, stalls, entertainment and, naturally, a cake competition.