Things to Do in Taupo
The unique art and handicrafts produced by New Zealand’s Maori population are among the country’s most vibrant and celebrated art works. There are few better examples of the Maori Rock carvings at Mine Bay. One of the most striking attractions of Lake Taupo, the immense carvings adorn the cliff faces of the bay, towering over 10 meters high.
Although the designs appear like the remains of an ancient Maori settlement, they were in fact carved by artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970s, taking three summers to complete. The dramatic works are some of the largest rock art of their kind in the world, depicting Ngatoroirangi – the Maori visionary who guided the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to Lake Taupo over a thousand years before. Flanking Ngatoroirangi are two smaller carvings depicting the south wind and a mermaid, and utilizing traditional Maori stone-carving techniques.
Not only New Zealand’s largest lake, but the second largest in all of Australasia, the vast Lake Taupo is the aquatic heart of New Zealand’s North Island. The 606-square-kilometer lake lies in the caldera of an ancient volcano that erupted over 26,000 years ago and is surrounded by one of the country’s largest geothermal areas, dotted with bubbling mud pools and eerie lava-rock ravines.
While geyser spotting and soaking in thermal pools are popular pastimes for visitors to the lakeside city of Taupo, the lake itself also offers an abundance of tourist activities. Make the most of the warm waters at the beaches and swimming areas dotted around the lake; take to the water in a boat or kayak; or try your hand at windsurfing and jet boating on the lake or the Waikato River.
One of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions, just over a kilometer north of Taupo city, the mighty Huka Falls are the largest falls on the Waikato River, thundering over a 20-meter cliff edge into the rock pools below. Fed by the vast Lake Taupo (Australasia’s largest freshwater lake), the falls are created by the narrowing of the 100 meter wide river into a slim rock ravine, pushing a colossal 220,000 liters (enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools) over the cliff edge each second. Thanks to the build up of pressure behind the rock, an immensely powerful natural waterfall is formed. Named from the Māori word 'huka', meaning 'foam', the falls more than live up to their name as the surging water crashes onto the rocks below.
Those hoping to get a lookout over the falls can walk the footbridge overhead, where you’ll be close enough to feel the spray or else get a view from the Huka Falls Trail, a one-hour walk.
An otherworldly landscape of bubbling mud pools and steam-puffing vents, Taupo’s Craters of the Moon park offers a dramatic introduction to the region’s geothermic wonders. With Lake Taupo situated in the caldera of an ancient volcano and the surrounding area dotted with hot springs and geysers, Taupo has long been a center of geothermic activity and the Craters of the Moon is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to take in its highlights.
Inside the park, two walking trails loop around the principal attractions, with the raised walkways snaking through the heart of the active geothermic terrain. Look beneath your feet and you’ll see steam escaping through the cracks in the boardwalk; just out of arm’s reach, pools of murky grey mud spit and splutter, as if gasping for breath. The landscape unfolds in a moon-like vista worthy of its name, swirling with deep craters, fumaroles and tropical vegetation.
A geothermic wonderland of hissing geysers, bubbling hot springs and natural silica terraces, the Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park serves up some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery and makes a popular day trip from nearby Taupo or Rotorua. Nicknamed the ‘Hidden Valley’, the park is the country’s largest and one of its most impressive thermal areas, with the all-natural scenery providing a suitably dramatic backdrop for a walking tour.
Take the bush walk through the heart of the park and you’ll be surrounded by untouched geothermal landscapes – gurgling mud pools, piping hot springs and steaming fissures interspersed with 35 active natural geysers, spurting steaming water up to 9 meters in the air. Most notable are the series of fault-stepped silica terraces, over which up to 20 million liters of water flow per day.
Just 13km outside of Taupo, the Aratiatia Dam offers one of Taupo’s most visited free attractions and makes a popular day trip combined with a visit to the nearby Huka Falls. Feeding the Aratiatia Power Station – the Waikato River’s first hydroelectric power station dating back to the 1960s - the Aratiatia dam makes the most of the river’s natural flow, dropping 28 meters over a 1km stretch. While the water is a prime source of the region’s much celebrated environmentally-sustainable hydroelectric power system, the real attraction is watching as the dam gates are opened and thousands of liters of water rush downstream, creating the famous Aratiatia rapids.During the summer months the dam gates are opened for 30 minutes, 4 times a day at 10am, midday, 2pm and 4pm and crowds gather at the riverside observation platforms to watch the dry gorge transform into a thundering waterfall.