Whether you’re looking for an adventure or want to take things at a more leisurely pace, we’ve picked 12 unusual activities and attractions in Taupō that may not be the things you already know and love.
There’s a mighty great lake here in Taupō, so what’s a visit without getting out on the water? Doughboats are donut-shaped boats which have space for up to six people to cruise the inner harbour of the lake. Check out all the little bays on the way, stop off for a swim, or just relax as you float around the lake. You don’t need a special license to drive a Doughboat – just pack a picnic, nominate someone who thinks themselves a bit of a skipper and off you go for up to two hours.
2. Ride an inflatable down the river
This is a must-do when you come to town. It’s free and all you need is some sort of floating device – whether it’s a surfboard, pool toy or even a blow-up bed: there’s no need to get fancy, as long as it floats it can be a boat! Park next to the Control Gate Bridge and walk down to an entry point in the river, board your chosen craft and simply let the gentle rapids take you on a relaxing, picturesque journey. There is plenty to see, from towering cliffs to native bush and if you’re lucky someone may be doing the bungy or extreme swing as you float by – close enough to hear their screams. The ride comes to an end at Reids Farm and if you’re organised you’ll have a second car parked here to take you back to town (or transport arranged.) Otherwise, it’s quite a walk back and you won’t want to do that carrying your inflatable.
3. Spa Thermal Park
Spa Thermal Park is a not-so-secret spot that is definitely worth a visit when you’re in town. Right on the edge of the Waikato River, it’s home to naturally-formed hot pools that cascade down from a nearby steam. It’s rather popular with both locals and tourists so be prepared to share your possie with a friendly neighbour or two. Changing rooms, toilets and a coffee kiosk make the experience a little more civilised and the area also has historical significance for local Iwi which you can read about on nearby storyboards. Spa Thermal Park is a great morning or afternoon outing for the whole family, especially as the weather starts to cool off.
4. Graffiato Street Art Trail
Taupō hosts the annual Graffiato Street Art Festival each October which sees some of the town’s blank walls turned into large, spectacular artworks. It’s the only festival of its kind in New Zealand. New pieces are added every year, but you don’t have to be here for the event itself, as the trail is available to explore at any time. There is a walking map available from Love Taupō that will lead you along unassuming alleyways, home to some amazing original art pieces. Take the kids and pretend you’re on a treasure hunt, or gather a group of friends and pose for some Insta-worthy photos. It is also a really cool way to explore Taupō township, where you’re likely to find cafés and retailers that you otherwise wouldn’t have known were there.
5. Trout fishing
Head a mere 45 minutes’ out of Taupō to Tūrangi – home to some of the world’s best trout fishing. There’s a bit of an art to this kind of fishing, which may put some people off, but catching a freshwater trout will definitely be worthy of a gloat when you get home. There are many operators here who have taught plenty of beginners how to fly fish so there is no need to feel shy about your lack of abilities. Just bring plenty of enthusiasm and an arm ready to cast. While you may be tempted to just grab a rod and try it yourself, there are a few rules and regulations (including needing a license to catch trout) so have a chat to the local visitor centre about what you need to be prepared before wading in.
6. The Squeeze, Tutukau Gorge
The Squeeze is more of an adrenaline-filled activity, and if you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, it makes for a great adventure. For the first part of the trip you sit back and let the jet boat driver do all the hard work, but the next bit is all you – as you exit the boat and ‘squeeze’ your way through narrow crevasses in a hidden valley, wading through waist-deep water. It’s pure New Zealand, even for us locals. At the end is the reward, a gorgeous waterfall and naturally-heated bathing pool – just the right place to regather yourself before heading back.
7. Craters Mountain Bike Park
Craters Mountain Bike Park has nearly 50km of purpose-built mountain biking tracks – some of the best in the region. From beginners to the more experienced, there are trails a-plenty through lovely native bush and pine forests. For those seeking a few thrills, you’ll certainly get them on the downhills with tight corners and a few gaps (jumps) thrown in for good measure. And if you need advice on which rides to hit, there’s usually a local or two around who knows the park like the back of their hand. The pumice soil here in Taupō means the rain drains pretty quickly, which is why it is a favourite spot for mountain bike enthusiasts all year round. If you can’t bring your own, you can hire a bike or even an e-bike from a few outlets in town or one near the entrance to the park. You do need to buy a pass to use the park, so make sure you grab one before heading out.
8. Rangatira Point walking track
Like most walking tracks around Lake Taupō, the scenery along Rangatira Point is rather special. But what makes this walk a little bit of a special secret are the large flat rocks along the way that provide the perfect platform for jumping off into pristine blue water on the lake edge. You can practice your bombs, belly flops and finesse your dives to your heart’s content. An added bonus – the rocks also offer a very pleasant way to warm up when you get out. Simply lay and splay. The walking track is suitable for the whole family and takes around an hour and a half. Pack a picnic and make sure you walk right to the end as there are another couple of places to dive off the rocks.
9. Ōrakei Kōrako Geothermal Park
Geothermal activity is what the Taupō region is famous for and here’s where you can get to the heart of it. From weird and wacky landscapes that feel like another world to mud pools and gurgling geysers, at Ōrakei Kōrako you can explore it all without the crowds of some of the more ‘popular’ geothermal parks. A ferry trip takes you across to the park, where you are then free to explore pathways that take you past silica terraces, through a hidden valley and into a thermal cave.
10. Mount Tauhara
Get yourself up Mt Tauhara for the most amazing view of the central north island – North, East, South and West. You do need to have a reasonable level of fitness to make it up as some of the tracks are steep in parts (and quite muddy after rain) but the huffing and puffing will definitely be worth it. From the snow-capped peaks of Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngāuruhoe, to the vastness of Lake Taupō, on a very clear day, you may even catch a glimpse of Mt Taranaki to the west. The track is around 2.8km and should take around three hours to get to the summit. As with any outdoor activities, make sure you’re prepared for all weather (including something warm for the top and way down; it can get chilly up there.)
11. Taupō Museum
It may be small, but Taupō Museum is mighty. Definitely worth a mention is the Ora Garden – of which Maggie Barry (yes – New Zealand’s pre-eminent garden aficionado) said “if a visitor to Aotearoa could see only one garden to gain a sense of our bush and our cultural history, the Ora Garden of Wellbeing is the one I'd recommend.” During the school holidays, there is plenty on for the kids, which is particularly useful on rainy days. From art galleries featuring local, national and international artists, you can also learn all about the history of the Lake Taupō Region – an interesting mix of stories about its geothermal and volcanic past, Māori legends and European settlement.
12. Great Lake Trail
The Great Lake Trail is 71km of scenic trails that are open to both riders and walkers but mostly suited to mountain biking. Broken into four sections that take you through a variety of scenery that changes with the seasons, they are all easily accessible from Kinloch – a settlement 20 minutes’ drive from downtown Taupō (although the western section does require a shuttle drop off and boat pick up). Whether you want to tackle it all, or just one or two sections, you do need to have intermediate ability as they are all Grade 3 trails. An e-bike may be an option if you’re short on time but want to get further afield.