Paddle to the Mine Bay carvings on Lake Taupō. © Fraser Clements

Loved by the locals: Taupō


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1. Māori Rock Carvings

Want to see something rather spectacular? Standing around 14 metres above Lake Taupō, the Māori Rock Carvings in Mine Bay are epic. They were etched into a cliff face in 1980 by traditional marae-taught carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell. 

The cool thing is, it’s a bit of an adventure to get there too, as you need to see them from the water. So whether you jump on a charter boat, or commandeer a kayak and paddle yourself, there’s no doubt these stunning works of art are a must-see. 

2. Hot springs 

Don’t believe that Rotorua is the only place offering hot pools of the natural variety! Thermal activity is alive and well here in Taupō.   

Spa Park is where most tourists head to enjoy a warm bathe, but just opposite the Napier-Taupō Highway is a beach on the edge of Lake Taupō where, if you’re up for a bit of digging, you can create your own little pool of warm spring water. 

There are also quite a few places along the Waikato River that offer natural hot water, including the significantly lesser-known ‘Hot Water Beach’ of New Zealand. It can be a bit tricky to find – the track is around 100 metres south of Huka Honey Hive on Huka Falls Road. But shh… it’s a bit of a secret.    

3. Mountain biking

A trip to Taupō isn’t complete without a bike ride. It’s just what we do down here. And no matter your level of enthusiasm there’s a track to suit. 

If you’re up for a challenge, the trails around town certainly won’t disappoint.

Start from the bottom of the control gate bridge and work your way along bush tracks to catch glimpses of the mighty Waikato River. You’ll pass by the bungy and swing (maybe you’ll see someone drop) and end up at Spa Park. 

If you’ve still got it left in you, you can continue on up to the Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Dam – which opens its gates at certain times every day (and, as a side note, is actually very spectacular to watch!). The Craters of the Moon bike park is also very popular with both locals and visitors – it has nearly 50 kilometres of tracks, with various trails ranging from easy to the more thrilling (i.e. for experienced riders).

If biking for leisure is more your style, meander around the waterfront and follow the Great Lake Trail. And don’t forget to stop for a drink (hot or cold) at the Two Mile Bay Sailing Club – it’s where all the locals hang out for a lazy afternoon bevvy while listening to some live tunes. 

4. Boutique shopping

Buyer beware – there are boutique shops a-plenty here and they are stocked with some of the most beautiful things. 

In the Suncourt Plaza, Space Craft is a definite favourite – it’s extremely hard to go in here and not walk out without a special treat. From a fantastic array of pot plants to gorgeous homeware and boutique clothing, there’s even a choice range of kids toys and accessories. 

The Saturday Markets at Riverside Park are also well worth visiting, especially if you’re feeling peckish – there is delicious food galore! Along with cute crafts and fresh produce being sold by locals, there’s an awesome vibe all year round. 

5. Lake swimming

No salt. No sharks. No problem. There’s an art to swimming in Lake Taupō – because it can definitely be chilly to the touch. But seriously, once you’re in, you won’t want to get out. There is something serene about bobbing around without having to worry about a rogue wave smacking you in the back of the head, or having to swim against the tide. It’s relaxing, therapeutic even. 

Plus once you’re out, there’s none of that sticky salt-on-your-skin palaver to deal with – you just feel, well, refreshed.   

From popular spots to secluded bays only accessible by boat, you really are spoilt for choice when swimming here. The largest lake in the southern hemisphere will grant you that. 

Acacia Bay is a favourite with the locals because it is a secluded little bay, but Whakaipo around 10 minutes out of town is also a favourite on a hot summer’s day. Here you can skim stones, paddle, or just dive in.    

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