How to spend 3 days in Taupo
Many people have a spot firmly reserved for New Zealand on their bucket list. Whether you are an adventure seeking backpacker, family travellers or just looking to uncover some of the fabulous culture and landscapes New Zealand has to offer; there really is something for everyone.
After making the mammoth effort to get here it is easy to approach your travels with a checklist of things to tick off, because, let’s be honest when is the next time you will be making this trip again?
In December 2018 my husband and I flew out to Palmerston North to visit family over the Christmas period. Due to work commitments we had two full weeks including travelling days to explore this beautiful country. Itineraries were created, reworked, scrapped and tinkered with for some time before the final plan was in place. With only 12 days to work with excluding Christmas day and boxing day we wanted to get the most out of our trip without countless hours in the car; only getting out to take a quick picture then onto the next thing. We opted to stay on the North Island and complete a road trip. Our trip took us from Fielding to Taupo to Rotorua and finally ending in Opito Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula before heading back to Auckland for the trek home to the UK.
Our slightly more laid-back approach to the trip definitely enabled us to immerse ourselves in the culture and places we discovered.
This road trip itinerary takes in Taupo, Rotorua and Opito Bay. There are recommendations for thrill seekers, outdoor enthusiasts and a few gems for those who hunt for opportunities to get off the grid and take a step back when travelling!
Day 1-3: Taupo
Setting off from Fielding to Taupo didn’t start the way we had anticipated; after only 20 minutes we were forced to make a speedy U-turn to reclaim our winter coats which were stowed away on our arrival…lucky my husband remembered as his passport was conveniently stashed in his coat pocket! Who keeps their passport in their coat pocket?? Anyway, with disaster averted we were on our way.
Within 30 minutes of leaving Fielding I was like a child on their first trip to Disney World. Eyes as big as saucers, completely enthralled by their surroundings and silently mouthing ‘Wow’ every five minutes, as I pressed myself closer to the window to make sure I had the best views. My husband fell asleep!!
Our drive took us through gently rolling hills, far better than anything I’ve seen in the UK! Past volcanoes’, rivers, gorges and mountain ranges. Every aspect was a picture worthy of capturing. I couldn’t get over how green everything was. New Zealand is pretty subtle at letting you know that their country is breath-taking. Every now then there are gravel laybys and viewing points where you can get out of your car and take in the view. I can definitely recommend the views from Stormy Point look out and the roads through the Tongariro National park.
It is safe to say that Lake Taupo crept up on me, I was so enthralled by the cutest little church (Waitetoko Church) that I completely missed Lake Taupo sneaking up on my left-hand side. It most certainly took me by surprise. Lake Taupo is impressive! The lake was created almost two thousand years ago during an enormous volcanic eruption. The crater left by the eruption, now Lake Taupo is roughly the size of Singapore….insane!
With such a brilliant natural resource Taupo is an excellent place for all things water based. From cruises to kayaking, Māori rock carving to beautiful riverside walks and trails not to mention excellent café culture, Taupo has a lot to offer.
Travelling in a group of six and opting for a more relaxed trip, we had decided that we would rent a home for our stay rather than stay in a hotel. This option enabled us to have the freedom to work around our own schedule and we had the run of the loveliest house right on the river. Booking was done through http://www.bookabach.co.nz/baches-and-holiday-homes . The whole process was simple and worked brilliantly for our needs.
What to do
We couldn’t visit Taupo without spending some time checking out Huka Falls. Huka Falls is the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand and it sure is worth a stop. I would recommend walking along the river for the best views and appreciation of the falls. This is not just a jump out of the car take a picture opportunity – trust me, it’s worth taking in a little more of the landscape. I have never seen water so perfectly and exquisitely turquoise.
You can park at Spa Thermal Park and begin the walk from there. The trail takes you along the river winding its way up to give you a bird’s eye view of the river before meandering back down to culminate at the mighty Huka Falls. The power, speed and ferocity of the water reminded me of some elemental water dragon thrashing beneath the surface. Leaving time for photos and general wallowing in its beauty the trail takes about 1hr 30mins -2 hours. Also, as a little bonus you can take a dip in the hot springs at the start of the trail. The Spa Thermal Park is well equipped with changing rooms and easy walk ways to make access to the springs simple – so pack your swimwear!
Whilst hiking is lovely and gives you a great opportunity to take in the views it isn’t exactly adrenaline fuelled. If you’ve come to New Zealand seeking action and thrills then I can thoroughly recommend the Huka Falls Jet. The Huka Jet takes you along the river, cliffs and to the base of the falls at 80 kilometres per hour! Our skilful driver weaved, spun, dodged and narrowly missed all the obstacles the river had to throw at him…..top tip – hang on! I stepped off the boat buzzing and with my heart in my mouth but it was a brilliant way to get up close and personal to the falls. I should also mention that you will get wet, possibly VERY wet! Come prepared wearing a quick dry t-shirt and shorts as, particularly if you’re sitting on the outside edge you are in the firing line when the jet completes its breakneck 360 turns.
Sitting in the Pacific Ring of Fire it is no wonder that New Zealand harnesses the benefits of geothermal activity to generate power. If you’re visiting Taupo it is worth checking out the Aratiatia dam and rapids. The dam opens at 10am, 12pm and in the summer months 4pm. Along the dam there are various viewing platforms where you can watch for free as over 90,000 litres of water burst through and fill the gorge below. We arrived at around 9.45am and were able to get a spot with a perfect view of the dam opening. I recommend getting a spot below the bridge to see the full effect. It is worth arriving before 10am so you can see the tremendous change in the gorge as it becomes a rapid filled rushing river. Seeing the transition from unrelenting river to empty gorge really does make you appreciate natures incredible power.
Continuing with the water-based activities we finally headed out one evening onto Lake Taupo itself. We booked tickets on small boat with Ernest Kemp for an evening cruise to see the Māori rock carvings. Whilst the carvings aren’t as old as you might expect they are still pretty impressive. The giant Mine Bay carving of Ngātoroirangi is an excellent modern example of Māori artwork and took four summers to complete. Despite the grand splendor of the Ngātoroirangi carving; I think my favorite was the tuatara (giant lizard) which is sprawled across one of the lower rocks. The tuatara appears like a real-life dinosaur and could easily have been prop on the set of Jurassic Park. The carvings can only be accessed by boat
or kayak so it’s worth booking a trip. Our cruise with Ernest Kemp was very chilled with beer, wine, soft drinks and pizza served as we glided across the lake. Once at the rock carvings there was also the opportunity for a dip in the lake. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Finally, if you need to take a break and catch your breath then Replete café and store https://replete.co.nz/ is the perfect place to do so. Once you’ve snagged yourself a seat take a moment to fully study the huge glass cases of food and snacks also don’t forget to check out what’s on the menu! Whatever your choice I have no doubt it will be excellent! Top recommendation, the Moroccan chicken sandwich with an iced mocha went down a treat. It is easy to see why this cute little café has won numerous local and national awards. With a stellar reputation Replete is a popular place so try to beat the morning and afternoon rush to secure a table!
Although we managed to achieve a lot in three days, I would say that Taupo still had more to offer. On a return trip in the future I hope to get in some kayaking, complete the full hike from Huka Falls to the Aratiatia Dam and maybe check out the bungee jump over the Waikato river if I can turn my brave on!
Part two: Rotorua coming soon!