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Taupo is a hidden gem of a town on the North Island of New Zealand that is most recognized for its beautiful lake. I’ll be honest, on my first visit to Taupo I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Sitting on the beautiful Lake Taupo, there is so much to explore in this little adventure town. Whenever I’m visiting the North Island, I always try to work in a visit or a road trip (Taupo to Rotorua is one of my favs!) to explore this area.
Taupo is right in the middle of the North Island. It’s about a 3-hour drive from Auckland or a 5-hour drive from Wellington. While the town itself might be small, Lake Taupo is massive – it’s the biggest lake in New Zealand.
The lake also helps cement Taupo’s status as a perfect spot for adventurous travelers. You can experience everything from jet-boating to bungy jumping here. There are so many fun things to do in Taupo, and many of those activities are best done on a tour. I’ve taken several tours in Taupo, and it’s helped me have experiences I could never have organized on my own.
So I’ve put this guide together to help you enjoy the best Taupo has to offer. I’ll tell you all about the 8 best tours in Taupo that are great for adventurers and nature lovers. Read about each of the tours, and find the perfect fit for you!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Here are my absolute favorite tours in Taupo:
Best Tours in Taupo, New Zealand
1. Daily Scenic Maori Rock Carving Cruise Taupo
The second I found out about the Maori rock carvings, I knew I had to see them! Turns out, the carvings were so much more impressive in person than I had expected. This lake cruise to the Maori rock carvings lasts 90 minutes and explains the legends of the local Tuwharetoa tribe as you see the carvings up close.
The impressive Maori rock carvings in the stone around Lake Taupo were created by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and his small team in the 1970s. You can only see the rock carvings from the water, so a tour is the best way to see more details.
Plus, Lake Taupo is absolutely stunning and there is no better way to explore it than with a cruise taking in the epic views of the snow-capped mountain ranges nearby.
The price of this cruise is $49 NZD and you can choose between a morning start time or an afternoon cruise. Both have their appeals but I really like that the afternoon departure includes a fishing demonstration and some smoked trout.
What’s great about this tour is that it goes into a lot of detail about the area and the guides are incredibly friendly and make the ride so enjoyable.
If spending the day on the beautiful Lake Taupo exploring Indigenous culture sounds good to you, booking this day cruise is for you! Be sure to pack your camera because there are lots of photo-worthy moments here.
2. Half-Day Kayak to the Maori Rock Carvings in Lake Taupo
If you’d rather get up close and personal with the Maori rock carvings, this half-day kayaking tour is the way to do it. Kayaking is great because it lets you get closer to the artwork for a better view. You will even get the opportunity to jump in the water for a refreshing dip or cliff jump if you’re feeling adventurous.
The lake is absolutely stunning with crystal clear water and beautiful views of the Tongariro Mountains. While I kayak often and am comfortable on the water, this tour is great for even beginner kayakers.
The water is calm making for a chill 3-hour ride as you paddle across Lake Taupo from Acacia Bay. This picturesque paddle will have you passing native bush, steep cliffs, and through mini inlets that only a kayak can navigate. There’s a reason why Lake Taupo is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand and you’ll find out why!
The tour is led by a professional guide who knows the lake and will share the cultural significance of the Maori rock carvings. And, these carvings are so impressive! You’ll be floating right at the base of the cliff, taking it all in.
You can choose to leave in the morning or afternoon and the tour is $140 NZD including all your gear, a guide, refreshments (muffins and coffee/tea), and a ride to the starting point (just arrange that when booking).
If you’re down for a good adventure and want an intimate look at the carvings, reserving your spot on this half-day kayak tour is an absolute must!
3. Hukafalls Jet Boat Ride from Taupo
Are you always on the hunt for that next adrenaline rush? Well, this is it! The Hukafalls Jet Boat Ride in Taupo is the kind of experience that leaves you buzzing with energy after a heart-pumping adventure.
Expect a ride up New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato, surrounded by rugged cliffs and lush native bush. Huka Falls, one of New Zealand’s top waterfalls, is the main attraction of this tour, but the boat ride to the falls is a ton of fun, too. The jet boat does these cool trick turns and spins as you make your way up the whitewater.
I’m warning you now: you will get wet! If the boat ride doesn’t leave you soaked, visiting the falls sure will! You get right up and close to the falls and are guaranteed to get wet! Since you’ll be starting up the river, it’s helpful that this tour offers round-trip transportation from your hotel in Taupo. The ride itself is about 30 minutes, and there are multiple start times throughout the day.
This adventure tour costs $143 NZD per person. If you’re going during the cooler months, definitely bring some warm clothing. The tour provides life jackets and even spray jackets if it’s chilly. Cameras are okay to bring (but they will probably get wet!), but video cameras are a no-go for safety reasons.
If you’re looking for some adventure and want a unique way to visit the famous Huka Falls, booking a seat on this jet boat ride is a ton of fun!
Related Read: Huka Falls is also one of the best stops on the drive from Taupo to Napier!
4. Waikato River Guided Kayak Trip from Taupo
This kayak tour from Taupo allows you to explore the Waikato River at a calmer pace with an especially relaxing ending. The tranquil river is crystal clear and dreamy to explore as you pass by islands and nature reserves along the route. At the end, you will find some beautiful geothermal hot pools to soak in which I would say is worth the tour in itself.
I love how this tour lets you get up close to the scenery and take your time enjoying it. This is seriously one of the most stunning places to go kayaking in the whole country!
For just $69 NZD all kayaking equipment and a guide are included to take you along the river for this 2-hour tour. You can choose from multiple departure times, but my favorite time to paddle here is in the morning when everything is the most calm.
Just show up at Canoe and Kayak Taupo about 15 minutes before you’re set to leave. A couple of quick heads-up, this tour requires a booking for a minimum of four people. Also, there is a 7% Kaitiaki fee (environmental fee) when you arrive on the tour. The guides will also snap some complimentary photos for you which is a great bonus and means you don’t have to risk getting your camera or phone wet!
If kayaking to some epic hot springs on a beautiful river adventure sounds like a dream day to you, too, then you have to try this. The tour is very popular, so make sure to book your Waikato River kayak trip in advance to get a spot.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
5. Taupo Tandem Skydiving
I’ve done tandem jumps before and loved them, and my partner enjoys skydiving every chance he gets. So of course, I had to include this tandem skydiving experience in Taupo. Skydiving is an absolutely epic adventure everyone needs to try, at least once. And what better place to try than flying over the New Zealand countryside?
On this tandem skydiving experience, the day kicks off with a pick-up from your accommodation in a bright yellow stretch Hummer. You’ll head to the drop zone, just a 10-minute drive from Taupo’s town center. Once you’ve arrived, there will be a safety briefing and all the gear you need.
Then, the fun part. You’ll hop on a plane and ascend to your chosen altitude. As you climb, you’ll get stunning views of Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park featuring Mount Ruapehu, and Mount Ngauruhoe – aka Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans. Taupo is one of the best places to go skydiving in New Zealand because of the beautiful scenery.
Then, it’s go time. You and your tandem master will leap from the plane, hitting speeds of 200 km/hr (124 mph) as you free fall for up to 70 exhilarating seconds. Just when you think it can’t get any better, your parachute deploys. You’ll float back to Earth, soaking in those stunning lake views one last time.
This tandem skydiving day trip costs $329 NZD and you can enjoy a 45-70 second free fall from heights of 12,000, 15,000, or even 16,500 feet. A couple of things to keep in mind: this is a weather-dependent activity, and there’s a weight limit of 220 pounds (100 kg). Also, leave the cameras and open-toed shoes at home.
If you’re down for some heart-pumping adventure and want to take in epic views of Taupo, this tandem skydive trip makes for an epic experience.
Related Read: You can go skydiving in NZ year round – even in the winter. Read my full guide for more winter activities in New Zealand.
6. AJ Hackett Taupo Bungy and Swing
One of the most popular adrenaline-inducing activities in the area is AJ Hackett’s Taupo Bungy and Swing. This is the kind of experience that’ll make your trip unforgettable. There are a number of places to go bungy jumping scattered around the country, but the ones in Taupo are some of the best.
Let’s talk bungy first. For $235 NZD, you get to leap off New Zealand’s only cliff-top bungy platform. You’ll be plummeting 47 meters (155 feet) toward the Waikato River, and even have the option to get dunked in the water below. Go solo or bring a friend for a tandem jump; either way, it’s a rush like no other.
If you’d rather a smoother jump than a straight up and down of a bungy, you can choose to swing! For $210 NZD, you can experience the North Island’s only swing. Imagine swinging 44 meters (144 feet) along the Waikato River at speeds of up to 70 km/hr (43 mph) – it’s as awesome as it sounds. And just like the bungy, you can go tandem if you don’t want to go it alone.
If you’re torn between the bungy and the swing, why not do both? They offer a combo package for $345 NZD. Just make sure you meet the age and weight requirements – minimum age is 10, and weight ranges from 35-150 kgs (77-330 lbs).
I’ll admit that I was scared at first when I went bungy jumping, but I think it’s well worth the fear of stepping off that platform! Plus, it’s one of the coolest activities in NZ. If you want to take in amazing water views and have an epic thrill, then AJ Hackett’s Bungy and Swing is for you!
7. Mt Ruapehu Volcanic Vista Flight
Especially in a place as beautiful as New Zealand, this seaplane flight tour is a bucket list experience that offers unbeatable views of the country’s landscapes!
This flight takes you past some of the country’s most iconic volcanoes. You will board a seaplane for a 1-hour flight that takes off from a jetty in Taupo Bay. The journey starts by heading south over Mount Pihanga and then takes you over the Blue and Emerald Lakes.
But the real highlight? Soaring almost 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) above sea level to circle the summit of Mount Ruapehu. You’ll get to peer into the active Crater Lake and marvel at the expansive ski slopes below.
The flight also takes you towards Mount Ngauruhoe, which you might recognize as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films. You’ll have the chance to look down into its massive center. And as if that’s not enough, you’ll also fly over Mount Tongariro, where you can spot the Red Crater, the Blue Lake, and ancient lava flows.
You can choose from multiple departure times costing $575 NZD per person and you must book for at least two people. You are guaranteed a window seat for the flight to enjoy the views. I think it would be perfect for a romantic getaway in New Zealand!
If you want a luxurious way to soak up all the natural beauty of the area, booking this seaplane sightseeing tour is a great way to see a lot in a short period of time.
8. Taupo Return Shuttle to Tongariro Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is without a doubt one of the best NZ hiking trails. Its popularity is certainly helped by the fact that the area was the film setting for Mordor in Lord of the Rings. But even though the 19 km (12 mile) hike is popular, it isn’t easy.
There’s also the issue of parking because the trail is not a loop. You’ll begin in one car park and end in another if you intend to hike the entire trail. It’s not possible to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing without arranging for a shuttle or a friend who is able to drop you off and pick you up.
For $130 NZD per person, this 10-hour shuttle service picks you up from various locations in Taupo and drops you off at the Mangatepopo car park, the starting point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. If you don’t have a car, this is the only way to get you to the hike from Taupo.
The shuttle leaves bright and early at 5:15 am and you’ll be on the trail by around 7 am. You’ll have a full 8 hours to immerse yourself in the stunning alpine scenery. The shuttle will be waiting for you at the Ketetahi car park at the end of the track at 3:30 pm to bring you back to Taupo for a 5 pm return time.
The shuttle service is super accommodating with multiple pickup points, just make sure you’re visible and waiting outside your pickup location 10 minutes before the scheduled time. If you’re staying somewhere else, shoot them an email; they might be able to accommodate you.
This is a popular trail in New Zealand so if you want to do some exploring, booking this shuttle will get you there.
Where to Stay in Taupo, NZ
Now that you have a list of must-do tours in Taupo ready, it’s time to find a place to stay! Luckily Taupo has a ton of options for all travelers. Whether you’re looking for something more budget-friendly or looking to splurge on luxurious accommodations, there’s something for everyone. These are our top picks!
Taupo Debretts Spa Resort – $
With a wide variety of accommodations available, Taupo Debretts Spa Resort is a great option for families! You can stay in the lodge with a standard room or book an entire cabin to stay in. The resort is only a couple of minutes from the lake or take advantage of the natural hot springs on site. There are pools and waterslides to enjoy, a playground, and a spa. Basic rooms start at only $97 NZD and cabins are around $155 NZD a night and you can reserve both on Booking.com.
Baycrest Thermal Lodge – $$
A room with your own private hot tub, sign me up! The Baycrest Thermal Lodge is just off the main road opposite Lake Taupo and has stellar views of the lake. You can choose between ground-floor apartments with a private hot thermal pool or first-floor apartments with a spa bath and balcony. The owners are SO nice and the outdoor heated saltwater pool feels like a tropical escape! Rooms start around $317 NZD per night and you can reserve online here.
Hilton Lake Taupo – $$$
The Hilton Lake Taupo is a high-end accommodation that treats you to views overlooking the valley and Lake Taupo with spacious junior suites or apartment-style rooms available. You’ll love the extra living space and walk-in showers along with furnished private balconies to take in the view. There’s also an outdoor thermally heated pool, tennis courts, gym, restaurant, and lounge bar. Rooms are around $300-$400 NZD a night and you can check availability on Booking.com.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Taupo is such a great area to visit, especially if you’re like me and love adventurous activities that get you out into nature. From skydiving to kayaking, Taupo offers a wide range of fun day excursions to help you explore New Zealand’s stunning landscapes. If you’re planning a trip to Taupo, these tours will guarantee a fun adventure.
If you enjoyed this post about tours in Taupo, be sure to check out a few of my other popular posts about exploring New Zealand: