Taupo is a small town on the North Island of New Zealand best known for its lake. Lake Taupo is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand. It’s the largest lake in the country with a surface area that is as big as the entire country of Singapore!
The lake is stunning and is usually quite calm and perfect for lots of watersports. Lake Taupo itself was created by a giant volcanic eruption some 27,000 years ago that covered the North Island in volcanic ash and made the crater where the lake now sits. You might even see tiny balls of pumice – a lightweight volcanic rock – floating along the surface of the water today.
Taupo is located in the middle of North Island, about a 3-hour drive from Auckland or a 5-hour drive from Wellington. It’s a family-friendly destination with lots to do and see or just a great place to kick back and relax.
When you’re looking for things to do around here, New Zealand’s top attraction, the stunning Huka Falls is close by or you grab a kayak to head out on the lake and find the incredible Maori rock carvings, try out the highest skydive in the country, or take a walk along one of the many trails. The truth is there are tons of fun things to do in Taupo!
Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway in New Zealand or looking for a great family vacation spot, check out all the fun activities in Taupo to start dreaming up your own trip. After spending time in this lakeside town, these are my favorite things to do in Taupo!
The Best Things to do in Taupo (Lake Taupo)
1. Visit Huka Falls
The magnificent Huka Falls is located only 7 kms (4.3 miles) north of Taupo or about a 5-minute drive. It’s so close, this has to be a must-do while you’re in Taupo.
The Waikato River is the longest river in the country, and right before Huka Falls, it narrows into a volcanic rock ravine. This narrowing increases the water pressure that creates the dramatic waterfall as the water bursts over Huka Falls at a rate of 2,20,000 liters per second. This could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 11 seconds!
The foamy appearance of the water as it cascades down 11 meters (36 feet) is reflected in its name. The name comes from the Maori language where ‘Huka’ means ‘foam’.
The parking lot for Huka Falls is easy to get to, or you can take a bus from Taupo to get here. Once you’re here, there are multiple lookout points including a bridge right at the top of the falls where you can get close to this incredible waterfall.
If you fancy getting even closer to this powerful waterfall, hop on a thrilling jet boat tour for a front-row seat to this incredible natural wonder. You’ll need to hold on tight as you do 360-degree spins and speed past rugged cliffs before arriving at the thundering waterfall. Roundtrip transportation is included for the $108 NZD price per person.
2. See the Maori rock carvings
You’ll need to get out on Lake Taupo for this adventure because the spectacular Maori rock carvings can only be seen from the water!
The tallest carving here towers over 10 meters (32 feet) high on the face of the cliffs. This is one of the largest rock art displays in the world and it’s incredible to see up close.
These carvings into the stone rising up around Lake Taupo were done by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and his small team in the 1970s. He had recently finished a decade of training with Maori elders and marked the occasion with this incredible carving completed over four summers.
Because you can only see the carvings from the water, take this half-day kayak tour to get up close. You’ll have an experienced guide to tell you about their history and all the gear you need for a four-hour kayaking adventure. You’ll set out from Acacia Bay as you explore places where only a kayak can go. It’s good for beginners or experienced paddlers and all the equipment and instruction you need are included for $125 NZD.
If paddling isn’t for you, glide past the carvings on this sailing yacht tour. This sightseeing cruise takes you to the amazing carvings on the cliffs of Mine Bay as your guide tells you the Maori myths and legends of the area. You’ll also enjoy other amazing scenery as you relax on the deck of the boat. If you book an evening sail, you’ll also get a complimentary glass of wine or beer. This is a great deal at only $49 NZD per person.
3. Visit the Spa Thermal Park
The Spa Thermal Park in Taupo is a wonderful location to take a stroll through some spectacular natural scenery or soak in the famous hot pools of the Otumuheke Stream.
What I love about this park is that it’s completely free to explore! It’s located about a 25-minute walk from the center of Taupo or a quick 5-minute drive.
There are some nice trails to walk or mountain bike that follow the banks of the Waikato River.
Bring a bathing suit to take a dip in the geothermal waters of the Otumuheke Stream. The mineral water here is naturally warm, like a nice bath, not too hot. You can even swim near a gentle waterfall in these beautiful natural rock pools. This is a great spot for families too!
There’s been a recent revamp of the area with change rooms, washrooms, and lockers available along with a seating area and a spot to grab a coffee.
The Spa Thermal Park is open from 7 am to 8 pm daily, and as I mentioned before, it’s totally free!
Related read: Traveling on a budget? Check out the best free and cheap things to do in Christchurch!
4. Take a photo with the Taupo sign
Prove that you really #LOVETAUPO by taking a picture near the giant letters spelling it out! You can even stand on the sign while you strike a pose.
The iconic sign is located near the lake, so you’ll have Lake Taupo in the background of your photos. It’s a quick photo-op, but a nice moment to capture to put in your photo album or post online with the rest of your amazing Taupo pictures.
What’s nice about the sign is that it’s lit up at night as well, so you can take some cool pictures after dark if you’re here in the evening.
5. Huka Honey Hive
A sweet spot buzzing with activity, Huka Honey Hive is a honey farm you can visit for free in Taupo.
There’s pure New Zealand honey, mead, and liqueur (with free tastings!) or you can see live beehives and other interactive displays. There are lots of areas just for kids too with books and toys.
Stop by Café Hive@65 for some yummy gourmet ice cream, drinks, and sweet treats – many made with honey of course! Or grab something unique from the gift shop, including skin care products, jewelry, and more.
Of course, you’ll need to leave with a jar of honey or two! There are dozens of varieties including pieces of honeycomb you can buy.
Huka Honey Hive is located five minutes from Taupo. It’s open daily from 9 am to 5 pm on weekends and 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays.
6. Hike up Mount Tauhara
The trek up Mount Tauhara is one of the most adventurous and exciting hikes on the North Island. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Lake Taupo. And while it’s steep in spots, it’s still a really doable hike, even if hiking isn’t normally your thing.
The Mount Tauhara trail is about 6.5 km (4 mile) round-trip. You’ll start from a small parking lot and then the first few minutes of the hike are across private farmland (watch out for cows!) before entering the bush.
While there aren’t any markers along the path, it’s a pretty obvious trail to follow. When the trail splits at points, you can choose either path – they all connect to the main trail again.
Once you reach the summit, bask in the view! This is especially nice during sunrise or sunset, but the landscape unfolding in front of you is impressive at any time of day.
7. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The 19.4 km (12 miles) hike is within Tongariro National Park, and don’t be fooled by the popularity of this hike, it’s a tough one! The grueling hike has steep climbs across a volcanic landscape with active volcanoes, stunning lakes, and impressive craters.
It tests even the fittest hikers and the weather can quickly change in this unpredictable alpine environment.
You are welcome to park your car at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trailhead on Mangatepopo Road for up to 4 hours if you’re planning a shorter hike.
However, walking the entire trail takes much longer – around 6 to 10 hours. If you do plan to hike for the entire day, it’s a good idea to book a shuttle transport so you don’t have to worry about parking. The shuttle costs $35 NZD per person and includes transport before and after your hike.
For those who want to make the trail as part of a multi-day hike, you can walk the Tongariro Northern Circuit, which I did one year. It’s a fantastic 3 to 4-day hike that’s one of the top things to do in New Zealand!
8. Craters of the Moon trail
Craters of the Moon is a geothermal trail through bubbling craters, steaming earth, and mud pools. Located less than 10 minutes outside of Taupo, the trek through here definitely feels like you’re on a different planet (or moon!).
I spent about an hour here wandering around the wooden pathways and raised viewing platforms. It’s really neat and a bit eerie to see the natural geothermal activity up close. It’s constantly changing too, so you might see the steam clouds from afar one minute, and then the steam will be fogging up your glasses and enveloping you the next!
This is a unique spot for photos, so bring your camera along. There are also well-placed signs around the trail telling you about what you’re seeing and how this place was formed. Basically, a geothermal power station nearby lowered the water pressure underground in the 1950s. It caused superheated water to bubble up to the surface – creating boiling mud, steam vents, and the area you see today.
The cost of admission ranges from $4 NZD for kids to $8 NZD for adults. It’s open 10 am to 4 pm daily with the last entry at 3 p.m.
9. Visit the Taupo Market
The Taupo Market is a terrific place to meet locals and shop for fresh vegetables, handicrafts, and art. The market is centrally located in Taupo with vendors selling various products every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm.
All kinds of goods can be found at the market, from clothes to food and jewelry or books. If you’re hungry, there are pastries or home-cooked meals at many of the food vendors. There’s also often live entertainment to enjoy while you’re browsing.
The market is seasonal and closed during the winter months here of June, July, and August.
10. Go jet boating
Want a totally new and adrenaline-filled way to take in Lake Taupo’s landscape? Hop aboard a jet boat!
You’ll get up close and personal with some of the area’s most breathtaking natural wonders and landscapes. Not only is it scenic, but jet boating is also a thrilling ride that will have you holding on for dear life!
There are a couple of different options, this jet boat ride takes you to the thundering Huka Falls. You’ll be picked up from your hotel for an exciting ride down the Waikato River, past rugged cliffs and native bush, before getting the thrill of a lifetime at Huka Falls. The tour, which includes a 30-minute jet boat ride costs around $108 NZD.
If zooming across the Nga Awapurua Rapids sounds fun, join this Waikato River jet boat ride to guarantee your seat. There are only 11 people on this jet boat including a guide who will tell you about the local sights as you pass through canyons and over rapids. It’s an exhilarating 35-minute ride for $129 NZD, not including pick up or drop off.
11. Go skydiving
While you probably took a plane to get to Taupo, take your trip to the next level by jumping out of one! Taupo Tandem Skydiving offers incredible skydiving experiences from multiple heights depending on your budget and bravery level.
Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park are a breathtaking backdrop for your jump that you’ll get to see while freefalling and then really get to enjoy once your tandem partner pulls the parachute and you gently float to the ground.
They have a variety of heights available to jump from with the lowest being 9,000 feet and the highest all the way up at 18,500 feet. The higher you go, the longer the freefall! A full 75 seconds from the highest jump they offer.
I’ve done two tandem jumps before and loved them. Both were from 12,000 feet, so I’d love to try the higher heights. My partner skydives as a hobby, so I don’t think it will be long before he has me back in the air!
The 9,000-foot jump is $199 NZD and the 18,500-foot jump is $499 NZD on weekends and $399 NZD during the week. Of course, I recommend doing the highest jump you think you’re up for, but if you’re on a budget, the lower heights are still incredible. You must book your skydive experience in advance to secure your spot.
Related read: If you’re up for another incredible skydiving experience, try tandem skydiving from a helicopter! It’s one of the incredible stops on the drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.
12. DeBretts Spa Resort and Water Park
The DeBretts Spa Resort is another place where you can literally soak up this region’s volcanic past and present in the natural hot springs.
The park is home to two huge hot pools that are filled by a natural spring called Onekenek. The waters from the spring are way too hot, so DeBretts actually cools the water to a temperature range of 38-41°C (100-104°F). It’s the perfect place to relax after a day exploring New Zealand with mineral waters that help relax muscles and soothe sunburns.
Although the natural hot pools are the main attraction at DeBretts, you can also visit a range of other attractions here. This includes the theme park with waterslides, a warm water playground, indoor private pools, and freshwater pools. It’s a place both kids and adults will love!
Entrance to the two main pools costs $24 NZD and you can purchase tickets online. DeBretts is open from 8:30 am to 9:30 pm, with the last entry at 9 pm.
13. Aratiatia Rapids
This next thing to do in Taupo is both a natural and manmade attraction. The Aratiatia Rapids is a narrow area of the Waikato River that drop 28 meters (91 feet) over a 1-kilometer (.6 mile) narrow channel.
Above the rapids is the Aratiatia Dam, which is used to control the flow of water in order to produce reliable hydroelectric power for the town of Taupo.
When the dam is released, the rapids come to life, putting on an epic show for visitors. You can watch the incredible flow of water from three different lookout points on the rock bluffs near the river.
The dam releases water multiple times a day – although it can release at any time, making this area too dangerous for swimming. During the winter (April-September), the dam releases water at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm. During the summer (October-March), the dam releases water at those same times as well as an additional time at 4 pm.
Be sure to arrive early to get a parking spot at the designated parking lot before walking down the short trail to the rapids.
14. Go kayaking down the Waikato River
Kayaking in the Waikato River is easily one of the best things to do in Taupo. It’s a great way to relax and connect with nature while getting up close to the beautiful scenery Taupo has to offer.
The guided kayak trip takes you along the Waikato River in Taupo, where you’ll kayak past forests, swimming holes, islands, and even the Taupo Bungy platform, where you can see people take the plunge (next on this list!). The tour finishes with a dip in some natural hot springs
The tour is around 2 hours and includes all the kayaking gear, a professional guide to show you the way, and complimentary photos of your experience! The best part is, that tickets are only $69 NZD!
15. Go bungy jumping
The scariest thing I have ever done is go bungy jumping! Even skydiving was nothing compared to the thrill of bungy. There’s just something so cool (and terrifying!) about launching yourself off a platform towards the ground.
At Taupo Bungy, you can leap off a platform above the Waikato River at a height of 47 meters (154 feet)! It’s fun, scary, and exciting all at the same time. The best part is, if you’re too scared to go alone, you can choose to do a tandem bungy for moral support.
When you jump at Taupo Bungy, they’ll ask you, dry or wet? If you answer wet, they’ll set the rope, so you touch the water at the bottom and get a refreshing dunk in the Waikato River. How cool is that?
Now, this may not be at the top of everyone’s bucket list, but it’s something I suggest everyone do at least once. It will easily be one of the most memorable things you do in Taupo!
A single bungy jump costs around $160 NZD, depending on the day and time of year.
Related read: Craving more adrenaline-packed activites? Head to the adventure capital of the country – Queenstown, New Zealand. You can bungy jump again (from double the height!) or try ziplines, jetboats and more!
16. Ride the Great Lake Trail
The Great Lake Trail is a famous mountain biking trail that travels the edge of a crater left behind by one of history’s largest volcanic eruptions, aka Lake Taupo.
The entire trail is around 85 kilometers (52 miles) long and is separated into 3 sections: Waihaha, Kawakawa, and Whakaipo. It’s most common to break the ride up into 2 days. However, you can also do 3 days or longer.
I haven’t had a chance to ride this trail yet, but I hope to do it soon! It’s an epic adventure with some spectacular views.
If you want everything put together for you, check out this two-day mountain biking tour on the trail. It includes everything you need to have a fantastic time from bikes and transportation to a guide if you want one. The tour is $300 NZD including a guide or $160 NZD without one.
17. Have lunch at the Two Mile Bay Sailing Club
Beautiful days in Taupo should be spent on the lake, and what better way to do so than with a delicious meal and drink in hand. Two Mile Bay Sailing Club is one of the best restaurants in Taupo, serving up some of the finest pizzas in New Zealand. My favorite is smoked salmon – it’s so good!
On top of that, their lakeside location means you’ll get to enjoy uninterrupted views of Lake Taupo. So you never miss a thing!
My recommendation is to come for lunch or a few drinks in the evening. The sunsets are spectacular, and they don’t close until 10 pm. That means even in summer, you’ll see the sunset! With that said, you can visit any time of the day and have a fun meal or drink. They even open at 7 am for breakfast!
Pizzas at Two Mile Bay Sailing Club cost around $30 NZD, and considering the quality and location; I’ll be back!
Related read: For more good eats with a lake view, check out the best restaurants in Lake Tekapo!
Stand-up paddle boarding is one of the best ways to stay active on a holiday while enjoying the spectacular scenery at the same time. Lake Taupo is ideal for this activity due to its calm waters and gorgeous summer weather.
You can rent paddleboards starting at $49 NZD for 4 hours. There are also full-day rentals available for those who want to explore more of Lake Taupo. The best part about renting locally is you’ll have someone to help you plan a route and make sure you take in some of the amazing sights on your to-do list.
Although one of the top attractions is the Maori rock carvings, please be aware that these take 7 to 8 hours to reach from the rental location. That’s not to say you can’t do it, you should just be an experienced paddler.
19. White water rafting
New Zealand is famous for its stunning rivers, perfect for adventure activities such as white water rafting. So it should come as no surprise that in Taupo it’s one of the best things to do!
Without a doubt, the best river to raft is the Tongariro River. Home to jaw-dropping landscapes and heart-pounding rapids, this river will excite even the bravest of rafters.
Tongariro River Rafting is one of the top companies in Taupo, and they have one main tour that tackles over 60 rapids on a 13-kilometer (8-mile) stretch of the river. Most of the rapids are Grade 3 but don’t let that fool you. You get bumped and pushed around!
On the tour, you’ll spend around 2 hours on the raft, but the whole tour takes around 4 hours. All that costs $159 NZD for adults and $144 NZD for children. The minimum age for this tour is 10 years old, so if you’re traveling with younger kids, you can check out their family rafting tour on smaller rapids.
20. Check out Lava Glass
Visit the Lava Glass Gallery to find breathtaking glass works that perfectly portray the magnificence of New Zealand’s natural environments.
Lava Glass isn’t just a glassblowing studio, though. It’s also a sculpture garden, art gallery, and cafe!
Be sure to stop in while visiting Taupo and not only check out some of the cool glass art pieces for sale but also head to the garden for a coffee and see some of the coolest works on display.
Admission to both the studio and garden is $15 NZD per person, and $5 of that can go towards a purchase of glass works. There is even a family pass for up to 6 people for $50 NZD!
21. Huka Prawn Park
Huka Prawn Park is one of the most unique experiences you’ll have in Taupo! This prawn-themed adventure park is full of fun activities, a great restaurant, and a prawn farm.
First and foremost, the park is a prawn farm, home to hatcheries and prawn pens, where they breed and farm prawns. You can feed the prawns, see the babies and sometimes even catch some prawns for yourself.
Of course, this means you need a restaurant to try these delicious prawns. Nestled along the Waikato River is Taupo’s only riverside restaurant serving up deliciously fresh prawns and other fantastic meals. Personally, though, nothing hits the spot better than a kilo of prawns in garlic butter!
Lastly, to get the whole family excited, they also added a fun park complete with a pond for pedal boats and SUPs. There is also trout feeding, water cannons, and more. It’s a really fun place for families to check out while in Taupo.
The adventure park is only open on weekends and some school holiday days from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. The restaurant is open from Friday to Tuesday from 9 am to 3 pm or 3:30 pm on weekends. The entire park is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Entry to the park is $25 NZD, but they also have family tickets available.
22. Enjoy a scenic flight on a float plane
What could be more memorable than a ride in a seaplane over Tongariro National Park? Not much!
With Taupo Float Plane, you get a bird’s eye view of New Zealand’s North Island along with the fun experience of taking off and landing right on the water.
What’s great is that there are a ton of tour options available whether you’re looking for a quick 20-minute flight over Lake Taupo, want to visit the geothermal paradise of Orakei Korako, or join the most popular tour that takes you over Mount Ruapehu.
The Mount Ruapehu scenic flight climbs up to 10,000 feet to look inside the active crater lake of the highest volcano in New Zealand. You’ll also see Tama Lakes, Emerald Lakes, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro. The views are out of this world!
There are float planes and regular plane tours, but why do anything regular while in New Zealand?
Of course, this will set you back a few dollars, with the Mount Ruapehu tour costing $425 NZD per person, but the short 20 minutes flights are more reasonable at $180 NZD.
Where to Stay in Taupo, NZ
Now that you have your list of activities 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!
With a wide variety of accommodations available, this 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 $50 USD and cabins are under $100 USD a night.
A room with your own private hot tub, sign me up! This 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 $150 USD per night.
Hilton Lake Taupo – $$$
This high-end accommodation 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 $250-400 USD a night.
Thanks for reading!
As you can see, Taupo is a lakeside town with so many amazing things to do. Hopefully, this guide to Taupo has been helpful as you plan your own trip. I just love how many unique and fun activities are packed in here!
If you liked this post about all the things to do in Taupo, make sure to check out some of my other posts about exploring New Zealand!