Taupo and its namesake lake are brimming with striking natural scenery, epic campsites and adrenalin-fuelled adventures for your next North Island getaway.
The Big Bang
Lake Taupo was formed around 26500 years ago when the Taupo super volcano erupted in what was to be the largest volcanic eruption of the last 70000 years – so quite a big one ☺
The resulting crater soon filled with water to become New Zealand’s largest lake by volume and the second largest in the whole of Oceania.
These days Taupo is a bustling small town which hugs the northern shores of the lake, full of bars, restaurants and shops and is a mecca for boaties and water sports enthusiasts. There’s still plenty of reminders of Taupo’s turbulent, volcanic past though.
We’ve been to Taupo heaps of times, so many in fact that we’ve lost count. We love it there so much that we bought a cottage which we now rent out to fund our life on the road.
5 Mile Bay
Our go-to spot for freedom camping on our numerous visits used to be 5 Mile Bay, just around the lake from the town centre. It was a great place to watch the sun set across the deep blue waters of the lake as it dipped behind the mountains. It did get very busy in summer though, with the usual issues that large freedom camping areas can bring. It’s now back in the hands of the local Iwi who have chosen to close it to freedom camping, so if you’re looking to freedom camp in Taupo then you’ll need to find an alternative.
The Great Lake Pathway also starts from here and winds its way into town along the lake shore. It’s a really nice walk or ride, with beautiful views of the lake and distant mountains.
One of the alternative freedom camping spots is Whakaipo Bay, just past Acacia Bay and about a 15 min drive from town. From the top there are stunning views across the lake to the mountains of Tongariro National Park.
The main freedom camping area is further down the hill and there are still great views to be had from here too. We’ve been here a few times now, previously in our motorhome and then very recently in our 1967 Bedford bus and it’s an awesome, peaceful place to stay.
If freedom camping isn’t your thing, or if you prefer to stay somewhere with a few more facilities, then there are a few campgrounds to choose from. We stayed at the Lake Taupo Resort in our very first month on the road as a treat, and it was really nice. They have their own hot pools which even have a swim up bar!
Another campground worth trying out is Taupo Debretts. We stayed there once to charge our batteries up and not only do they have hot pools, they have a whole waterpark which is great for the kids and they have a spa for the adults to relax in too.
Top of most visitors’ to do lists are the Huka Falls, and there’s a good reason for this, they are simply stunning. The previously placid icy blue Waikato River suddenly narrows from 100m to about 15m as it passes through a ravine of hard volcanic rock. The water literally thunders down this ravine before cascading over the 11m falls at around 222, 000 litres per second!
There’s a jet boat for those that want to get even closer to the thunderous falls and a really beautiful walk that takes about an hour and starts from Spa Road in town. The track follows the path of the river and the views of the amazingly clear water from above are truly breathtaking.
Craters of the Moon
For those that would like to see some relics of Taupo’s geothermal past, then a visit to the Craters of the Moon is highly recommended. Just a short distance from Huka Falls and very reasonable priced, it’s a great spot to spend an hour or two. Not as dramatic as some of the thermal attractions in nearby Rotorua, it’s still really interesting to wander around and see the creative power of mother nature as she shapes the landscape.
If the Craters of the Moon have got you wanting more steamy, bubbly stuff then head out to Orakei Korako, a scenic 30 minute drive from Taupo on the way to Rotorua. If you’re in a motorhome then you can stay in the carpark for free, which is what we did and it’s a great spot to wake up to.
The thermal area here can only be reached by boat and is truly spectacular, with the swirling mists revealing a kaleidoscope of colours as the walk winds its way through this thermal wonderland.
Wait, there’s more
These are just a few of the awesome places to stay and things to see and do in Taupo. There’s so much more though, such as boat trips on the lake, scenic flights on the floatplane, NZ’s only cliff top bungy jump, walk to the summit of Mt. Tauhara and get stunning views across the town and lake, Tandem skydive over the lake, fish for prawns at the Huka Prawn Park, hit a hole in one on the lake – the list is endless.
Things to remember
- It gets cold in winter – very cold, so wrap up warm.
- Taupo is a very popular destination all year round, so it pays to book accommodation and attractions in advance.
- If you have time, take a drive around to Motuoapa, Turangi and Tokaanu at the southern end of the lake as it’s really beautiful down there.