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Taupo – Guide for Backpackers

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The North ISland’s adventure capital!

No wonder Taupo is a top backpacking destination in New Zealand! It has everything from adventure activities to heaps of free and cheap things to do.

Situated on the shores of New Zealand’s largest lake formed by the largest volcanic explosion in the last 5,000 years, Taupo holds as much extremities as the lake’s formation! See thunderous rapids at Huka Falls and Aratiatia Dam, freefall over the lake in a skydive, bungy jump, go skiing and more. Taupo has plenty of opportunities to mix seeing and doing with a wealth of bike trails and walking tracks. At the end of the day, there’s always the opportunity to relax in the free natural hot spring in Spa Park. More geothermal wonders can be witnessed at Craters of the Moon geothermal park.

When it comes to finding accommodation, Taupo is extremely affordable with a choice of backpacker hostels, campsites and freedom camping.

Things you can’t miss in Taupo

  • Walk or bike to Huka Falls
  • Relax in the natural thermal pool of Otumuheke Stream
  • Check out the geothermal activity in Craters of the Moon
  • Do something crazy like a bungy jump, skydive, jet boat, white water rafting, etc.
  • Take on one of the hiking trails like the Tongariro Crossing or Mt Tauhara – a little closer to town.
  • Bike along the Waikato River all the way to Aratiatia Dam and back!
Base Hostels

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Must-see in Taupo

Taupo has a few attractions well worth the megabytes in your camera! From raging rapids to magnificent sculptures, the lakeside town has plenty to see while you’re out exploring.

Huka Falls – This impressive display of rapids is said to be the most-visited attraction in New Zealand! Watch as 220,000 litres squeezes, thrashes and thunders through this narrow gorge every second. Huka Falls can be accessed by car (well-signposted off State Highway 1, north of Taupo), by bike or by walking (check out the trails below).

Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings – These impressive and intricate rock carvings are only accessible from the water. Join a boat or kayak tour to snap this wonderful sight up!

Otumuheke Stream – Bathe in the warm waters of Mother Nature in Otumuheke Stream, just along the Waikato River in Spa Park. Check out the walking tracks below to see how to get to it.

Craters of the Moon – At only NZ$8 per person entry, this is a geothermal park you can’t afford to miss! Take a loop around around this steamy park full of geothermal wonders! Found along Karapiti Road, off State Highway 1 north of Taupo.

The McDonald’s Plane – It’s McDonald’s… in a plane! What more is there to say?! Found on Roberts Street.

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Adventure activities in taupo

Taupo is the ideal base for adventure in the North Island. There are heaps of ways to get the adrenaline pumping from bungy jumps to skydiving to jet boating and more!

Bungy jump – Bungy jump New Zealand’s highest water-touch jump and take on the Cliffhanger extreme swing at Taupo Bungy.

Skydive – Jump from either 12,000ft or 15,000ft over Lake Taupo with views right across the country. There are two skydiving operators: Skydive Taupo and Taupo Tandem Skydiving.

High ropes course – Jump, climb and more at Rock n’ Ropes near Huka Falls.

White water rafting – Have an ‘oarsome’ time on the rapids of the Tongariro River, Turangi. The grade 3 rapids are a great introduction to white water rafting. Pick-ups and transport from Taupo can be arranged with the activity providers: Rafting New Zealand and Tongariro River Rafting.

Jet boating – Take a high-speed blast along various parts of the Waikato River complete wit 360 spins and near misses. Three operators in Taupo are: Rapids Jet, Huka Falls Jet and New Zealand Riverjet.

Skiing and Snowboarding – Mt Ruapehu, home to three ski fields, is an 1h30min drive away from Taupo. Operators in town can organise ski hire and transport.

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Walking & Hiking in Taupo

Taupo is not only surrounded by magnificent walks, just take a look at 10 Wonderful Walks Around Lake Taupo, but a great selection of these walks can be accessed from the town itself, or just a super short walk, drive or bike ride away. Many backpackers use Taupo as a base for doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (6-8 hours one way), one of New Zealand’s most popular day walks, thanks to the many transport shuttles operating between the track and Taupo. For more information on the Crossing, check out Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Huka Falls Walkway (2 hours return)

Walk along the banks of the mighty Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river, between the geothermal area of Spa Park and the ferocious rapids of Huka Falls. To get to the start of the track from Taupo, take Tongariro Street into Spa Road, then left into County Avenue and drive/walk into Spa Park. Follow the walking tracks toward the river and you’ll find the Huka Falls Walkway. Don’t for get your swimmers to bathe in the natural hot spring seen on the walk!

Huka Falls to Aratiatia Dam (4 hours return)

From Huka Falls head to the last viewing area where at the back of the viewing area, the track climbs up to reveal awesome views of Huka Falls. Continue on this track all the way to the Aratiatia Hydro Dam where the gates open 10am, 12pm, 2pm (and 4pm in summer).

Great Lake Walkway (Lions Walk) (10 minutes – 2 hours one way)

This one is hard to miss and the most accessible from the town centre. Just walk toward the lake from any point and you’ll find a walking/biking track following the perimetre of Lake Taupo. The walk goes all the way to Wharewaka Point taking about 2 hours one way to get there.

Mt Tauhara (2 hours return)

Just a 15-minute drive on State Highway 5, just out of Taupo, is the adventurous climb of Mt Tauhara. Hike on a roughly formed track through the forest of this volcano to the top revealing epic panoramic views of the Taupo area, as well as views of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe.

Destination Great Lake Taupo

Mountain Biking in Taupo

The Lake Taupo district is a mountain biker’s dream! Multi-day rides to adventurous forest rides can be found within driving distance of Taupo, which you can check out more in 10 Awesome Bike Trails Around Lake Taupo.

When biking on Taupo’s roads, be sure to follow the City Cycling Rules in New Zealand.

Bike rides and mountain bike trails accessed from Taupo, include:

Rotary Ride (Grade 2)

Blast between Spa Park and Huka Falls is the Rotary Ride (5.5km), which you can either do on foot or by bike. Follow the signs from the end of County Avenue off Spa Road to the track crossing the Otumuheke Stream. To extend this ride, team it up with the Aratiatia Dam trail (see below).

Aratiatia Dam Trail (Grade 2-3)

From Huka Falls, the track initially climbs quite steeply but evens out for the remainder of the ride. Continue on this 7km track to the Aratiatia Dam which opens 10am, 12pm, 2pm (and 4pm in summer). Return the same way.

Redwood Track (Grade 1-2)

An easy single track on the opposite side of the Waikato River provides an alternative ride back to Taupo from Huka Falls. The 2.5km track follows Huka Falls Road. When you reach the highway, use the cycleway on the edge of the highway to avoid traffic. Cross the control gates back into Taupo where you can then follow Spa Road back to the Rotary Ride.

GREAT LAKE WALKWAY (LIONS WALK) (Grade 1)

This one is hard to miss and the most accessible from the town centre. Just bike toward the lake from any point and you’ll find a walking/biking track following the perimetre of Lake Taupo. The trail goes all the way to Wharewaka Point, which is 30km return.

Craters of the Moon MTB Park (Grade 2-5)

Craters of the Moon MTB Park is on Karapiti Road, off State Highway 1 north of Taupo. There are around 50km of trails through pine forest to choose from. You need to get a Taupo Bike membership (valid for 7 days) to use the bike trails at Craters. Visit a Taupo bike store to purchase one for around NZ$10.

If you have more time in Taupo…

  • Go quad biking and get muddy with Taupo Quad Adventures
  • Do some trout fishing – more information can be found in Fishing in New Zealand
  • Learn how to wakeboard at the Anorchy Boarding Park
  • Pick up some cheap eats at the the Riverside Market every Saturday (10am to 1pm)
  • Find more things to do in 10 Taupo Must-Dos
  • And some affordable things to do in 11 Free or Cheap Activities in Taupo
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Where to stay in Taupo?

For more accommodation options, check out our Accommodation Guide to Taupo and Where to Camp in Taupo.

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