Sitting on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand is the small town of Taupō. Cruising the lake, mountain biking, hiking, skydiving, and jet boat riding top the list of things to do in Taupō. There are also geothermal areas to explore, thermal pools and spas to visit, and waterfalls to photograph.
So far, we have visited Taupō twice. The first time was in 2015, when Tyler and Kara were kids. Mountain biking and hiking were our highlights from this visit, but cloudy skies above Taupō kept us from checking skydiving off of our bucket list.
Tim and I returned to Taupō on another big road trip through New Zealand in 2023. We visited some places we didn’t get to on our first visit, and once again, cloudy skies kept us from skydiving. Someday, hopefully soon, we’ll get our chance to jump out of an airplane.
Even with keeping your feet firmly on the ground, there are a lot of fun things to do in Taupō. This is a great destination for families, adventure seekers, and those who simply want to soak up the views and relax in the healing geothermal waters of this area.
Welcome to Taupō.
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Interesting Facts about Taupō
The name Taupo comes from the Māori language and is shortened from Taupo-nui-a-Tia. It was named for Tia, an explorer who discovered the lake.
Taupo is located in the central portion of the North Island of New Zealand. It sits on New Zealand’s largest lake, which is also the caldera of the Taupo Volcano. Water flows out of the lake on the Waikato River, over the Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids.
Geothermal areas sit in and around Taupo. Steam vents out of the ground and this geothermal activity heats and forms several thermal pools in Taupo, which makes visiting a thermal pool one of the best things to do in Taupō.
For any triathletes out there, Taupō is home to Ironman New Zealand. Swim in Lake Taupō, bike into the hills outside of town, and end the race with a run alongside Lake Taupō, for a total distance of 226 km (140.6 miles).
Best Things to Do in Taupō
In no particular order, here are the best things to do in Taupō. At the end of this list, you can see them on a map.
1. Cruise Lake Taupō
One of the best things to do in Taupō is to go on a cruise of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.
There are several options, from cruises on catamarans and sailboats to kayaking tours of the lake. One of the most popular experiences is to cruise to Māori Rock Carvings, which gets its own entry next.
We took this cruise with Chris Jolly Outdoors. On this 1.5-hour tour, which leaves from the Taupō harbor, we cruised along the east side of the lake, with commentary and interesting facts from our captain. We spent 15 minutes gazing at the Māori Rock Carvings before returning to Taupō. The cruise was very well run and our captain was very entertaining.
You can also cruise on Lake Taupō on a sailboat (this also includes the Māori Rock Carvings). And this 3.5 hour catamaran tour explores the western bays of the lake and includes time for swimming and paddleboarding (it leaves from Kinloch, which is a short drive from Taupō).
Lake Taupō boat tour | Best things to do in Taupō
2. See the Māori Rock Carvings
Seeing the Ngātoroirangi Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings is one of the most unique things to do in Taupō. The only way to view the carvings is by boat or helicopter, since these carvings are located on Lake Taupō.
Māori Rock Carvings | Best things to do in Taupō
The Māori Rock Carvings look like they are ancient, but they were carved by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970’s.
To see the carvings, we took a 1.5 hour cruise on Lake Taupō with Chris Jolly Outdoors, which also included a cruise along the east side of the lake, with views of the hot water beach and the town of Taupō. You can also view the carvings on this helicopter tour.
3. Lake Taupō’s Hot Water Beach
Sitting just a short walk from the town center is a small beach known as Hot Water Beach. At first, it looks like your typical beach. But if you take off your shoes and let your feet sink in the sand, warm water will ooze up between your toes.
A walking trail runs along the beach and Lake Taupō in this area (it is marked on our map below) and in some places you can see the steaming water along the edge of the lake. In some places the water is hot and at other spots, it feels rather chilly.
This is a very nice place to go for a short stroll, with views of the lakes and the chance to see ducks, seagulls, and black swans.
Hot Water Beach | Best things to do in Taupō
3. Take a Photo with the #Love Taupō Sign
This is quick, easy, and free to do. Sitting on the shoreline of Lake Taupō, just a short walk from the center of town, is the #Love Taupō Sign.
4. Can You Hit a Hole in One?
Just a few steps from the #Love Taupō Sign is the Lake Taupō Hole in One Challenge. Floating on Lake Taupō is a platform with three holes. Anyone who gets a hole in one on the red flagged hole wins a $10,000 prize.
You can purchase 15, 30, and 50 balls and clubs are included with the price. Tim and I were both able to hit the platform (we have almost zero golf experience and it’s been a good 10 years since visiting a driving range) but didn’t get a hole in one.
They average a hole in one once every two weeks and someone hit a hole in one two days before our visit.
Get pricing and hours on the official website.
5. Go Skydiving
Could there be a better way to see Lake Taupō, the volcanoes, and the scenery of the North Island than from the sky?
Skydiving is Taupō’s most thrilling experience and we had planned to do this not once, but twice. Unfortunately, both times, cloudy skies cancelled our skydiving plans. Flights will not run in cases of rain or complete cloud cover, which we had both times we were in Taupō.
Taupo is where tandem skydiving began in New Zealand. Taupō Tandem Skydiving has been in operation for over 25 years and over 200,000 crazy people have jumped out of their planes.
They offer skydives from 9,000 feet, 12,000 feet, 15,000 feet, and 18,500 feet. The staff gets rave reviews and I am bummed we couldn’t get this worked out in our schedule.
Visit the Taupō Tandem Skydiving website for pricing and to make your reservation in advance (and keep your fingers crossed for clear skies!!).
If you go skydiving in Taupō, we would love to hear about your experience, and I’m sure other readers would too, so let us know in the comment section below.
6. Go Bungy Jumping
If skydiving sounds a little too crazy for you, how about bungy jumping?
AJ Hackett offers bungy jumps throughout New Zealand, including Taupō. We have jumped from the Kawarau Bridge and the Ledge Bungy in Queenstown and it is one of our most memorable New Zealand experiences.
At the Taupō Bungy, jump from a clifftop overlooking the Waikato River. This jump is 47 meters and you have the option for a water touch. There is also the option to do the bungy swing instead of the bungy jump, which is just slightly less nerve-wracking.
Get pricing, hours, and watch videos of people making the jump on the official website.
7. Visit Huka Falls
Huka Falls is the most famous waterfall in Taupō. It comes up on just about every to do list there is in Taupō, so that tells you just how popular it is. And according to the Love Taupō website, Huka Falls is New Zealand’s most popular natural attraction.
Huka Falls sits just outside of the Taupo city center. You can drive here, cycle here, mountain bike here, or take a cruise or jetboat ride to the base of the falls.
Huka Falls | Best things to do in Taupō
8. Go Mountain Biking
On our first visit to Taupō, when Tyler and Kara were 10 and 12 years old, mountain biking was their favorite experience in Taupō.
There are several places to go mountain biking in Taupō.
The most popular is the Great Lake Trail, which is an 88 kilometer cycling trail that runs along the edge of Lake Taupō. It takes 1 to 3 days to cycle the entire the distance.
We went mountain biking on the Huka Trails. These trails follow along the Waikato River to Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Dam. They were very challenging for Kara, who was 10 at the time, but overall she still liked the experience. On the return ride back to Taupō, we cycled through a beautiful redwood forest that was the highlight of the biking trip.
You can either rent a bike from a shop in Taupo or take a guided tour of the mountain bike trails.
9. Go for a Jet Boat Ride on the Waikato River
There is no shortage of thrilling adventures in Taupo (are you beginning to see some similarities with Queenstown?) and we’ve got another one for you.
Taking a jet boat ride was one of Tyler and Kara’s favorite experiences in New Zealand when they were kids. Drivers spin the boat in circles and take the boats within inches of the canyon walls, making it look like you will crash into the riverbank or rock walls. It is so much fun!
On this jetboat ride with Hukafalls Jet, you spend 30 minutes on the Waikato River and get to see Huka Falls from water level. Hukafalls Jet gets near perfect reviews.
On this tour with Rapids Jet, take a whitewater boat tour of the Waikoto River. This is slightly different from a jetboat ride like the one with Hukafalls Jet, as this one takes you over the rapids of the Waikato River and through the narrowest canyon on the river.
10. Aratiatia Rapids
The Aratiatia Rapids is a river gorge that is a short drive from Taupō. Over 1 kilometer long, the Waikato River falls 28 meters through this gorge.
Aratiatia Rapids | Best things to do in Taupo
This was also filming site for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The dwarves hid themselves in barrels which were thrown downstream to escape the Elves. This part of the movie was also filmed on the Pelorus River in the Marlborough Region.
Several times a day, water is released from the Aratiatia Dam, flooding the Aratiatia Rapids.
You can view the filling of the Aratiatia Rapids by hiking to a viewpoint of the rapids. From the parking lot next to the Aratiatia Dam, it is a 5-minute walk to a viewpoint overlooking the gorge.
From October through March, the water is released at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, and 4 pm. From April through September, the water is released at 10 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm. Get updates here.
11. Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa
Relax in the healing thermal waters, have a massage, and walk the short trails to the natural silica pools. This is one of the prettiest places in Taupō to lounge in the naturally heated waters, and these pools are adult only.
The thermal pools are surrounded by lush vegetation. When we were here, it was a lovely, quiet, tranquil spot to visit. You can also sign up for a massage or facial and have a bit to eat in their café.
Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Spa | Best things to do in Taupō
Be sure to go for a stroll on the Terrace Walk, where you can see the terraced silica pools and walk through a Māori village.
For pricing, hours, and spa treatments, visit the official website.
12. Spa Thermal Park
If you want to relax the mineral rich thermal waters and want to do it for free, put the Spa Thermal Park on your list. These natural rock pools are located near the Huka Trail and Huka Falls.
This thermal park is located north of Taupō and free to enter. It is open from 7 am to 8 pm.
13. Visit the Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon is another geothermal area to visit in Taupo.
We weren’t overly impressed with this one. In Taupō, the Wairakei Terraces are a lot more interesting, as is Orakei Korako Geothermal Park, a geothermal area north of Taupō (and mentioned later in this guide). If you have plans to visit either one of these, or the outstanding geothermal areas in Rotorua, Craters of the Moon is not worth the time and money, in our opinion.
Craters of the Moon | Best things to do in Taupō
Craters of the Moon
At Craters of the Moon, you will walk on boardwalk trails to steam vents and bubbling craters. It lacks a lot of the colorful pools, bubbling mud pits, and steaming waters that you can see at the places listed above.
For more information, visit the official website.
14. Taupō Museum
The Taupō Museum is a very small museum that has exhibits on Māori culture (including a Wharenui, a Māori Meeting House), a Moa skeleton, and information about the volcanic eruptions that shaped Lake Taupō. There are also two art galleries attached to the museum.
Learn more on the official website.
Taupo Museum | Best things to do in Taupō
15. Lava Glass
This art gallery is filled with colorful vases, glass paperweights, garden sculptures, and glass bowls. They also offer glass blowing demonstrations, have a small café, and you can take a walk through the glass sculpture garden. The sculpture garden and glass blowing demonstrations have an entry fee, but it is free to browse their beautiful display of products for sale.
Lava Glass is located just outside of Taupō. A visit here lasts 15 to 30 minutes. Get more information on the official website.
Lava Glass | Best things to do in Taupō
16. Orakei Korako Geothermal Park
This is one of our favorite geothermal parks in New Zealand. If you have been to Yellowstone National Park in the USA, a visit here is reminiscent of Norris Geyser Basin or Artists Paint Pots.
Orakei Korako Geothermal Park is a 30-minute drive north of Taupō. From the parking area, you will board a ferry for a short trip across Waikato River to the geothermal area (the ferry fee is included with the entrance fee).
Boardwalk tracks lead to geysers, bubbling pools of mud, and steaming, colorful pools. It is one of the North Island’s most interesting places to visit.
Orakei Korako Geothermal Park can be visited on the drive between Taupō and Rotorua.
Get hours and pricing on the official website.
Orakei Korako Geothermal Park | Best things to do in Taupō
Orakei Korako Geothermal Park
17. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Labeled as the best single day hike in New Zealand, some people even consider this hike to be best single day hike in the world.
Here is your chance to hike in the shadow of Mt. Doom, walk through an almost lunar landscape, and watch as semi-dormant volcanoes smoke not too far off in the distance.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing | Best things to do in Taupō
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4 km (12 miles) point-to-point hike that is located in Tongariro National Park. To get to the trailhead, it takes an hour and 20 minutes, so this big day hike is located outside of Taupō. But Taupō is a popular home base for doing this hike, which is why the Tongariro Alpine Crossing shows up on this list.
We did this hike and loved it (it is our favorite day hike in New Zealand). Learn more in our Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
19. The Huka Prawn Park
If you are traveling with kids, the Huka Prawn Park is one of the best things to do in Taupō. This park is part hatchery and part amusement park.
Prawns are hatched in the geothermal waters and it is here that guests can hand feed the prawns. In the adventure park, go stand up paddleboarding and ride a pedal boat or water trike. There is also a restaurant here on the riverside, but in 2023, got very mediocre reviews, so consider bringing a picnic lunch instead.
This was a place we planned to visit in Taupō but was closed during our visit. Get updated hours and pricing on the official website before you go.
20. Take a Scenic Flight of Mt. Ruapehu
Mt. Ruapehu is an active volcano located in Tongariro National Park. In the winter, this is one of the North Island’s major ski resorts.
From Taupo, you can take a 1 hour scenic flight over this active volcano. You will also get views of Lake Taupō, Mt. Tongariro, and Mt. Ngauruhoe, aka Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.
Things to Do in Taupō: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers. You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
How Much Time Do You Need in Taupō?
Most people spend about one day in Taupō, which gives you enough time to see Huka Falls, go on a cruise of Lake Taupō or a jet boat ride of the Waikato River, visit one or two geothermal areas, and do something crazy, like sky diving or bungy jumping.
If you like the idea of hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you’ll need an additional day, since this hike takes most people 6 to 8 hours.
How to Get to Taupō
The easiest way to get to Taupō is on a road trip through the North Island of New Zealand.
Here are driving distances and times from nearby destinations:
- Rotorua: 80 km, 1 hour
- Turangi: 50 km, 45 minutes
- Wellington: 370 km, 4.75 hours
- Napier: 140 km, 2 hours
- Hamilton: 150 km, 2 hours
- Matamata: 120 km, 1.5 hours
- Auckland: 270 km, 3.5 hours
View of Lake Taupō from our room at The Reef Resort
Where to Eat in Taupō
We had our best meal at The Bistro, dining on locally caught fish with a very nice bottle of wine. We highly recommend making a reservation here if you want a delicious gourmet meal in Taupo.
There is also a long list of Indian restaurants in Taupo. We got takeaway with Master of India which was very good.
Other restaurants that get good reviews or came recommended to us are The Brantry (New Zealand and European cuisine), Sorrento Italian Dining & Wine Bar (Italian), Malabar Nepalese and Indian Kitchen (Nepali and Indian), and Victoria’s Café Kitchen Bar (gastropub).
Where to Stay in Taupō
There are a lot of properties in Taupō that get exceptional reviews. Many have views of the lake and some offer swimming pools or a thermal spa. You can scan the full list here, but here are a few properties that stand out the most to us, plus where we stayed.
If you want to stay in the town of Taupō, Ashbrook Motel Taupo offers one and two-bedroom suites and gets superb reviews. The Village Resort has a nice setting on the lake and from here it is a short walk into the town center.
We stayed at The Reef Resort, which sits 2 km outside of the city center (about a 5-minute drive). This property sits next to Hot Water Beach, has a pool, and offers studio style rooms as well as one, two, and three bedroom apartments. The views of the lake are beautiful, the property is clean and quiet, and this makes a great choice for families.
The Reef Resort
Sacred Waters Taupo gets equally good reviews as the Reef Resort, is located right next door to it, and also offers several apartment sizes.
Baycrest Thermal Lodge is another highly rated property that sits on the lake, just outside of the city center. And if you don’t mind a longer drive to the town center, Lake Vista Lodge is located on the north side of Lake Taupō. It sits on a hillside so you get an elevated view of the lake. This property gets near perfect reviews.
And finally, if you prefer to stay in a larger resort, Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort is a popular pick. This property has natural thermal pools, an outdoor swimming pool, a playground, and two hydroslides. Just be aware that it doesn’t get the rave reviews of the properties mentioned above, but you won’t have to go far to relax in a thermal pool.
Best Tours of Taupō
Go skydiving, cruise on Lake Taupo to see the Māori rock carvings, or go for a jet boat ride. Here are some of the best tours of Taupō.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Taupō worth a visit?
Taupō is one of New Zealand’s most thrilling places to visit. It is known as the sky diving capital of the world and you can also go bungy jumping, jet boat riding, and hiking. Taupō is located just a short drive from one of the most famous day hikes in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can also relax in the healing thermal waters, cruise across Lake Taupō to see the Māori Rock Carvings, and see Huka Falls, New Zealand’s #1 most visited natural attraction.
Can you swim in Lake Taupō?
Yes, you can swim in Lake Taupō. The lake is safe to swim in, even though it is the caldera of an ancient volcano. In fact, this is the location of the swim in IRONMAN New Zealand, where participants swim 3.8 km in Lake Taupō.
How long should I spend in Taupō?
You can visit the highlights of Taupō in just one day. But if you like the idea of hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, biking the trails outside of Taupō, or thoroughly exploring this area, plan on spending 2 to 3 days in Taupo.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Taupō, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to New Zealand
NORTH ISLAND: Top experiences on the North Island include spending a day or two in Auckland, hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, visiting Cathedral Cove, touring Hobbiton, cruising the Bay of Islands from Paihia, and seeing glowworms and blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Caves. For the full list, read our article about the Best Things to Do on the North Island.
SOUTH ISLAND: On the South Island of New Zealand, visit Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, spend a few days in Wanaka, hike the Routeburn Track, drive the Southern Scenic Route, visit the Marlborough Wine Region, and visit Franz Josef and Glacier Country. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do on the South Island.
NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP: With 3 weeks in New Zealand, visit the highlights on a road trip to the North Island and South Island. If you have less time, you can shorten this itinerary by spending 2 weeks on the South Island.
ADVENTURES IN NEW ZEALAND: Go bungy jumping, hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, spend one day in Abel Tasman National Park, take a helicopter ride over Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and go paragliding and jet boat riding in Queenstown.
We have TONS more information about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide, including Auckland, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Franz Josef, Christchurch, Wellington, Taupō, and the Milford Sound.
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