After zig zagging around the northernmost parts of New Zealand, in April we finally began making our way further south. From Rotorua we headed straight for Taupō, home to a lake so vast that it’s like a hole cut out of the centre of the North Island…
Taupō, short for Taupō-nui-a-Tia (“The great cloak of Tia” in Maori), is located on the banks of New Zealand’s largest lake. The view above is my attempt to capture the enormity of Lake Taupō from above – trust me, I failed miserably. It looks a lot bigger in person!
With Taupō only on our itinerary as a pit stop en route to Napier, we barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer, but until we return to explore more, I’ll leave you with the few things we managed to get up to (and in one case nearly got up to) in the area…
Huka Falls & Aratiatia Rapids
While browsing good ol’ TripAdvisor for things to do in the area, we’d identified Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids as a priority. They’re both part of the same river (the Waikato), which flows from Lake Taupo over Huka Falls and out to Aratiatia Dam before being regularly released into the Aratiatia Rapids and flowing farther downstream.
Huka Falls are awe inspiring to look at but not due to their height. For me it was more about the colour of the water – the most piercing icy blue I’d ever seen – and the spectacle of the water plunging through such a serene setting. You can park up and get quite close to the river itself along a footbridge and at a nearby observation point, but I preferred the aerial views from the nearby road (see above photo!).
The Aratiatia Rapids were used as a filming location for a watery escape scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and I had high hopes for seeing the water dramatically blast through as the klaxon signalled the dam release. We arrived early to take our spot on the sidelines, which I’m glad we did – the release draws small crowds. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the reality turned out to be less powerful than I’d imagined. Less blasting and more gradually rising water. Of course, the water was still that gorgeous shade of blue, so it was never going to be a complete let down!
Tip: If you’re interested in visiting, check this website for dam release times.
Spa Thermal Park
The main draw at Spa Park is the toasty Otumuheke Stream. Though we didn’t come prepared to take a dip during our visit, I would do if I were to return. We’ve enjoyed a few hot springs so far (Waikite Valley, Ngawha Springs), but the stream here has a different feel. I imagine it must be pretty special to be able to bathe in warm water out in nature, relaxing in a burbling stream and surrounded by lovely pastoral scenes.
Even without the bathing, we loved taking in the scenery here. Visiting in Autumn meant we got to enjoy some spectacular and vibrant foliage, too, as in the above photo!
The Tongariro Crossing Question
During our time in Taupo, one thing above all else consumed our thoughts – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. More specifically whether or not we could/should attempt the seven hour, 19.4km hike through majestic volcanic scenery (in a word, Mordor).
I won’t keep you in suspense – we decided against it in the end. But we did go back and forth on the point a lot. Everything we’d seen and heard on the subject had us yearning to give it a go, but we couldn’t figure out if we could succeed without sustaining pain and/or misery given our lack of fitness and experience. All things considered we decided we were totally unprepared to take the leap into that level of walking.
I must say, based on subsequent shorter walks, I 100% stand by that decision! But I wanted to mention it here because many people consider the crossing a NZ “must do” activity, and we took the decision about not doing it very seriously. Until then we made do with merely driving nearby some of that gorgeous scenery. *Wistful sigh*
As a lover of design/architecture past and present, the Art Deco gem of Napier in Hawke’s Bay was a no brainer destination and one of the places I was most excited to visit on the North Island!
As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments! Have you been to Taupo? Where would you recommend visiting?
And if you’re on Pinterest, feel free to pin the image below!