Lovely Lake Taupo

Somewhat to our surprise, Taupo ended up being our favorite place on the North Island — surprising because we hadn’t really heard much about it. With a population of 23,400, Taupo is one of the larger towns in New Zealand (in fact, it’s apparently the 20th largest urban area), and is situated alongside the glimmering, shimmering lake from which the town takes its name.

Driving alongside Taupo

We found the weather to be a marked improvement; the air was less humid, towels and dishes dried properly, and the nights didn’t get quite as cold. As we drove in, we were entertained by huge plumes of vapor billowing up from hidden crevices and crevasses scattered throughout the area. Located off of the Thermal Explorer Highway, Taupo is a hotbed of geothermal activity, and its sister city to the north, Rotorua, is well-known for its bubbling sulfuric springs. But more on that later.

Lake Taupo

In Taupo, we stayed with two of the nicest people imaginable. (I would link to their AirBnB profile, but Lee-Anne has another baby on the way so understandably has halted her AirBnB activity for now!) We’ve stayed in many, many different Kiwi homes through AirBnB, and our hosts in Taupo were one of the top three, which is saying a lot! There’s nothing lovelier than getting along seamlessly with someone who has invited you into their home. We had a great time getting to know Lee-Anne and her little family, and it definitely influenced our perception of Taupo overall.

Mount Tauhara

For exercise, many of the Taupo locals will hike up the local hill, Mount Tauhara, which looms pleasantly over the town and on foggy days is wreathed in cloud. The mountain, like many of New Zealand’s prominent natural features, is owned by a Maori Land Trust, but the public is permitted to access the trail (until recently, unfortunately, due to vandalism). We went on a 2-hour scramble up the mountain, and, as always, were humbled by the average Kiwi level of fitness. Without fail in New Zealand, every time we start feeling good about having accomplished something strenuous, a Kiwi with 20+ years on us will put us to shame. This time, it was a group of three middle-aged men who ran up, and then back down, the steep mountain slopes as we huffed and puffed along.

from Mt. Tauhara

Even at the base of the mountain, we were afforded some lovely views of Taupo. Despite the somewhat gloomy weather, we were eager to fit in a hike before our fairly ambitious undertaking of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a one-day, 19.4 kilometer journey. I’ve found that doing a “warm-up” hike or activity a couple of days before the big event is really helpful in terms of getting your body ready for what it’s about to endure.

from Mt. Tauhara 3

At the top of Mt. Tauhara, we were rewarded with lovely sweeping views of both Taupo and the surrounding countryside. Just look at those gorgeous cloud formations! There’s a reason the Maori call New Zealand Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud.

from Mt. Tauhara 4

Even these photos don’t capture just how big Lake Taupo is – with a surface area of 616 square kilometers, it’s the largest lake in New Zealand. The lake is ringed by several dormant and active volcanoes, and itself is the product of land collapse following an eruption.

from Mt. Tauhara 2

When we returned from our jaunt up the mountain, our AirBnB host treated us to a delicious roast chicken dinner followed by a scrumptious chocolate creme pie (which I’ve since made several times, much to the delight of fellow travelers).

Sunset, Lake Taupo

Another evening, after the aforementioned 19.4 kilometer hike, we indulged in an extremely meaty dinner at Jolly Roger’s, where I had a strange roll/stew concoction called a beef pastie. After stuffing ourselves, we watched the sun set over the lake.

Taupo pink clouds

Even though we extended our stay in Taupo by a couple of days, we still missed out on two very cool things. The first was seeing the white water explosion and natural wonder that is Huka Falls. The second were the Maori rock carvings on the north west side of the lake, which are only accessible by boat or kayak. Having seen others’ photos of these two wonders, I wish we had found the time (and energy) to see them ourselves! But you can’t fit in everything when you’re traveling, and doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in lieu of much else was still the right decision.

In sum, I can’t recommend Taupo enough. It’s lovely, charming, smallish but not tiny, and is well-situated with respect to several other key tourist areas: sulphuric Rotorua, magical Hobbiton, and, most impressive of all, the stupendous, unpredictable, Tongariro National Park – which, coincidentally, will be the subject of the next New Zealand post. Until then!

Photo credits: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 by G. Remaining photo by me! 

12 thoughts on “Lovely Lake Taupo

  1. Hi there, thanks for sharing your trip and images! I love your picture at the top of Mt Tauhara, who is ‘G’ that the photo credit belongs to? I am hoping to use it for a Taupo powerpoint presentation but would like permission 🙂

  2. Fantastic post. I love your pictures. I’ve never heard of Taupo before–thank you so much for sharing the gem with your words and pictures. How long will you be in New Zealand? What a lengthy trip you’ve got going! Do you like AirBnB in general?

    1. Hi Cindy, thank you so much as always for the lovely comments on my NZ travel posts! I’m glad someone besides myself enjoys them haha. 🙂 We are looking to visit Australia in August, and then return to the States in September. So all in all we will have spent just under a year in New Zealand – a long time! I’ve enjoyed it immensely, but I’m looking forward to going back home.

      1. I’m so jealous. I would love to take a sabbatical. I was in Australia in 2000 and loved it. I love traveling, but I sure do love the comforts of home. I had to travel for decades to get to this point. 😉

          1. I was very sorry I missed Melbourne. I hear it’s very cool. I went to Sydney the harbor pubs and the Opera House are a highlight–and the aquarium! Best I’ve ever seen. Right outside of Sydney I enjoyed the White Mountains. Go to Featherdale Zoo. It’s grand. Then our group went up to Cairns and went out on the Great Barrier Reef. Saw Humpback whales and snorkeled. A highlight of my life! No time for the Outback. I wish I could have gone to the West Coast, but there you have it. Have a great time!

    2. Also I realized I forgot to answer your question about AirBnB! The answer is: unequivocally, absolutely, yes. We haven’t had a single bad experience, and it has been a great (and affordable) way to travel through another country. Much cleaner than hostels, and much more personal than hotels!

      1. That’s priceless information. Thanks, I do believe I’ll give them a try. I’m tired of expensive hotels but have grown spoiled. I don’t want to rough it much anymore. I like clean sheets and a shower.

        1. Yes indeed! For my part, I’ve grown tired of hostels – at 24, I think I’m a little old for them now, haha. There’s a wide range available for AirBnB as well, and some of the homes are more beautiful than hotels. I find that the breakfasts are tastier as well, since hosts serve food they actually eat themselves (as opposed to an underwhelming continental breakfast in a Comfort Inn).

          1. Good to know! Thanks–I’m still doing group travel as a teacher and love it. But I really wanted to revisit Scotland with just Jim and I and I wondered about accommodations.

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