Hiking One of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”
After our ferry ride from the South Island to the North island, we spent the evening in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The next day we drove the 5+ hour route from Wellington to Taupo.
Why Travel to Taupo, New Zealand?
Taupo is a town near the center of New Zealand’s north island and is best known for Lake Taupo, a volcanic caldera, formed approximately 2,000 years ago that also happens to be the largest lake in New Zealand. You can enjoy being by the lake, take a short trip to view the dramatic raging waters of Huka Falls, and travel to nearby natural hot springs. You can also make a day trip to the Tongariro Crossing, only an hour + drive away, which was by far our favorite adventure while staying in Taupo. Additionally, there are options for additional hiking and biking trails, bungee jumping, and skydiving is also very popular here.
How Long to Stay in Taupo, New Zealand?
If you are in the area you must do the Tongariro Crossing (even though it is an hour plus drive away). This will certainly take a full day. You should also spend a day visiting Huka Falls and the nearby hot springs. If you want to add some Lake Taupo water activities, skydive, or mountain bike consider adding more time.
Top Things to Do in Taupo, New Zealand
1) Tongariro Northern Circuit Day Hike
(1+ hour drive from Taupo)
Five and a half hour return (plus two hours if you want to summit Mount Doom)
Hiking Tongariro National Park, one of New Zealand’s best “Great Walks” is an absolute “must-do” when in Lake Taupo and we’d say a must do if you find yourself in New Zealand at all.
This magical and surreal walk will be like one you have never experienced before and will have you trekking through the unique landscape of New Zealand’s North Island Volcanic Zone. You will see lands of contrast, from forests, to barren lands, to thermal steamy active craters as you navigate around the active volcanoes: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu, and Mount Ngauruho (also known as “Mount Doom”).
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you will know Mount Doom as the volcano in Mordor which is the only place where the ring can be destroyed. Mount Doom was inspired by both Mount Ngauruho and Mount Ruapehu.
We fully intended to add on the Mount Doom summit to our trip, but when we got there it was unmarked and so foggy we could hardly see 25 feet up the volcano. We were ready to forgo this part of the trip, when we luckily asked the next group of hikers we saw if they know anything about getting to the top. These hikers just happened to be two experienced mountaineers from Canada and one New Zealand local who had already been to the summit before. (Could this be any more “meant to be”)? They said, “let’s go for it” and the rest is history. So off we went upwards through the masses of clouds and nothingness. We trudged through rocky and loose boulder covered scree, as we took turns yelling “Lookout!” and “Sorry!” as we sent small rock slides down the mountainside on top of each other.
Upwards we trekked through unmarked and unpaved volcanic scree.
After a long hour of unstable uphill climbing, where we could barely see in front of us we contemplated turning back. I hate giving up and Kurt knew this, so we pressed on. After another hour we reached the summit and celebrated our accomplishments.
No sightings of orcs to report.
Coming down took less than an hour, but was very slippery. Be careful if you decide to trek this hike.
After Mount Doom, we continued through the dramatic landscapes of the Tongarario Crossing and saw many more beautiful sights.
Tongarario 101: You are not allowed to swim or touch any of the lakes in the Park.
2) Huka Falls and Thermal Spa Park
Near the parking lot of Huka Falls are geothermal hot pools which are free to enter and enjoy a good soak.
From the hot pools, there is a walkway to explore the scenic Huka trail. The highlight of the trail is viewing Huka Falls which is a raging blast of water formed by the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest River, pushing through a narrow rock chasm.
Taupo 101: Huka Falls are known to be New Zealand’s most-visited natural attraction.
3) Take a Walk Around Town
If you have some time to spare, it is worthwhile to take a little stroll around town and the coastline of Lake Taupo.
Of course, the gorgeous sunsets over Lake Taupo don’t disappoint.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Enjoy a full circuit hike (which can take two to three days depending on fitness level) of the Tongariro National Park and stay overnight in huts.
- Take a cruise or kayak on Lake Taupo where you will discover the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings, which can only be seen from the water.
- The surrounding forests and lakes are a great place to go hiking and mountain biking.
- Visit Craters of the Moon where you can walk around a geothermal valley and see how Lake Taupo was formed thousands of years ago.
- The valley of Orakei Korako Cave & Thermal Park has been described as a hidden gem. You’ll have to take a ferry across Lake Ohakuri to get there, but you’ll see some beautiful hot springs and bubbling mud pools. Take a look at google images to see if you want to add this to your trip.
- Raft the mighty Tongariro River. It is an hour drive away, but Taupo is a good base to go to and from the Tongariro area.
Questions For You
- Would you/have you reached the summit of Mount Doom?