It's North Island's answer to Queenstown, but there is more to Taupō than high-octane adventures. An easy drive from anywhere in the North Island, on the shores of Lake Taupō you'll find a nature lover's playground to suit every travel style and budget.
When alert levels safely allow, here's how to holiday in Taupō, whatever kind of getaway you're searching for.
Travelling as a family
Huka Prawn Park might seem an odd family outing, but this aquaculture farm on the banks of the Waikato River is lots of fun. Join a behind-the-scenes tour on how to hatch and catch prawns, then fish your own in the outdoor pools. There are paddleboats, an interactive walking track and a licensed restaurant with alfresco dining and prawns cooked to order.
Down the road at Huka Honey Hive, busy bees can have their photo taken in a beekeeper outfit, learn how honey is made and watch live bees buzzing in the hive. Sample local honey mead and honey skincare, or hit up the icecream shop for, you guessed it, hokey pokey. For gentle forest and river treks, saddle up with Korohe Horse Treks and head out into nature as this local Māori family share their stories, myths and legends.
Huka Falls is one of New Zealand's most visited attractions for good reason. Every second, more than 220,000 litres of water blasts through a narrow bottleneck into the Waikato River in a rare - and awesome - display of natural hydro power. Watch it from the walkways above, and then take to the waters with Rapid Jets. The high-powered jet boat ride (for anyone 5 and over) hurtles up a narrow gorge of the Waikato River into the mouth of the dam, then bounces and spins the boat full-pelt into the thunderous rapids.
For a thrill of a different kind, Tongariro River Rafting takes families (and children as young as 3) on white-water rafting adventures on the Tongariro River near Tūrangi. The 90-minute grade-two paddle is a gentle meander through splashy rapids, forested gorges and waterways brimming with trout. End the day cycling Tongariro River Track, a fun 10km trail that follows the riverbank, past cows and fields, and across swing bridges, to mossy forests and lookouts.
Would-be ski bunnies can hit the slopes at Happy Valley Snow Park. The custom-designed ski field in Whakapapa is one of New Zealand's best beginner's slopes, with its own cafe and ski hire shop, ski lift, purpose-built tobogganing area, magic carpet, and a "snow factory" to keep it powder-soft. Or wonder at Mt Ruapehu's majestic slopes from the new Sky Waka Gondola. Next door is Knoll Ridge Cafe. At 2020m high, with floor-to-ceiling glass, it's an awesome spot to lunch and watch the dot of skiers zip down the mountain.
For the best of Taupō's snap, crackle and pop, check out Ōrākei Kōrako geothermal park, 30 minutes from town. This hotbed of geothermal activity is a hissing steam-up of mud pools, geysers, hot springs and acid-wash volcanic waters. After a big day, enjoy a soak in mineral-rich waters at family-friendly DeBretts hot springs.
Looking for luxury
Luxe lovers in search of high thread count and the ultimate escape will find it in Taupō. There are five luxury lodges, including grande-dame, Huka Lodge. The others are Lake Taupō Lodge, Kinloch Manor and Villas, Poronui and River Birches.
Huka Lodge sets the bar for impeccable service, effortless style and top-notch gastronomy. It's a favourite of HRH Queen Elizabeth II who, on past visits, has commandeered the tartan dining room for her meals when in residence. Set on the banks of the Waikato River, just down from Huka Falls, there are 21 cottages and 23 fly-fishing streams, a tennis court, heated swimming pool, hot tub, spa and gym.
For those wanting to "rough it" in luxury, Poronui's Safari Tent is comfort-class. The remote glampsite on the banks of the Mōhaka River is thoughtfully appointed with thick duvets, hot showers, solar lighting and a private chef. After dinner, soak up the glittering skies with a glass of red while listening to the roar of the river as it rushes past.
Golf enthusiasts can dream golf day and night at Kinloch Manor and Villas. Perched above the fairway are a clutch of modern, self-contained apartments with views of Lake Taupō and the green. The 18-hole course is one of New Zealand's top 5 courses; a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course that pays homage to the great English and Irish links courses.
Remote wilderness adventures are only a helicopter ride away in Taupō. October to May, luxury sports lodge Poronui drops guests and a guide in private backcountry to stalk, hunt and hook easily spooked river trout. For a different perspective, take the seat of a vintage twin-engine Cessna with Taupō Floatplane. The one-hour scenic flight takes in Lake Taupō's shimmering caldera as well as Tongariro National Park, the desolate landscapes of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth, before climbing 10,000 feet to stellar views of Mt Ruapehu and its vibrant green crater lake. For adventures on Lake Taupō, there is the MV Levante, a Riviera 4000 offshore cruiser private charter from Chris Jolley Outdoors.
In search of adventure
Hop on a mountain bike in Taupō and you'll soon be facing vertical drops and hairpin bends. There are dozens of mountain bike trails, including extreme grade 5 downhill runs and epic overnight trails. Great Lake Trail is one of the best; a two-day cycle linked by boat shuttle transfers. Beginning along Lake Taupō's shoreline, the 71km track cuts through native forest, traversing waterfalls and deep gorges. For the ultimate high, Kaimanawa Heli-Biking drops cyclists on the summit of a mountain at the start of a 10km downhill course.
High on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu are Whakapapa and Tūroa, New Zealand's largest commercial ski-fields - and a ski season that continues long after others close. There are more than 65 trails on stunning volcanic terrain, with varied steep chutes, wide-open bowls, natural half-pipes and epic terrain parks. Daredevils can ski or snowboard the crater and other backcountry trails or zip down New Zealand's longest vertical descent. It's within Tongariro National Park, a dual World Heritage site recognised for its spiritual and cultural significance. There are dozens of trails to hike, including the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing one-day hike. The epic 19km trail is a dazzling wilderness marked by ancient lava flows and glacial valleys, steaming vents and iridescent-blue and green crater lakes.
For more solitary adventures, Chris Jolley takes groups of up to four on a private guided heli-hike of the Ōamaru Trail in the Kaimanawa State Forest. The unforgettable hike begins at Ben Boyd Hut, far from civilisation, and ends, some six hours later at the perimeter of Poronui Lodge. To keep it interesting, there are dozens of river and stream crossings, and a terrain that switches between golden tussock plains, mossy rainforest and ancient native forest, accompanied by a blissful soundtrack of rushing water and birdsong. You'll be lucky to see another person for hours.
Fast becoming New Zealand's skydiving capital, each year, thousands of daredevils take to the skies above Taupō with Taupō Skydive to leap solo or tandem at 14,000 feet. For a different high, head to Taupō Bungy. At 47m high, it's New Zealand's highest water-touch bungy jump, an exhilarating headlong plunge into the Waikato River, minutes from Huka Falls.
For more information on visiting Taupō, go to lovetaupo.com
Check current alert level restrictions before you travel at covid19.govt.nz
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew