In the centre of the North Island is Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake, formed in a caldera created by the eruptions of a super volcano.
The Tuwharetoa people lived here for centuries, but the lakeshore town of Taupo only grew up during the New Zealand Wars when a garrison was formed here.
Today, the Lake Taupo Museum and Art Gallery is well worth a look, and the town makes a great base from which to explore the wider Taupo region.
Walking by the lake is a gentle pleasure, while others choose to see the lake and its surroundings from the air. This is New Zealand's skydiving capital, but scenic flights are another option should you prefer to stay within a plane rather than jump out of one. Kayaking, trout fishing from the nearby town of Turangi and white-water rafting are other possibilities in this beautiful part of the country.
Huka Falls & The Waikato River
Shortly before it drains into Lake Taupo, the Waikato River is forced through a 20-metre-wide gorge and over a 20-metre drop. This short but dramatic stretch of river rapids is the Huka Falls, one of New Zealand's most recognisable natural landmarks.
The Waikato is 100 metres wide as it approaches this point, so the resulting torrent of water is impressive as it tumbles down the gorge before spilling into a calm blue-green pool.
The Maori named it Huka, meaning ‘foam' and the water certainly does that, as 220,000 litres per second pass over the falls. They are situated in Wairakei Park, where a footbridge halfway down the gorge and a short riverside walk provide excellent photo opportunities.
Tongariro National Park
This UNESCO protected area to the south-west of Lake Taupo is the oldest national park in New Zealand and was only the fourth national park to be established in the world.
The Whanganui River rises within the park, which also contains the active volcanoes of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, and other tapu (sacred) Maori landmarks.
It was in order to protect these sites that the area was given to the nation in 1887 by a local Tuwharetoa chief, Te Heu Heu Tukino IV, on condition that the land would not be settled on or spoiled. Its waterfalls, forests and volcanic features can still be admired, and an excellent network of trails and backcountry huts makes this easy to do.
The best-known walk in the park is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often billed as the finest one-day walk in the world
Around 300 limestone caves lie beneath the hills of Waitomo, to the north-west of Taupo. Living among the labyrinth of sinkholes, stalactites, stalagmites and craggy outcrops are glowworms, which light up the caves in spectacular fashion, their pinpricks of ghostly green light resembling constellations in an alien night sky.
Some of the caves can be visited on glowworm tours, while more adventurous visitors can try black-water rafting. This involves climbing and abseiling as well as floating along subterranean waterways on inflatable tubes, with the rocks and glowworms overhead. Trips are safe and well organised, though not really recommended for claustrophobics.
Top itineraries in Taupo
Designed to showcase the best of New Zealand's North Island, this self-drive brings begins with Auckland and the Bay of Islands before dipping south past Coromandel's golden beaches and volcanic Rotorua. Then, via lakeside Taupo and the vineyards of Hawke's Bay, you'll end with a stay in Wellington.
From the subtropical beaches of the Bay of Islands, the geothermal pools of Rotorua and wine lands of Hawke's Bay to the majestic glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef and the towering peaks of the Southern Alps, New Zealand is home to some of the world's most spectacular driving routes.
Beginning in Auckland in the North Island, this 14-day escorted tour from leading tour operator APT winds its way through the length and breadth of New Zealand, taking in the country's star attractions along the way.
Top places to stay in Taupo
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