A primarily tourism driven town of 26,000 people, Taupo may lack the big sights of nearby Rotorua but makes for a pleasant, relatively low key place to spend a few days exploring. A treat in the town centre was the amount of street art around, over 85 murals, a product of Graffiato: Taupō Street Art Festival, New Zealand’s longest running annual street art festival, which is held over Labour Day weekend each October.

The town lies on the shore of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. The lake was formed by the biggest volcanic eruption globally in the past 70,000 years. It is the source of the Waikato River, the longest in New Zealand. This is responsible for apparently New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction, Huka Falls. Here the Waikato River narrows from 100m wide to just 15m through a shallow ravine of tough volcanic rock. More than 220,000 litres of water per second shoot out over an 11m high waterfall. I’ve seen it 3-4 times now, and the natural power never fails to impress.

Downstream from here the Waikato River has been dammed to generate electricity, a by product of which is the sight of the Aratiatia Rapids when the spill gates are opened every couple of hours and the gorge fills with water surging at up to 90,000 litres per second. It’s a popular attraction, the pedestrian walkways over the bridge were jammed with people when I visited over Easter.

A highlight of my time in Taupo was visiting Orakei Korako Geothermal Park & Cave, half an hour north, again lying on the Waikato River. A short boat trip takes you across the river to an geothermal wonderland.

A loop walk runs past varied colours and shapes created by nature, an often surreal landscape of boiling mud, steaming pools, and dramatic terraces.

It is also home to one of only two geothermal caves in the world (the other is in France).

Geothermal energy was put to a different use at the Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa. There is a short walk around the terraces themselves, but instead I enjoyed the output of the terraces, namely hot mineral filled water, captured in four pools, thankfully only open to adults for a peaceful experience. The colours haven’t been altered below, the water really was that colour.

Back toward town the Rangatira Park Lookout offers good views over the lake and toward Tongariro National Park, but there is too much town in the way for my liking. I preferred the lakeside views featured at the top of this post.

Taupo Museum and Art Gallery was worth a quick explore. It isn’t huge but had a couple of galleries of artwork, including these ceramics by Fiona Tunnicliffe, an attractive (and Chelsea Flower Show award winning) garden, a sizeable waka, a vintage Kiwi caravan, fishing trophies, and a wonderfully detailed model of a timber milling operation.

To finish with another geothermal sight, the Craters of the Moon. While not a patch on others I’ve visited, it’s hard not to enjoy the sight of steam rising from the ground, and surreal colours in the landscape.

Author: jontycrane

Leave a Reply