Lake Taupo is the stunningly beautiful lake located right about smack dab in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. Lake Taupo is by far New Zealand’s largest lake, and the area around Taupo is full of fun activities. What’s better? Many of them are free! Aratiatia Rapids and Huka Falls, the Taupo Maori carvings and hot springs at Otumuheke Spa Park, all of them are free! There are so many fun free things to do in Taupo that we had to write a blog about it. Without further ado, here are the 9 best free things to do in Taupo New Zealand!
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Aratiatia Rapids is one of the most unique sites to see in all of New Zealand. This is a rapids that is controlled so that it takes place 3-4 times per day! How is it controlled? With a dam of course!
At Aratiatia Rapids for most of the day, there is a calm stream flowing down through a huge canyon. The canyon has large rock formations on each side, topped with lush greenery beneath a great big blue New Zealand sky. When the dam is opened, at specific periods throughout the day, the water rushes through the canyon until it nearly fills up!
Aratiatia Rapids Times:
- 10:00 am
- 12:00 pm
- 2:00 pm
- 4:00 pm during Summer months
Located just north of Taupo, Aratiatia Rapids can either be driven to or hiked to. You are going to want to witness this phenomenon at least once. Once you see it, you might want to come back for a second showing!
Once you’ve seen and experienced Aratiatia Rapids, it is time to go to another incredibly powerful rapids site in the Taupo area: Huka Falls.
At Huka Falls, you’ll be blown away by the sheer power of the water flowing through this place. 220,000 liters of water flow through a narrow space in the rock formations every single second, causing an incredibly turbulent sight to see.
The water, normally a deep blue color when still, shines bright blue as it stirs up right before and after Huka Falls. As with Aratiatia Rapids, you can either hike to Huka Falls or drive there. We recommend hiking, as the hike is not difficult and offers a few overlooks of Huka Falls on the way.
Whether you drive or hike to Huka Falls, there are many different viewpoints for you to check out. We recommend stopping at each and every one! The view from one side of the falls is different than the other, and a view from on top of the falls is sure as heck different than an overlook from 100 meters away. See them all, then hop back in the car and head for Taupo!
We absolutely LOVE photography, and sharing pictures! These are the cameras we use on all of our adventures. The drone and GoPro help us get cool new perspectives (underwater, in the air, wide angle) and the Rebel we use on a day-to-day basis for most of our shots!
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Maori Carvings on Lake Taupo
This is perhaps the coolest sight in all of Taupo. On Lake Taupo, in a certain bay, is an enormous set of Maori carvings that overlook the lake. The carvings are not reachable by foot, so we are here to tell you how to get there.
There are really two ways to get to the Maori Carvings on Taupo. The first, and least amount of work, is by boat. Of course, this is the more expensive way as well. There are tour boats that bring you all around the lake, including to the Taupo carvings. Otherwise, you could do a boat rental for the day and drive up to the carvings yourself.
The second way to see the carvings is to kayak or stand-up-paddleboard to them. This option will let you get closer than you can by boat, and will likely be cheaper. We were fortunate to have stand-up-paddleboard access, but if you don’t then we recommend renting a paddleboard or kayak in Taupo. However, don’t expect to paddle all the way from Taupo to the carvings, unless you are ready for a serious workout, as you’ll be covering some distance.
The best way to get to the site is by driving as close as possible, then paddling the rest of the way. Here’s how you do it. Drive towards Acacia Bay, taking Acacia Bay Road. At one point Acacia Bay Road goes from a highway to a city street, stay on the road until it ends. At the end of Acacia Bay Road, the road turns into a private drive. You’ll be able to park here, and hike a short ways down to the shore with your stand-up-paddleboard.
Once you reach the water, paddle to your right, always keeping the shore on your right side. Make a mental note of where you left shore, as you’ll have to return to that same spot. Paddle with the shore to your right, and after 20 minutes or so you’ll see the incredibly beautiful Maori carvings. From your board, they tower over you, and make for an wonderful place for a picture. On top of the face carving, there are lizard sculptures and other shapes amid the rocks surrounding the place.
If you can, you must make some time and effort to see the Maori carvings on Lake Taupo. This is truly a wonderful site to see, and will be a highlight of your visit to this fantastic part of New Zealand.
Enjoy Lake Taupo
After you see the Maori carvings, enjoy your time on Lake Taupo! Lake Taupo is surrounded by huge mountain ranges, we are talking Lord of the Rings level landscapes here. Seriously, Mount Doom is one of those mountains, and is just a short drive from Taupo! Side note, if you want to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which goes straight past Mount Doom, we wrote a blog on that as well. Click here to check it out.
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand, so take some time to enjoy the lake while you can. If you rented a boat, kayak, or stand-up-paddleboard, make the most of your time with your toy. Cruise (or paddle) around the lake, stopping at beautiful points to hang out, go for a swim, and soak up the sun. Bring sunscreen, as that hot New Zealand sun is no joke, you can burn very fast in this country!
If you are lucky, you may even find a few rock formations along the coast that are ripe for a jump into the lake! Please check the depth of the water you are jumping into to make sure it is deep enough, and if it is, then have the time of your life jumping off the rocks into the beautiful Lake Taupo!
Free Hot Springs at Otumuheke Spa Park
If swimming in Lake Taupo is a bit cold for you, then we have a solution: warm up in the free hot springs at Otumuheke Spa Park. Located just outside Taupo, within a very quick drive, is an awesome free hot springs along the Waikato River. Otumuheke Spa Park is part-waterfall part-hot springs. When you get there, you’ll see what we mean.
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To reach the free hot springs, park at the end of Spa Road and take the short walk from the parking lot to the river. Once there, to your right you’ll see a series of cascading waterfalls that flow into the river. It may not seem obvious at first, but those waterfalls are actually hot water, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit!
Walk down to the river, dip your feet in, take a few steps and walk towards the waterfalls. The water temperature will gradually rise, until you reach the waterfalls, where the temperature is hottest. Once you find a temperature that suits you, plop your butt down and hang out for a while in your own free spa!
One of the great things about the free hot springs at Otumuheke Spa Park, other than the fact that they are free, is that you can basically choose your temperature. If you are hanging out in the hot section and want to cool off, then swim on towards the river! And of course, if you’re a bit chilly, then head towards the waterfalls. You can’t lose!
Float the Waikato River
As we said, the free hot springs at Otumuheke Spa Park are alongside the Waikato River. Many people take the opportunity to float down this river from Pois Road to the Otumuheke Spa Park! If you’d like to, this is a wonderful free activity you can take advantage of in Taupo.
Of course, if you don’t have your own flotation device, then this isn’t exactly free, since you’ll have to purchase a floaty. However, that floaty can be used once, twice, or a hundred times to float down the river! The best way to do this float is to have access to two cars, parking one at the beginning (Pois Road) and one at the end (Otumuheke Spa Park). If this isn’t possible, then perhaps one person in your party will drop everyone off at the start, then go hang out in the free hot springs until everyone else makes it there floating!
Note: don’t go too far on this river, as the end is at Huka Falls. This is extremely well-marked, which is a great thing, so pay attention to the signs.
Huka Honey Hive
The Huka Honey Hive is located north of Taupo, so if you’re driving in from Rotorua or Auckland then make a stop here. What exactly is the Huka Honey Hive? Well, it is a few things!
First and foremost, it is a store. This store sells all sorts of bee-related things such as honey (of course…). They also sell mead, wine, soaps, cosmetics, jewelry, souvenirs, coffee and more!
Fun Fact: did you know that honey mead was thought to guarantee male offspring? Men would drink the mead after their wedding, hence the word ‘honeymoon’!
At the Huka Honey Hive, there are free samples of honey, mead, jellies, lotions, and much much more. You can walk around the store sampling everything you’d like to, all free of charge! Of course, we recommend that you buy something while here. The ‘buzzer’ coffee is DELICIOUS, and so are the many honey options of course.
On top of the store, there are also live bee colonies at the Huka Honey Hive. You can learn all about bees, and how farming methods have changed over the years and decades. You can even try on some beekeeping outfits for a few photos if you’d like! Do yourself a favor and make the Huka Honey Hive a stop during your time in Taupo.
Every Saturday morning the Taupo Market takes place. At the Taupo Market, you’ll be able to buy fresh produce grown by farmers around Taupo, in addition to awesome arts and crafts made by local artists and creatives. On top of that, there are great food and drink options. If you’re in Taupo on a Saturday, stop at the Taupo Market!
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You need clothes to travel. Heck, maybe you don’t. We don’t judge. If you want to hop around the world in your birthday suit then go right ahead! But if you want to cover up, here are a few of our favorite clothing items we love, and we think you’ll love too!
Also in downtown Taupo is the famous #LOVETAUPO sign. Located right on a hill with a beautiful view, this is a great place for a photo to commemorate your time in Taupo. Stop for a few minutes for the photo and enjoy the view.
Craters Of The Moon
Craters of the Moon is basically a condensed form of Rotorua, the area of New Zealand famous for geysers and thermal pools (click here for our blog on Rotorua). First things first, Craters of the Moon costs money, at $8 per adult. Students and children are cheaper, so a family trip will not break the bank, however we can’t write about Craters of the Moon without mentioning the entrance fee.
Once inside Craters of the Moon, you’ll see where this place got its name. There are areas of land that seem like they were cut directly from the moon and placed smack dab in the tropical wonderland that is New Zealand. If you’re looking for a fun day trip to a unique place, then Craters of the Moon may be right up your alley.
Free Camping Lake Taupo
As with everywhere we’ve gone in New Zealand, we were free camping at Lake Taupo. On the way into town, we camped right at Aratiatia Rapids, which has a great spot for Freedom Camping, and offered us the chance to see the rapids flow once in the evening and once in the morning. In town, there were a few great Freedom Camping sites as well.
We use the app Wikicamps to find the sites, which lays out free campsites across New Zealand in a convenient map. We have found that buying a campervan and using free campsites has saved us TONS of money while exploring New Zealand. If you’re interested in this, click here to check out our blog on buying a New Zealand campervan. If you are in New Zealand for more than a month, it might make sense for you to buy a campervan and do the same.
We sincerely hope you enjoyed our article on the best things to do in Taupo. Everything from Aratiatia Rapids and Huka Falls to the Maori carvings on Lake Taupo and sampling honey, we had a blast exploring the Taupo area. We know you will too.
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