Welcome to Lake Taupo!
This fabulous destination in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island is an absolutely wonderful location for a family vacation… and we would know, because we just got back! We were lucky enough to be in Taupo for New Years Eve as well, which made it all the more fun.
Lake Taupo is a stunning destination, and it’s famous for its natural beauty and outdoor activities (just like most of New Zealand, really). However, while quintessentially Kiwi in many ways, it’s quite unique too. Here’s our comprehensive travel guide to help you make the most of your time in Lake Taupo.
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How to get to Lake Taupo
Just to be clear: Lake Taupo is a big lake, Taupo is a town on the western shore of the lake. Taupo is the biggest town and most popular with tourists, so the town itself has become synonymous with the Lake. And yes, Taupo is where we based ourselves on our trip. But there are plenty of other smaller towns around the lake that are worth a visit too (particularly if you’re looking for a nice spot to camp).
Lake Taupo is located in the central North Island of New Zealand. From Auckland, the journey will take you approximately 3 hours via State Highway 1. From Hamilton, follow State Highway 1 for about two hours to Taupo. From Rotorua, the drive will take approximately an hour and a half via State Highway 5. From Napier, the drive will take about two hours, again along State Highway 5. And from Wellington, it’s about 5 hours along State Highway 1.
If you are getting around by motor vehicle, we really like Europcar and JUCY campervans – they have great rates and convenient options in New Zealand. And of course, if you are hiring a vehicle, it’s really important to have travel insurance that covers any excess for vehicle damage.
If you’re not driving, New Zealand’s InterCity bus network offers services to Taupo (town) from Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Napier, and Wellington. Check the InterCity website for more details.
The best time to visit Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo is amazing at any time of year. However, each season brings very different experiences.
For me, a Summer baby, the best time to visit Lake Taupo is from December to February – New Zealand’s Summer. This is when the weather is warm and dry, making it perfect for outdoor activities, picnics on the shore, and summer sessions at Taupo’s excellent restaurants, breweries, and bars for some al fresco hangs with friends and family. If fishing is your thing, Trout numbers are highest in the summer.
Autumn (march – May) is perfect for outdoorsy types who are keen on hiking, bike riding, or even a round of golf.
Winter can still be great for hiking, with the added draw of nearby ski fields at Ruapehu and Whakapapa. Winter is still a great time for some of the more adrenaline-based activities such as bungee jumping. Of course, with the cooler temperatures of Autumn and Winter, the geothermal hot pools become even more divine.
As the temperatures start to thaw in the Spring, ski fields are still open and the conditions are perfect for beginners. Spring is a lively time in Taupo, with several festivals taking place, such as the Taupo Street Art Festival.
So if you’re keen on being active and maybe even a bit of an adrenaline junkie, the cooler months are great for you. If you’re more interested in relaxing, al fresco dining, and sailing on the lake, the warmer months are your best bet.
Things to do around Lake Taupo
There are so many things to do in Taupo and around the Lake, it can be hard to fit them all in! However, here are some of our favourite activities.
Relax in a thermal pool
Taupo is an excellent location for relaxing in one of New Zealand’s famous geothermal pools, and many also have spas attached.
For families, we recommend Taupo DeBretts as the #1 option. DeBretts features two large geothermal-heated pools as well as a regular pool for children and several waterslides. This was a real New Zealand highlight for our kids.
For something a bit more relaxing and grown-up, you can’t miss Wairaki Terraces.
Sail to Lake Taupo’s Maori Rock Carvings
Sailing on Lake Taupo is an unforgettable experience. With crystal-clear waters, stunning views of surrounding mountains, and a steady breeze, it’s the perfect place to explore by boat. The famous Maori Rock Carvings are a must-see sight on any Taupo sailing trip.
We highly recommend Sail Barbary for this experience – Chris and the team will look after you all the way.
The Best Taupo Sailing Tour
Taupo Eco Sailing – Sail Barbary
We absolutely ADORED the Sail Barbary experience and so have hundreds of other travellers. Enjoy a 2.5-hour sailing yacht trip to the Maori Rock Carvings and back, while you learn about Maori culture and history and take in the incredible views.
Huka Falls Jet
The Huka Falls Jet is a thrilling adventure that takes you on a high-speed ride through the Waikato River, just above the famous Huka Falls. With spins, twists and turns, this jet boat ride is not for the faint of heart. You’ll experience the power and beauty of the falls up close, as well as the stunning scenery of the surrounding landscape. It’s a must-do activity for adrenaline seekers visiting New Zealand’s North Island.
The Huka Falls Jet is a great option for kids who want some thrill-seeking but aren’t big enough for some of the other options.
Kayak the Waikato River
Canoeing or kayaking on the Waikato River is a serene and peaceful way to explore the stunning natural beauty of the area. Paddling along the calm waters, you’ll pass by picturesque scenery including lush forests, rugged cliffs, and cascading waterfalls.
Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a beginner, this adventure is suitable for all skill levels. It’s the perfect way to connect with nature and experience the beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.
Go Quad Biking
Explore the rugged terrain and stunning natural beauty of this iconic New Zealand destination on the back of a powerful four-wheeled machine. With a range of trails and tracks to suit all skill levels, quad biking is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
There are several operators offering quad biking; Taupo Quad Adventures is the most popular. However, if you’re happy to travel further afield, we love Ruapehu Adventure Rides. It’s about 1.5 hours each way from Taupo to Ruapehu (but you can see the Desert Road and the amazing volcano cones). It’s worth it though – we LOVED this quad biking experience, and the team did so well to accommodate the little ones in the buggies and give them a safe thrill too!
Where to eat and Drink in Taupo
For something really nice, I highly recommend The Bistro, which offers contemporary New Zealand cuisine and stunning lake views.
For a slightly more casual (but still lovely) meal, try the popular Brantry Eatery and Bar which offers a range of tasty dishes made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
For traditional Kiwi takeaway (fish and chips) The Fish Box is a local favourite known for their generous portions and crispy batter.
Our top pick: Crafty Trout Brewing. This cool brewery features Old School German Beerhall x Trout Fishing Lodge vibes, and we are here for it! The meals are excellent (think massive plates of ribs and some of the best burgers out there) and they have so many craft beers on tap for you to try.
Where to Stay in Taupo
Lake Taupo has a variety of accommodation options to suit all budgets and preferences. Here, we’ve wrapped up our favourites according to budget and facilities.
Luxury: Our first option is Hilton Lake Taupo. The Hilton Lake Taupo offers luxurious rooms with stunning lake views and access to a heated pool and spa. Another great option is the Millennium Hotel and Resort Manuels, which boasts a central location with easy access to all the attractions in the area. Finally, Sacred Waters Taupo is a luxe apartment-style resort option with an excellent location right on Lake Terrace.
Mid-range: Taupo has some excellent mid-range places to stay, and we love the resort-style accommodation options that make you truly feel you’re on holiday without breaking the bank. In particular, we like Lake Taupo Motor Inn, Anchorage Resort, and Oasis Beach Resort. All three of these properties are in an excellent location and have swimming pools, suite/apartment-style accommodations with kitchens, and parking facilities.
Holiday parks: Taupo is a master destination when it comes to holiday parks – they really have the holiday park model figured out. Our three favourite options are Lake Taupo Holiday Resort, Taupo DeBretts Holiday Resort, and Taupo TOP 10 Holiday Park.
Lake Taupo Holiday Park is the most famous, and for good reason – it features a large geothermal pool with New Zealand’s only swim-up bar! However, in busy periods it can be hard to get a booking. Taupo DeBretts (we mentioned their pools earlier) has a holiday park attached to their thermal pool facility, which means pool entry is included. Taupo TOP 10 is a bit smaller, but still features a pool and playground for the kids which is great. All three parks have cabins for rent as well as powered and unpowered camping sites.
Taupo: Final Verdict
Lake Taupo (and Taupo town in particular) are must-see destinations in North Island New Zealand. But more than that, they are incredible places to explore as a family.
So get to booking your family holiday in Taupo – you won’t be disappointed.
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