Booked a saddle seat on our epic River Valley Ride? Great choice, globetrotter – you’re in for a treat!
We highly recommend that all guests on this ride book accommodation in Taupo for both the night before and the night after their horse riding holiday so that there’s no stress about getting to or from the airport in time. Bearing that in mind (and having drooled over the natural beauty and ridiculous range of activities and indulgences to be found around Taupo), we thought we’d better give you a guide to the area!
First things first, you don’t need to worry about how you’ll get from Taupo Airport to your accommodation – there’s a shuttle bus that offers a door-to-door-service for each flight. Your hotel will be able to help you arrange a return transfer when you’re ready to travel onwards, as well. Once you’re in Taupo, the Taupo Connector bus service is the best way to get around town, and saves you the hassle of hiring a car!
Read on for our absolute favourite things to do, attractions to visit, accommodation options and places to eat in and around Taupo.
Sights and activities
The town of Taupo sits on the shore of the largest lake in New Zealand, Lake Taupo. The lake is actually formed by the basin of a long-extinct volcano, and as such is a centre of volcanic and geothermal activity. Think natural hot springs, dormant volcanoes, bubbling mud lagoons and steaming vents.
To experience a huge variety of geothermal phenomena in a matter of hours, head a few minutes out of town to Spa Thermal Park, where the hot thermal waters of the Otumuheke Stream meet the longest river in New Zealand, Waikato River. It’s free to enjoy the delights of this popular bathing park. Walking a little further into the park, you’ll find Otumuheke Stream bathing area, another bathing spot that was recently upgraded to make it perfectly Instagram-worthy.
But wait, there’s more! You’re also right at the start of Huka Falls Walkway, a 7.3 kilometre return (4.5 mile) trail that follows the river until the churning rapids meet Huka Falls, an incredibly dramatic waterfall where the rapids explode over a rock face into a wide pool. It’s only short, but with about 200,000 litres of water flying over the drop every second, the waterfall is a phenomenal sight to behold. If you’re game, you can even get up close and personal with a jet boat trip that takes you to the churning base of the Falls!
Taupo also has a rich and vibrant Maori culture, exemplified by the 14-foot tall Mine Bay rock carving that watches over the lake. The carving is considered of the most spectacular modern Maori artworks in the country. It’s best seen from the water, so book a boat cruise or a kayak if you can!
As you may have gathered, Taupo is area of outstanding natural beauty and a hot-spot for adventure sports such as white water rafting, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, fishing, mountain biking and rock climbing. Your time here is the perfect opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and be rewarded tenfold for your efforts. Whether it’s a soaring vista at the end of a day’s hiking or fresh trout for dinner after a day in the water, the region promises to leave you feeling invigorated, rejuvenated and deeply satisfied. If choosing your own adventure is just too hard with this many options, check out this list of Taupo must-dos to help get you started.
If you’re after something a little less extreme, we strongly recommend spending some time exploring Pureora Forest Park. The park preserves the last remnants of the native podocarp forests that once grew over most of the centre of the North Island and is hugely important as a conservation area. Many unique environments are contained within the park, including a serene wetland lagoon, ancient moss-covered rainforest and the stark upper slopes of Mount Pureora. The walking and cycling trails have been beautifully designed to allow people of all fitness levels to feel deeply immersed in their surroundings.
Places to eat
Thanks to its lakeside location, Taupo has a year-round supply of fantastic fish – especially trout. The verdant farmland around the lake produces delicious beef, lamb, and vegetables, and let’s not forget the wild foods such as manuka honey, edible native plants and venison. Really, you couldn’t wish for a more naturally abundant area, and the results speak for themselves when they’re plated up.
The best example of local cuisine is undoubtedly found at Kinloch Manor, a high-end estate with a restaurant open to the public where literally every ingredient is either grown on the estate itself or sourced from local suppliers. Rivalling it is The Bistro (pictured above), which operates on much the same philosophy and was recently listed in the top 100 New Zealand restaurants.
Floating Rock Cafe & Vineyard is the perfect place to satisfy your cravings for local food and wine all at once, with beautiful views and knowledgeable staff to boot. Or if beer is more to your liking, head to Crafty TROUT Brewing Co’s Bier Kafe. Located next door to the brewery and the Trout Shoppe, this is a real three-in-one destination for all your brewery touring, beer drinking, delicious dining and merchandise shopping needs.
Gobsmacking art and delicious food combine at Lava Glass Studio. Every item bought in the cafe gives you free entry to the sculpture garden and the glassblowing studio, where you can watch the master glassblower at work.
If you’re after a sweet treat, the doughnuts at Baked with Love are legendary; or for a savoury bite to eat, get fish straight off the river at Creel Tackle House & Cafe or the 2017 National Supreme Pie (venison, mushroom, bacon and cheese) at Fast and Fresh Bakery Cafe.
In town on a Saturday? Don’t miss the Taupo Market from 9am-1pm, where you’ll find delicious food, local produce and beautiful arts and crafts.
Places to stay
Your guides on this ride have been kind enough to suggest a few accommodation options to suit a range of budgets.
Sails on the Lake, The Lake Motel and The Reef Resort are all well-reviewed options within walking distance of the town, offering a range of rooms, apartments and studios to suit low to mid-range budgets.
And for an unforgettable, top-of-the-scale luxury experience, Huka Lodge (pictured above) is the place to stay. It’s one of New Zealand’s top luxury lodges, and consistently rated one of the best in the world. A huge contrast to camping on your ride!
We hope you have the most amazing time exploring Taupo and surrounds. If you have any tips or recommendations of your own, please share them with us in the comments!
Image credits: Love Taupo, Fraser Clements, Thousand Wonders, Audley Travel, Huka Lodge, Mike Little.