Taupo is situated on the shores of Lake Taupo. It’s a quiet version of Queenstown (the south island’s adventure and party capital) and my favorite spot in the entire country. Taupo has a lot of incredible nearby hikes (it is the jumping-off point for the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing), fishing, lake activities, and markets. The impressive Huka Falls are nearby (which also have a great picnic area and nature walks). I love the close proximity to nature, the good food, and warm locals. I came for two days and ended up staying five!
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms cost between 26-33 NZD per night while private rooms average 65 NZD per night. Free WiFi is standard, and many hostels also have a kitchen. Rainbow Lodge is my favorite hostel in this town. For those traveling with a tent, there are campgrounds in the area. Expect to pay around 25 NZD per night for a basic plot.
Budget hotel prices – A double room with a private bathroom costs around 85 NZD per night (though prices average closer to 100 NZD per night). Free WiFi is generally standard, and free breakfast is quite common. Many budget hotels also have a kitchen for those looking to cook their own food. Airbnb is widely available. For a private room, prices start at 55 NZD per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay around 110 NZD per night (though prices average closer to 220 NZD).
Average cost of food – Eating out in this town is more expensive than other places in the country. A restaurant meal with table service will cost around 30 NZD. You can find sandwiches for as little as 8 NZD and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King will cost between 10-15 NZD. Beers at the bar will cost around 8 NZD. If you choose to cook your own food, plan to spend between 65-80 NZD per week for basic items like rice, pasta, fruits and veggies, and chicken.
Transportation costs – The Taupo Connector is the official bus system of the city. Single and return trip fares are 1.50 NZD and 2.50 NZD respectively. If you want to rent a bike, expect to pay around 40 NZD for a half day. For intercity travel, buses will be your cheapest option. Expect to pay between 25-50 NZD for a bus to Auckland and only slightly more for a bus to Wellington.
Suggested daily budget – 70 NZD / 50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Explore for free – Taupo has lots of free walks and stuff to do. There are heaps of activities like hikes, visiting the lake, and going to the mountains. There’s always something to do here for free.
- Shop at the Saturday market – Every Saturday there is a riverside market (Riverside Park) selling fresh produce and local crafts and an art exhibition (Colonel Roberts Reserve at the lakefront) which you can wander around for free.
- Cook your own meals – Restaurants in the town aren’t that cheap. I would suggest cooking here as often as you can. Otherwise, your food budget is going to go through the roof!
Top Things to See and Do in Taupo
- Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Considered the best day hike in all of New Zealand, the crossing takes you to the spot where they filmed Mordor from Lord of the Rings. The 20km walk is easy at parts and steep at others as you hike across forests, mountains, and volcanoes (don’t worry, it’s safe!). It was one of the best things I did while in New Zealand. The hike itself is free, though you may need transportation to the area. Here’s a video of what to expect:
- Go Taupo tandem skydiving – Taupo has the best skydiving in New Zealand with Lake Taupo providing a nice view as you drop back towards earth. It costs between 250-300 NZD for a 12,000 ft. jump.
- Bungy jump – Bungy jumping is popular all over New Zealand. If you haven’t tried it in any other region, do it while here. The view is spectacular and the activity is reasonably priced. Prices begin around 169 for a solo jump.
- Go swimming at Turangi – The hot springs in the river are a great place to relax and swim during the day. During the winter, it’s the place to be to stay warm.
- Visit the Huka Falls – This is one of the fastest-moving waterfalls in NZ. The water flows so quickly that it stays pure blue like an iceberg because of the lack of oxygen in the water. It’s close to the city and the best way to get there is to walk.
- Spend a day at Lake Taupo – The lake is the main attraction in town with a boardwalk full of great restaurants and some great lakeshore hikes. During the summer, the lake is a popular place to go trout fishing, sailing, jet-skiing, swimming, and boating. If you go fishing (you can find lots of guys to take you out on the lake), many of the restaurants in town will cook it for you for a small fee!
- Visit Lake Taupo Museum and Art Gallery – This is a small museum located near the center of town, behind the Great Lake Center on Story Place. It contains exhibits on the Maori, Volcanic and early European history of Taupo. A Maori meeting house is also recreated within the building and exhibitions of art by local and New Zealand artists are ongoing. The “Ora” garden which won the 2004 Chelsea Flower Show has recently been added in a specially-created outside area. Admission is 5 NZD for adults and 3 for students and seniors. Children enter free.
- Climb Mount Tauhara – The mountain sitting on the eastern edge of town can be climbed fairly easily (get directions from your accommodation) and the views from the top on a clear day are remarkable!
- Relax in Butcher’s Pool – This is awesome, natural thermal spring is rarely crowded. Other than the changing sheds and a simple deck, all you have around you is nature.
- Hit up the Turoa Ski Area – Found in the Tongariro National Park, this is a marvelous place for skiers of all levels. There is gear for rent or purchase, as well as a ski school. Snowboarding is not advised. Prices begin at 115 NZD per person.
- Go jet boating – Not only is Waikato river the largest river in New Zealand, but it also happens to be the most popular spot for boating. Jet boating is popular because of the high-speed thrills and fun. Only certain areas of the river are open for this activity. Tickets are 125 NZD for adults and 79 NZD for children.
- Stop by the Great Lake Center – Often host to conventions, performances, and exhibitions, there is always something going on here. If you are looking for something to do beyond all of the physical activity, this is where you should be.