Taupo is on New Zealand’s North Island and sits on the shores of Lake Taupo (hence the name). It’s also my favorite spot in the entire country. I just loved the small town feel, sitting by the lake, and all the nearby hikes. I could have stayed here for weeks.
Taupo has tons of incredible hikes (it’s the jumping-off point for the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing), lots of fishing and boating excursions, charming local markets, and stunning nature (including the impressive Huka Falls). Think of it like a quieter version of Queenstown, the South Island’s adventure and party capital.
Don’t miss Taupo when you visit New Zealand.
This travel guide to Taupo can help you plan what to do here as well as a budget-friendly visit.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Taupo
1. Go skydiving
2. Visit the Huka Falls
3. Spend a day at Lake Taupo
4. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
5. See the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve
Other Things to See and Do in Taupo
1. Go bungy jumping
If you haven’t tried it in any other region, do it here as Taupo is home to New Zealand’s highest water touch bungy (you’ll drop from 47 meters above the Waikato River). There’s also the Cliffhanger Swing, which lets you swing up to 180 degrees, reaching a speed of up to 70 kilometers per hour! Prices start around 185 NZD. This is one of the more affordable bungy options in New Zealand.
2. Enjoy the hot springs at Turangi
Turangi is a small town located 50 kilometers southwest of Taupo. Here you’ll find a lot of geothermal hot springs. There’s a trail you can hike through all the geothermal activity as well as pools for swimming. The hot springs make for a relaxing afternoon and cost 10 NZD.
3. Visit the Lake Taupo Museum and Art Gallery
This small museum, located near the center of town, contains exhibits on the Maori, volcanic events, and early European history of Taupo. A Maori meeting house is also recreated within the building and exhibitions by local artists are ongoing. You can also visit the Ora garden, which won the 2004 Chelsea Flower Show. Admission is 5 NZD.
4. Climb Mount Tauhara
This dormant volcano sits on the eastern edge of town and can be climbed fairly easily. You can start at the parking lot at the end of Mountain Road and follow the signs up the hill. (FYI: The start is a little steep.) The hike takes about 1.5 hours to get to the top. There’s a lot of birds around and the view at 1,008m above sea level over the lake is pretty remarkable. The hike is free.
5. Relax in Butcher’s Pool
This natural thermal spring is rarely crowded. It’s located 40 kilometers from town. Named for one of the first settlers in the area, Butcher’s Pool fills from both hot and cold mineral springs. If you can get out here, I highly recommend going. It’s free too.
6. Go skiing
If you’re visiting in winter, head to the Turoa Ski Area. Located in the Tongariro National Park, its slopes are suitable for all levels. Thanks to Mount Ruapehu’s southwest slopes and its unique volcanic terrain, this area is famous for its steep chutes, dramatic drops, and snow-filled basins. There is gear for rent or purchase, as well as a ski school. Day passes begin at 90 NZD and become a bit cheaper if you buy a multi-day pass.
7. See the Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon is a walkway that meanders through an otherworldly geothermal lunar landscape (the landscape is relatively new, too, resulting from human settlement in the area). It’s 8 kilometers from Taupo. The main track is an easy-going 45-minute loop through the area, but you can add an extra 20-minute hike for better views from a higher viewpoint. It’s 8 NZD to access the trail.
8. Go jet boating on the Waikato River
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, try jet boating. You’ll hit up some rapids and get up close to the massive Huka Falls. Rides last around an hour and tickets cost 125 NZD.
9. Walk around Western Bay
Western Bay has some pleasant walking trails and scenic viewpoints. The Rimu Walking Track takes just 30 minutes and is a pleasant loop through beautiful forests. For something a little longer, try the three-hour Waihaha Tramping Track. The bay is just 45 minutes away from Taupo by car.
10. Go trout fishing
Lake Taupo and its rivers are a trout fishing mecca. The town of Turangi is known as the ‘Trout Fishing Capital of New Zealand’ and is a great place to base yourself to experience the best that New Zealand trout and fly fishing has to offer. A six-hour excursion costs around 170 NZD, though you can usually find guys who will just take you out on their boat for a lot less. You can read about my experience trout fishing here.
11. Hike Mount Ruapehu
Mount Ruapehu is a 90-minute drive from Lake Taupo and offers some excellent hiking. The Skyline Ridge hike can be done in 1.5-2 hours, round trip. The route climbs to an altitude of 2,300 meters and you’ll be rewarded by sweeping views of Tongariro National Park and Lake Taupo. You can also hike Meads Wall, which is a spectacular volcanic rock formation popular with rock climbers.
For more information on other destinations in New Zealand, check out these guides:
Taupo Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms cost 25-35 NZD per night for an 6-8-bed dorm. Free Wi-Fi is standard and all the hostels here also have kitchens for cooking your own food. They all have parking as well, and a couple have free parking. Private rooms start at 55 NZD for a single and 80 NZD for a double.
For those traveling with a tent, there are campgrounds in the area. Expect to pay at least 25 NZD for a basic tent plot without electricity (with space for two people).
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels and motels cost around 100 NZD per night Free Wi-Fi is standard and free breakfast is common. Many budget hotels also have a kitchen for those looking to cook their own food.
Airbnb is widely available in the area with private rooms starting at 70 NZD per night (though you should expect to pay at least 100 NZD). For an entire home or apartment, prices start at 120 NZD per night.
Food – Eating out in Taupo is expensive. Dinner at a restaurant will cost around 30 NZD. Expect a lot of seafood (New Zealand is an island after all), including crayfish, muscles, oysters, and snapper. Roasted lamb and fish and chips are also common favorites. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to try Hokey Pokey ice cream, which is caramelized honeycomb drizzled over ice cream.
You can find sandwiches, as well as the national favorite “kiwi pie” (a meat pie usually filled with steak, lamb, or chicken) for as little as 8 NZD. A non-fancy meal at a restaurant costs around 18 NZD while a three-course restaurant meal with a drink will set you back about 50 NZD.
A fast-food combo meal (think McDonald’s) costs around 10 NZD. Chinese/Thai/Indian food can be found for 10-15 NZD per meal while pizzas costs around 12 NZD.
Beer at the bar starts at 8 NZD, lattes/cappuccino cost 4 NZD, and bottled water about 2 NZD.
If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend between 70-85 NZD per week for basic foodstuffs like rice, pasta, vegetables, eggs, and some meat.
Backpacking Taupo Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Taupo, my suggested budget is 80-85 NZD per day. On this budget, you’ll get a hostel dorm, need to cook your own meals, limit your drinking, stick to free hikes, and use public transportation to get around. You can lower this further by Couchsurfing and cutting out drinking altogether.
On a mid-range budget of about 215 NZD per day, you can stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat out at cheap restaurants for most meals, drink a few beers, enjoy a few budget attractions (or one larger activity like sky diving), take some taxis here and there, and share a rental car to get around.
On a “luxury” budget of around 420 NZD per day or more, you can stay in a nice hotel, eat out as much as you want, drink as much as you want, take some guided tours, rent a car to get around, and do pretty much do anything you want! The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in NZD.
Taupo Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Unless you plan on doing a lot of adventure tours in Taupo, you can easily stick to a budget here. Your biggest expenses are going to be food and drink so limiting both will give you the biggest savings! Here are some additional tips to help you save money in Taupo:
- Explore for free – Taupo has heaps of free activities like hikes, visiting the lake, and going to the mountains. There’s always something to do here for free, especially if you enjoy the outdoors!
- Shop at the Saturday market – Every Saturday (rain or shine) there is a market selling fresh produce and local crafts. There is also an art exhibition which you can wander around for free.
- Cook your own meals – Restaurants here aren’t that cheap. I suggest cooking your own meals as often as you can to keep your budget intact.
- Stay with a local – While there are not many Couchsurfing hosts available in the area there are still some. Try staying with a local to cut down on your accommodation costs. You’ll also get some valuable insight into the area from a local — and that is priceless!
- Avoid the high season – Prices will be upwards of 30% higher during the summer months. Avoid peak tourist season if you can!
- Find deals at bookme.co.nz – If you’re looking for tours and activities and are flexible with your dates, this website often has great deals. (You can find activities for up to 50% off!). Also, try grabone.co.nz for more deals.
- Stay in a campervan – Exploring the Taupo region via campervan is a popular way to save money. Download the Campermates app to find campsites, gas stations, and dump stations.
- WWOOF it – WWOOFing is a great way to work for your accommodation and food. In return for working on a farm or B&B, you get free food and board. It’s a popular activity with travelers because it lets you stay in a place cheaper and longer. You can do it for a few days or a few months. Keep in mind, most farms will require you to have some experience, as too many inexperienced workers have caused trouble in the past.
- Bring a reusable water bottle – Tap water is safe in New Zealand so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic consumption. For extra security, use a LifeStraw bottle as it has a built-in filter to ensure your water is always safe.
Where to Stay in Taupo
Despite being a small town, Taupo has some nice hostel options. Here are my recommended places to stay in Taupo:
How to Get Around Taupo
Taupo is small town and you can go almost anywhere in town by foot.
Bus – If you need to get around the city, the Taupo Connector is the local bus. One-way fares start at 3 NZD. You can get a Bee Card to lower your fares to as little as 1 NZD. Bee Cards cost 5 ZND and can be loaded with money.
For intercity travel, buses are your cheapest option. The bus to Auckland takes around 4.5 hours and costs at least 35 NZD while going to Wellington costs around 45 NZD for the 6-hour journey.
Bicycle – You can rent bikes for 25 NZD for two hours. Expect to pay around 60 NZD for a full-day rental.
Taxis – Taxis start at 3 NZD — avoid them if you can since they aren’t cheap!
Car rental – For a small car, expect to pay around 55 NZD per day. Make sure you have an International Driving Permit as they are required. You can get one in your home country before you leave.
When to Go to Taupo
It’s best to visit Taupo in the summer, meaning from December to March (remember we’re in the southern hemisphere). Even though it’s peak tourist season, you’ll have a pleasant temperature (22°C/71°F) and it won’t rain much. Moreover, you’ll be able to enjoy all the outdoor activities!
The weather is not that cold in winter (9°C/48°F), but it rains a lot and the hills are snowy. However, winter is a good season for fishing should you be interested.
You can also visit Taupo in spring and autumn, but the weather is a bit unpredictable. It’s much cheaper during this time so if you’re on a tight budget this might be your best choice.
How to Stay Safe in Taupo
Taupo is a safe city with a low crime rate. Crime (including petty theft) is extremely rare. While you still won’t want to flash your valuable around, you needn’t be hyper vigilant here.
When hiking or spending time in the outdoors, be sure to check the weather in advance. Always bring water, sunscreen, and a hat and tell someone where you’re going (and when you expect to be back). If driving to a hiking trail or park, don’t leave any valuables in your car.
If you need assistance, the emergency services number in New Zealand is 111.
When traveling, no matter where you go, always trust your gut instinct.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance, especially if you’re participating in any adventure activities. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Taupo Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Taupo. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around New Zealand, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Taupo Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Taupo Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Joan Druett
Auckland Island, located 285 miles south of New Zealand, is a place with year-round freezing rain, wind, and little food (but apparently, a lot of seals). Simply put, it’s not a place you want to get shipwrecked on. Yet in 1864, Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew did just that — and a few months later, on the opposite side of the island, so did the crew of the Scottish ship Invercauld. This well-written account of how the two crews survived (and didn’t survive) offers an insightful look at leadership, camaraderie, and coming together in a crisis.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning book is a parody of the 19th-century novel that is considered a modern classic. The year is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to New Zealand to get involved in the gold rush. When he arrives, he happens upon 12 men who have met in secret to talk about several mysterious events, including the disappearance of a wealthy man and a prostitute’s attempt to end her life. Moody is drawn into the circle, and the book soon turns into a thrilling page-turner that will keep you hooked the whole way through.
Squashed Possums: Off the Beaten Track in New Zealand, by Jonathan Tindale
This one is a fun, humorous travelogue that will get you super excited about your trip. In Squashed Possums, Tindale shares his adventures (and misadventures) from a year spent exploring the lesser-explored areas of New Zealand. He makes himself a home in an abandoned caravan, and then lives out four seasons getting acquainted with the terrain — including the coldest winter in decades.
A Land of Two Halves, by Joe Bennett
After having spent ten years in New Zealand, Joe Bennett decides to figure out why he’s still living there. A notorious restless traveler, Bennett finds himself examining all the reasons why these two islands have captivated him for a decade — so he packs his bags and heads out on a hitchhiking adventure around the North and South Islands. His encounters along the way are an enlightening look at life in New Zealand!
Taupo Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling New Zealand and continue planning your trip: