Taupo is on the North Island of New Zealand and sits on the shores of Lake Taupo (hence the name). It’s part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, an area that has had high volcanic activity for the past 2 million years. Lake Taupo itself is the flooded caldera of the Taupo Volcano (and the volcanic landscapes here are truly otherworldly!).
Taupo is 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.
In short, don’t miss Taupo when you visit New Zealand!
This travel guide to Taupo can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your time here!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Taupo
1. Go skydiving
Taupo is known for having the best skydiving in New Zealand. Lake Taupo provides an incredible backdrop with snow-capped mountains and bright blue waters painting the canvas for your descent. A 2,743-meter (9,000-foot) jump is 199 NZD while an 5,638-meter (18,500-foot) jump is 399 NZD. You can also take a full-day course to learn how to skydive on your own for 499 NZD.
2. Visit Huka Falls
This is one of the fastest-moving waterfalls in New Zealand, with over 220,000 liters (52,834 gallons) passing by every second (that’s an Olympic swimming pool every 11 seconds) on its way to drain into Lake Taupo. You can easily walk here from town in under an hour along a picturesque riverside path. You can also hop on a boat tour to the base of the falls for 42 NZD.
3. Spend a day at Lake Taupo
The lake is the main attraction in town, its boardwalk brimming with delicious restaurants and lakeshore hikes. It’s a popular place to go trout fishing, sailing, jet-skiing, swimming, and boating. The Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings, a contemporary work of art carved into the rock face using traditional methods, is a popular attraction that can only be viewed by boat. A two-hour sailboat tour of the lake costs 59-69 NZD.
4. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Considered the best day hike in New Zealand, this crossing goes through epic dramatic landscapes, including the spot where they filmed Mordor from The Lord of the Rings. The hike traverses Tongariro National Park, a World Heritage Site (for both its natural and cultural importance) and New Zealand’s oldest national park. The 19-kilometer (12-mile) trek is free and takes between 6-9 hours. Expect to pay around 40 NZD for return transportation (you can only park for 4 hours in the parking lot, so if you’re doing a longer hike, there are several shuttles available).
5. See the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve
Spanning 34 hectares (86 acres), the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve is a haven for birdlife and native trees. There are numerous walkways and themed trails (like the Floral Walk), beautiful lake and mountain views, and picturesque picnic areas. Admission is free though donations are appreciated.
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/154 feet 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 (43 miles) per hour! Prices start at 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 (31 miles) southwest of Taupo. Here you’ll find a lot of geothermal hot springs. On the short (15-20 minute) Tokaanu Thermal Walk, you can hike through all the geothermal activity, and then end with a soak in the more developed public and private swimming pools (8-12 NZD). It makes for a relaxing afternoon after all the more extreme activities in the area.
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 award-winning Ora garden, filled with native flora and geothermal springs. 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 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) hike takes about 1.5 hours to get to the top. There are a lot of birds around and the view at 1,008 meters (3,307 feet) above sea level over the lake is pretty remarkable. The hike is free.
5. Relax in Butcher’s Pool
Named for one of the first settlers in the area, Butcher’s Pool fills from both hot and cold mineral springs. This natural thermal spring is rarely crowded, and it’s free too. It’s located 40 kilometers (25 miles) from town, but if you can get out here, I highly recommend going.
6. Go skiing
If you’re visiting in winter, head to the Turoa Ski Area, home of New Zealand’s highest chairlift. 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 84 NZD (weekday) and 99 NZD (weekend) and become a bit cheaper if you buy a multi-day pass. A package including a group ski or snowboard lesson, lift pass, and gear rental costs 184 NZD.
7. See the Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon is a walkway that meanders through an otherworldly geothermal lunar landscape, filled with steam vents and craters. The landscape is relatively new, too, resulting from human settlement in the area. 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, which starts 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Taupo.
8. Go jet boating on the Waikato River
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, try jet boating on Waikato River, the longest river in New Zealand. You’ll hit some rapids, pass through scenic forests and volcanic landscapes, and get up close to the massive Huka Falls. Rides last around an hour and tickets cost 139 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 350-400 NZD, while a full-day trip is around 600-750 NZD, though you can usually find guys who will just take you out on their boat for a lot less. Most restaurants in town will cook your catch for you if you don’t have access to a kitchen. 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 (7,545 feet), where 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 32-34 NZD per night for a 4-6-bed dorm and 27-33 NZD for a dorm with 8 beds or more. Private rooms start at 60 NZD for a single and 80 NZD for a double room with a shared bathroom. Prices fluctuate a few dollars between seasons, but only a little. Free Wi-Fi is standard and all the hostels here also have kitchens for cooking your own food. A couple have free parking too.
For those traveling with a tent, there are campgrounds in the area. Expect to pay at least 32 NZD for a basic tent plot without electricity (with space for two people).
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels and motels cost around 110 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 150 NZD per night. Expect prices to double if you don’t book early.
Food – Eating out in Taupo is expensive. It’s a small town, and there aren’t a ton of options to keep prices down. Expect a lot of seafood (New Zealand is an island after all), including crayfish, muscles, oysters, and snapper. Roasted lamb, fish and chips, and burgers 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 25-30 NZD for a typical main dish like a burger. Seafood dishes start at 30 NZD, while a three-course meal with a drink will set you back at least 60 NZD.
Takeout fish and chips or a fast-food combo meal (think McDonald’s) costs around 10 NZD. Chinese, Thai, and Indian food can be found for 12-17 NZD per meal while pizza costs around 10-15 NZD.
Beer at the bar starts at 9-11 NZD, a glass of wine is 12-14 NZD, lattes/cappuccino cost 5 NZD, and bottled water about 2 NZD.
If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend around 70 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 70 NZD per day. On this budget, you’ll get a hostel dorm, cook your own meals, limit your drinking, stick to free hikes, and use public transportation to get around. If you plan on drinking, add 10-20 NZD to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of about 205 NZD per day, you can stay in a private room in a hostel 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 400 NZD per day or more, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, take some guided tours, rent a car to get around, and do pretty much do anything you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
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 from 9am-1pm (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. It’s not glamorous, but it’s affordable!
- Stay with a local – While there are not many Couchsurfing hosts available in the area there are still some. Not only will you get a free place to stay but you’ll get insider tips from a local!
- 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.
- Get a temporary job – If you’re running low on money and still have plenty of time left in New Zealand, check Backpackerboard.co.nz for temporary paying gigs.
- Transport vehicles – Campervan and car relocation services will provide you with a free vehicle and gas as you drive it from one destination to another. This can be a great way to save a lot of money if you’re flexible with timing. Check Transfercar.co.nz to see what’s available.
- 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 if you’re on a budget. In return for working on a farm or B&B, you get free room 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, that most farms 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:
How to Get Around Taupo
Taupo is small town and you can go almost anywhere in town by foot.
Public transportation – If you need to get around the city, the Taupo Connector is the local bus. One-way fares start at 4 NZD. You can get a Bee Card to lower your fares to as little as 2 NZD. Bee Cards cost 5 ZND and can be loaded with money. There’s a weekly fare cap of 18 NZD, so you’ll never pay more than that for a week of bus use.
For intercity travel, buses are your cheapest option. The bus to Auckland takes around 5.5 hours and costs 40-60 NZD while going to Wellington costs around 50 NZD for the 6-hour journey.
Bike rental – You can rent bikes for 25 NZD for two hours. Expect to pay around 60 NZD for a full-day rental. E-bikes start at 85 NZD for a daily rental.
Taxis – Taxis start at 4 NZD and go up by 3 NZD per kilometer. Avoid them if you can since they aren’t cheap!
There is no Uber here.
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. To find the best rental car prices, use Discover Cars
When to Go to Taupo
It’s best to visit Taupo in the summer, 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 temperature is not that cold in winter, which is from June-August, but it rains a lot and the hills are snowy. Expect daily highs around 9°C (48°F). Some businesses close down or have limited hours in the winter. That said, 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, making it a safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo and even as a solo female traveler. Still, all travelers should take the normal precautions as you would at home, like being aware of your personal belongings at all times, and never leaving your drink unattended in a bar.
Crime (including petty theft) is extremely rare. While you still won’t want to flash your valuables 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. Be sure to tell someone where you’re going (and when you expect to be back) as well.
If driving to a hiking trail or park, don’t leave any valuables in your car. Break-ins are rare but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
As earthquakes and tsunamis do occur in New Zealand, consider downloading the Hazard App from the Red Cross. It has all kinds of advice and tips for natural disasters and also sends out warnings and notifications should a disaster occur.
If you’re worried about travel scams, you can read about common travel scams to avoid here. There aren’t many in New Zealand though.
If you do experience an emergency, dial 111 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your important documents, like your passport. Forward your itinerary along to friends or family so they’ll know where you are.
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. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- 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.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- 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.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- bookme.co.nz – You’ll get some really good last minute deals and discounts on this website! Just select what area you’re traveling in, and see what activities are on sale.
- treatme.co.nz – The locals use this website to find discount hotels, restaurants, and tours. You can save up to 50% off things like catamaran sailing lessons or three-course dinners.
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
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, 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 TNN+, 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: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling New Zealand and continue planning your trip: