Taupo – The Heart of North Island

by David on December 13, 2009

Lake Taupo, actually the crater of an immense volcanic explosion 1800 years ago.

Lake Taupo, actually the crater of an immense volcanic explosion 1800 years ago.

Taupo is a gorgeous lakeside town, and the weather has been spectacular the whole time I’ve been here. Clear, blue, sunny and about 25 degrees Celsius. Today is the first cloudy day, but it’s still comfortable and warm enough.

As I type I am enjoying my last day in Taupo, about to leave to the art-deco-and-wine-capital Napier on the east coast.

Like everywhere else I’ve been in NZ, Taupo is clean and lively, full of interesting shops and restaurants, parks and excellent public facilities.

Puffins on the pier.

Puffins on the pier.

Allergy-sufferers beware

Allergy-sufferers beware

Another old soul.

Another old soul.

More than anything, (except maybe trout fishing) Taupo is known for adrenaline sports. It is the world’s skydiving capital, with over 30,000 people tossing themselves out of planes annually. Bungy jumping is also bigger here than anywhere else on the North Island.

For those of us who find adrenaline sports too expensive and scary, the region is also famous for hiking. I took two excellent hikes here, and they were the most memorable parts of my time here. Not that I didn’t enjoy the rest of it. I checked out restaurants and cafes, chatted with hostel-mates (who all seem to be 20 and from England), read vast tracts of my Bill Bryson book, and ate lots of ice cream.

Of my two proper hikes, the first was a short two hour tramp down the Waikato River to Huka falls. I’ve never seen such a pretty river. The trail wound alongside it through the trees and ferns, offering some spectacular views.

The Waikato River.

The Waikato River.

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A hot-water stream pouring into the Waikato

A hot-water stream pouring into the Waikato

I've never seen a clearer river. Depth is difficult to gauge in a photo but you can see rocks a good twenty feet down.

I've never seen a clearer river. Depth is difficult to gauge in a photo but you can see rocks a good twenty feet down.

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Further down, the roaring in the distance got louder and I emerged onto a bridge over Huka Falls.

The rapids leading up to Huka Falls

The rapids leading up to Huka Falls

Huka. No swimming.

Huka. No swimming.

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On the way back I passed the picturesque Taupo Bungy platform. It appeared to be closed; nobody was jumping.

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The second hike I took was a much longer and more spectacular full-day hike called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It takes you 19 kilometers over a volcanic mountain pass through some of the most beautiful and alien landscapes in New Zealand. The crossing was on my life list, and I’m proud to say I survived it. It was such an astounding experience that it deserves its own post (or two.) That’s up next.

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Lisis December 13, 2009 at 3:07 pm

No swimming in Huka?!?! And it looks so refreshing, too! 😉

Can’t wait to read about your Alpine Crossing. BRING IT!!

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) December 13, 2009 at 3:59 pm

so beautiful~ I would have spent my days in the water when not hiking~

Mel December 13, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Looking forward to reading your piece about the Tongariro Crossing. I did it about 15 years ago and it was quite an experience.

Your pictures and reports are quite inspiring. As a born and bred Kiwi, it’s sometimes quite easy to take my home country for granted and forget just how spectacularly beautiful it is. It takes the eyes of a visitor to remind me.

David December 16, 2009 at 2:43 am

You Kiwis are spoiled in the scenery department!

I suppose Canadians are too, the only difference is that it takes about 60 hours of driving to get from one coast to the other. New Zealand is such a nice size.

Tina December 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Gorgeous pictures David!! Thanks for letting me tag along and forget that I’m stuck in incredibly cold weather:) Enjoy your adventures!

David December 16, 2009 at 2:43 am

I’m hearing reports of deadly cold from back home, it helps me enjoy the weather when it’s only *warm*

Erin December 15, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Nice to see your terrific photos. In Colorado we were having a bit of artic air last week with wind chills between 19 and 23 below. Following along on your journey is a treat.

David December 16, 2009 at 2:46 am

Edmonton set a record last week. -46 degrees Celsius, -58 with the wind chill. That’s -74 F. I guess someone’s always worse off :(

charles January 13, 2010 at 4:25 pm

i was there in july 2006… i remember it being chilly and windy. i think i was only there for a night, basically just stayed there for the evening. that pass hike sounds epic. tell you what else is epic… mt cook nat’l park (south island), right after a week of early-season snow. try the Tarns hike, lose your way, and just head straight up the mountainside till you reach the top. THAT is epic 😛

Jayarava January 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Lovely photos of my home town – we never used to have to take drinks to the beach in summer because you could drink the water! One small point – that isn’t a pier it’s a storm water drain outlet; and those aren’t puffins they are ‘shags’ or a type of cormorant.

cathj September 23, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Oh wow… I am going to NZ soon.. hope can visit this.. awesome!

Mehrabeh August 31, 2014 at 9:39 am

i wanted search about New zealand. i did not much information.
but when i saw this site , was changed my opinion. it is excellent an amazing . i really enjoyed and i hope can visit there with my husband

Dorothy December 3, 2016 at 8:29 am

I’d venutre that this article has saved me more time than any other.

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