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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