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Central North Island journey, geothermal explorer, lakes and waterfalls road trip

New Zealand has Lake Taupo as its banner headline for lakes. And then there is world famous Rotorua with its geothermal geysers and boiling mud pools. Let’s go and explore off the beaten track to visit places where the large tour buses are not yet going. The Central Plateau, North Island is awash with glorious hidden lakes, geothermal pools frequented by locals and fishing spots where you are the only person.

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Trip Overview

Trip highlights

  • Observe geothermal activity, natural boiling water and steaming mud
  • Immerse yourself in hot pools
  • Explore lakes, forests and natural springs
  • Experience catching your first trout
  • Participate in cycling the Tongariro River Trail
  • An all day cycle exploration of the Old Ohakune Coach Road
  • Indulge in a picnic at Rotopounamu Lake, nestled in a primal forest
  • Explore alpine walks in Tongariro National Park
  • Reset and relax in Taupo sampling tourist hot spot attractions

Best time to visit

Geothermal exploration all year round. There are fewer shoulder seasons and winter.

  • Summer: lakeside beaches, swimming,picnics, fishing early morning, late evening
  • Spring & Autumn: swimming, walks wearing layers, foliage colour, fishing around dusk
  • Winter: brisk walks, skiing, indoor cafe experiences
Start Auckland / Hamilton / Tauranga / Rotorua
Finish Auckland / Hamilton / Tauranga / Rotorua
Start Auckland / Hamilton / Tauranga / Rotorua
Finish Auckland / Hamilton / Tauranga / Rotorua

Route map

Auckland to Tirau to Putaruru Blue Springs to Taupo Craters of Moon to Taupo Huka Falls to Tokannu to Lake Rotopounamu to Chateau Tongariro to Rotorua to Auckland

Day 1

State Highway - A memorizing fresh water spring

Huka Falls, New Zealand @Wairakei
Huka Falls @Wairakei

Your journey starts on State Highway one with a coffee break in Tirau. Most visitors whizz through Tirau, or perhaps grab a quick takeaway paper coffee cup for the road. Look up, look around the corner at what the Tirau locals have managed to sculpt out of corrugated iron. Then it’s on the road to one of New Zealand’s hidden gems, a memorizing fresh water spring that gushes stupendous amounts of crystal deep blue water in a natural bush setting. The day finishes with the option of a slow soak in warm geothermal water.

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Day 2

Lakes, forests - A soak in geothermal waters

Lake Taupo, New Zealand @Horizon Guides
Lake Taupo @Horizon Guides

Today is lakes, forests and another chance for a soak in geothermal waters. You will walk through primeal native forest, accompanied by the harmony of bird song to a lake where the water purity matches Putaruru Blue Springs. A leisurely picnic lunch compliments of your visit to Turangi supermarket. A heartfelt thankyou to Project Tongariro, a group made up of local volunteers, protects this World Heritage area from introduced predators and weeds through a network of traps and bait stations. The afternoon exploring Tokaanu village. There is a faded by the elements wharf for atmospheric photos of Lake Taupo, perhaps a selfie. For fishing enthusiasts you will likely be found in waders on the Tongariro River, remember to post a photo of the catch. Active holiday fans have great cycling trails to explore.

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Day 3

Tongariro National Park - Chateau Tongariro armchairs

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand @Flip Flop Wanderers
Tongariro National Park @Flip Flop Wanderers

The majestic mountain Mt Ngauruhoe is a striking landmark, a highlight of the famous multi-day tramp, the Tongariro Crossing. Summer in the mountains is glorious with the temperatures between 18c to 25c making walking comfortable. While the sun is not scorching you will need sun protection as well as a layer for the occasional brisk nip in the air. Winter white snow with tints of ivory are magical to look at. Remember to follow winter safety advice for the great outdoors. There are a number of short walks in the vicinity of Chateau Tongariro giving visitors a chance to work up an appetite for afternoon tea ensconced in the depths of the Chateau Tongariro armchairs.

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Day 4

Tongariro River trails - A swing bridge

Tongariro River Trail, New Zealand @Love Taupo
Tongariro River Trail @Love Taupo

The Tongariro River trails are explored with an option to vigorously bike the entire trail or to simply walk at your own pace. Tongariro River Trail encourages cycling, pets and people of all ages. There is a swing bridge which is fun for all ages. The River Trail has numerous entry points; it is also suitable for short walks with children. Remember to check into the Turangi visitor centre. Your start is the Tūrangi i-SITE Visitor Information Centre | Visitor Information Centres in Taupō before you embark on your Tongariro day trails. The interactive earthquake centre is worth a look as well as you will obtain tips for your river exploration. As with the Huka Falls there is an option of rafting or jet boating the Tongariro River.

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Day 5

Chateau Tongariro to Taupo - Exploration of Taupo water and landscape experiences

Aratiatia Dam Taupo, New Zealand @Javier Medina
Aratiatia Dam Taupo @Javier Medina

Taupo is a tourist hub with numerous accommodation choices from luxury to backpacker. Unwind spa indulgences, adventure driven bungy jumping, lake cruises and even a round of golf putting into a lake. A highlight is the Aratiatia Dam spill observation (free) and an exploration of the early walking trails in the district. You will be checking out of your Tokaanu (or Turangi) accommodation this morning.

Route map: Chateau Tongariro to Taupo: 97 km, 1 10 minutes

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Day 6

Thermal Area - Between Taupo and Rotorua Orakei Korako

Orakei Korako lake, New Zealand
Orakei Korako lake

Today is about exploring hidden gems and geothermal valleys of the central plateau. Situated between Taupo and Rotorua Orakei Korako Thermal Area is a highlight. Silica formations, boiling water, and thermal activity are naturally carved out of the forest against the backdrop of a lake that steams on the edges. The visual impact of geothermal activity reminds the visitor the world can be very hot.

TIP: soak your weary feet in warm water of Orakei Korako Lake, just be careful as the water can be very hot. It is difficult to leave a natural massage.

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Day 7

Rotorua Waikite Valley

Waikite Valley, New Zealand @1000wondersoftheworld
Waikite Valley @1000wondersoftheworld

Rotorua, the image on uncountable postcards, the tourism image for New Zealand and perhaps one of the birthplaces for modern international visitor experiences in Aoteoroa NZ. Rotorua itself is marked by motels, hotels and themed visitor parks with all the elements of a mass tourism destination. For locals this can be offputting as many attractions are fee paying. Rotorua caters for large numbers of people creating loss of individuality around the experience. While these factors are present Rotorua is extraordinary as an active volcanic, geothermal area where earth’s core heat and energy rise up, on full display for visitors to marvel at what the earth can offer.

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Travel Pack Information

Mount Ngauruhoe Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
Mount Ngauruhoe Tongariro National Park
  • STAY accommodation. Day 1 – 4 Where to stay, you  are spoiled for choice. Either Turangi, Tokaanu or Chateau Tongariro for some pampering. From cost effective camping grounds to resort luxury nestled in the arms of a national park. Check your interests and driving time before booking your accommodation. As always check your accommodation provider cancellation policies.
  • STAY accommodation. Day 6 – 7 Geothermal wonders, let’s get you out of town (Rotorua with its wall to wall motels and sense of bustling hospitality sector) to quieter areas where the locals go. Or perhaps a touch of pampering is called for at Taupo De Bretts. You can either stay additional nights at Taupo DeBretts to avoid packing and unpacking bags or decide to explore what Rotorua has got to offer.
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Instagram

Cycling the Old Coach Road, Ohakune, New Zealand @Hyundai NZ
Cycling the Old Coach Road, Ohakune, New Zealand @Hyundai NZ
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand @Flip Flop Wanderers
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand @Flip Flop Wanderers
Mounds walk, tundra and mountains, New Zealand
Mounds walk, tundra and mountains, New Zealand
Huka Falls Taupo, New Zealand
Huka Falls Taupo, New Zealand

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