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Travel Guide

Taupo, odd, unusual places worth a detour

  • 5 minutes

Taupo, North Island

Taupo offers visitors odd, unusual, and unique visitor experiences. It’s exciting as you squeeze through a hidden gorge to a secret hot waterfall pool. Float down the Waikato to Otumuheke Stream hot mineral water. Check out a quiet military cemetery; Opepe Reserve with its graves, history of military encounters, and wholesale timber logging. Tongariro offers a trout encounter where shimmering fish are up close and personal. Ohakune has vegetables as an enormous sculpture and Tokaanu offers a glimpse of history at its jetty and a chance to wander through a geothermal area next to family-friendly hot pools.

  1. Opepe Reserve, Te Kooti redoubt

The Opepe Reserve is fascinating as the area is a snapshot of the past. If you are interested in why conservation is important this is a place to visit.

The Reserve is cut into two by the very busy State Highway two with barely a car stopping. One side leads to a lonely cemetery where several soliders (Bay of Plenty Cavalry) were caught offguard by Te Kooti are buried. You are standing at a significant site for New Zealand Land Wars with Te Kooti’s redoubt and defences now across the road. Little remains of the innovative defense system other than old well. The area is interesting as sections are the Old Coach Road connecting Hawkes Bay to Taupo. While you hear birdsong in the regenerating bush there is a very faint hum of traffic. You are in area where there was also kauri logging, there is an old pit saw and information plaques describing the impact of wholesale logging on the area.

National Trout Centre, Turangi, New Zealand
National Trout Centre, Turangi
  1. Tongariro National Trout Centre

A collection dedicated to trout. It’s unusual and likely not on the average bucket list of things to do in Taupo. The acrobatic trout displays are fascinating. Watch, wait for the jumping trout as you and kids throw fish food into the ponds. You can purchase fish food to encourage trout to duck and dive. The kids will not be bored although you might run out of fish food rather quickly.

The National Trout Centre proximity to the Tongariro River creates glorious setting. The National Trout Centre is a repository of trout eggs and newly hatched trout and the centre’s scientific work is to ensure there is a safeguard against a sudden massive death in the wild population.

It is not ofen you have to cruise across a lake to view outstanding art carved in a cliff. Taupo’s Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings is only accessible by boat, kayaking or sailing boat. The 10 metre carving is a dramatic modern interpretation of the face of paramount chief Ngatoroirangi. His face dominates the view as you get close with his moko and solemn face looking out over his lake. The carvings were created by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1980’s. The carvings are well positioned tucked under the brow of the rock face making the view slowly slide into focus. Enjoy Lake Taupo’s memorable unusual art gallery.

Sail boat sailing near the iconic Maori Rock Carving at lake Taupo in the North Island of New Zealand.
Mine Bay’s Māori Rock Carvings
Tokaanu thermal hot pools, Turangi, New Zealand
Tokaanu thermal hot pools, Turangi
  1. Tokaanu Hot Mineral Baths

Tokaanu hot pools are unpretentious. It is unusual to find a classic hot pool experience today. Enjoy the Tokaanu Thermal Pools family friendly vibe with the bonus of a short walk through the adjacent Tokaanu thermal area. The free walk offers visitors glimpses of boiling mud pools, steam vents and wirey vegetation. Remember to peer into the stream for trout who seem to like nothing better than warm water.

  1. Tokaanu Jetty

Tokaanu Jetty is a piece of history you can walk along, fish or simply wait for the sunset to photograph the jetty and Lake Taupo. The jetty was part of the transport infrastructure. Before the expansion of Turangi Tokaanu was the major settlement due to its natural thermal pools. Passengers arrived by stage coach from Wairoura and departed by steamers across the lake to Taupo. Today the heritage jetty is restored with its original beams and decking. There is a modern marina nearby. If you want to go fishing do not forget your fishing rod (plus licence).

Tokaanu Wharf, Lake Taupo, North Island, New Zealand
Tokaanu Jetty, Lake Taupo, North Island
  1. Ohakune vegetable plot

It started with a carrot symbolising the contribution of the Chinese market gardeners to the Ohakune commercial production of vegetables. Erected in 1987 the enormous model carrot rapidly became a photo celebrity. As you enter Ohakune you are now greeted with swedes, parsnip, potato and brussel sprouts. These later additions to Team Carrot have happy faces, arms and legs making the sight like a walking gigantic cartoon. To add to the family atmosphere is a playground and toilets nearby together with a short bush walk. Definitely a photo moment with Team Carrot to memorise your Ohakune holiday.

Wairakei Terraces, New Zealand
Wairakei Terraces
  1. Wairakei steamfields

The Wairakei geothermal field has been under production for more than 50 years. There are massive shiny pipes you can drive under, enormous stainless caldrons and a maze of cables. It’s fascinating as you are immersed with an overriding sensation of steam. The Wairakei Geothermal Power Station is foaming vapour, billowing up and around, forming misty clouds. Piping emerges into view and then disappears into the mist. It is memorizing, and the industrial sculpting on a gigantic scale is seriously impressive. There is a well signposted drive to the lookout. It is a great photo location especially in winter with the rapid cooling of hot steam in the frosty air. At the lookout is a plaque describing how the unique industrial complex works.

  1. Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon emerged out of the geothermal power plants when underground water levels were lowered. The area is extraordinary for the plants that have colonised the area. Constant steam vents, chemical mineral deposits created hot steamy conditions where vegetation is lightly to get a hot jet of steam every once in a while. The geothermal park is wheelchair friendly. It is not a major geothermal attraction with numerous boiling mud vents or massive spurts of geothermal fountains rather it is a moon-like landscape where you wonder about where the next steam vent will occur as well as a fascinating walk through unusual landscape.

Craters of the moon groundcover, New Zealand
Craters of the Moon
Geothermal plant, free attraction, Lake Taupo, New Zealand
Geothermal plant, free attraction, Lake Taupo
  1. Spa Thermal Park

Spa Thermal Park is not really a secret. It is popular with locals, it is free and Otumuheke Stream hot pools are a not-so-secret spot that is definitely worth a visit when in Taupo. The stream is a cascade of hot warm water flowing into the Waikato with naturally forming hot pools forming against a backdrop of the Waikato River. It can be a tad crowded so pick early morning or time outside the school holidays. There are changing rooms, toilets and an enterprising coffee kiosk operator. There is a plaque describing the historical significance of the area for local Iwi (Maori). It is very special to be in place where people have immersed themselves in the revitalising natural spa of the Otumuheke stream.

  1. Huka Falls walkway, forget the overcrowded car park

The car park had several traffic wardens on duty during our last visit which can be offputting as the crowded bridge over the Huka Falls testifys. Start your excursion to New Zealand’s most well known waterfalls with a short walk from Taupo. As you walk closer to the falls listen to the memorizing roar of 200,000 litres squeezed through a narrow 3 metre drop. Simply stroll pass the parked campervans, cars and vehicles all vying for space and enjoy the sight of the iconic Falls. It is unusual for a spectacular waterfall to be easily accessible from a carpark. Ditch the car and walk, the sight of the Huka falls will amaze you.

Huka Falls, Taupo, New Zealand
Huka Falls, Taupo
  1. The Squeeze

The Squeeze is not your standard adrenaline jet boat tour. For the first part of the trip you sit back and let the Waikato River zip by. Then you exit the boat and squeeze your way through narrow crevasses, clamber over boulders at the same time as wading through waist deep water (depending on your height). There is sometimes nervous laughter and its lots of fun. The pleasure of the gorgeous waterfall and naturally-heated bathing pool is a reward for the hard work. It softens the thought you have to go back the way you came. The return journey is weaving and jet boat thrills while people regale stories of their squeeze moments. It is very narrow and if you suffer from clausophobia then this is not worth the detour.

Huka Falls waterfall in Wairakei near Lake Taupo in New Zealand
Huka Falls
  1. Another adrenaline moment and it is free

Any inflatable will do, a surfboard, rubber rings, as long as it floats. As you cross the Taupo control gate bridge park your vehicle in the adjacent car park. Walk down to the river and float down the river on easy rapids. You are going to disembark at the hot pools at the Ōtumuheke Stream or at Hipapatua Reid’s Farm. Lifejackets are recommended and the ride on the Waikato is between 1 ½ hours to 2 hours. If you have several members in your holiday group select a pick up driver as it is a considerable walk back to Taupo. Remember water safety, float in a group and wear a lifejacket. Lastly the Huka Falls on this watery route further downstream.

Getting to places worth a detour in Taupo and Central Plateau

Find out more Taupo Travel Guide and for visitors interested in heritage trails check out quiet corners of Lake Taupo and surrounding area.



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